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When I want to speak of a woman who serves food and drinks to passengers on a plane, should I use 'air hostess' or 'stewardess'? What's the difference? And when I take a plane, how should I call her?

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up vote 38 down vote accepted

In the US at least, both have fallen out of favor in recent years for a couple of reasons: because there are more men working in the field than there used to be, and because of a general trend towards less gender-specific occupation titles. The more widespread term now is flight attendant, for both men and women.

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Re "there are more men working in the field than there used to be": The original flight attendants were all stewards. I agree with the main thrust of the answer, though: +1. – msh210 Jun 10 '11 at 6:57
@msh210 The original flight attendants were indeed male, and the term comes from the maritime sense of the word, but there was a very strong swing to the position being female-dominated that was also very fast. The change in language phenry describes here came after that began to more slowly move back toward it being more balanced. – Jon Hanna Aug 19 '13 at 16:27

They are called flight attendants, and you must not assume it will be a woman.

Other terms, such as “air host/hostess” and “steward/stewardess” are quite dated. I would advise against using them. And if you were to use them to address a flight attendant, you will be lucky if you get any service at all, because of the offense they would cause.

Furthermore, since it is generally considered pretty rude to address a person by their occupation—many servers in restaurants, for example, hate being called “waiter” or “waitress”—I would advise addressing a flight attendant with “sir” or “ma'am” if you need to use an address at all. “Excuse me” should be sufficient to get a flight attendant’s attention when necessary.

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I wonder why you repeated an existing answer. – Oleh Prypin Jun 10 '11 at 6:47
@BlaXpirit: The other answer did not go on to fully answer the question about address. – Caleb Jun 10 '11 at 8:17
thank u for your answer! – goovim Jun 10 '11 at 15:37

I think the industry term is Cabin crew (as opposed to flight crew)

although in america they are probably 'in-flight refreshment facilitation operatives"

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While I agree with the other answers, if I was writing a period piece, I would use stewardess or air hostess. I'm not sure what time period air hostess was from, but it feels more 60's to me.

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I never heard "air hostess" in the US, only "stewardess". So watch out if your period piece also has a location. – GEdgar Jun 10 '11 at 14:53

I agree with phenry's answer (and those of the others) about both terms being offensive of late, and obsolete as well. But given the fact that the question was asked from China, I thought I might as well put forth my opinion.

I believe there was a major difference between a stewardess and an air hostess.

I remember being taught that a stewardess is the lady who is in charge of preparing and distributing food in the aeroplane.

An air hostess on the other hand is the lady who is in-charge of welcoming you onto the aircraft, providing you with your pillows and blankets, in charge of your safety (remember the original air hostess served as medical nurses abroad international flights) and any other enquiries you might have.

However, like everyone pointed out, this is pretty obsolete now (as has the system of unwed airhostess) and everyone is known as a flight attendant or cabin crew nowadays. And they usually end up taking care of both the activities mentioned above.

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How long has it been since you've taken a flight? I cannot remember the last time I was fed or brought bedding on a plane. – Malvolio Jun 10 '11 at 22:18
Well. Almost every international flight does this. And within the US, I have seen Delta doing it on their flights from Seattle to the midwest which are more than 4 hrs in flight time. – Sri Atluru Jun 11 '11 at 1:20

You could always call her a "waitress in the sky".

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Well, since part of their spiel at the start of the trip is to identify themselves, the sensible thing is to use the same term they used for themselves. That's always safest in any social situation. Listen, then talk.

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It depends who is doing the speaking. If you're writing a story, and it's a lecherous salesman type, you might use "stew".

I usually use "Miss" to address "younger" female flight attendants, and avoid the issue with the others "Excuse me, ... ".

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