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 address her?


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
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    @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
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    @BlaXpirit: The other answer did not go on to fully answer the question about address. – Caleb Jun 10 '11 at 8:17
  • An exact parallel can be found in how (some) luxury cruises' cabin stewards and cabin stewardesses are now called cruise attendants. – tchrist Apr 16 '17 at 21:00
  • The poster specifically asked how to a address a woman. Your remark about assumptions seems political rather than pertinent. – David Apr 17 '17 at 17:59
  • @David it is both political and pertinent. It would be an abdication of my duty to inform were I to answer a gendered question with a nongendered answer and not remark on that. – nohat Apr 17 '17 at 19:11

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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    ...Is your last sentence supposed to be a joke? Because to put my sense of humor back in its box for a moment, it's dead wrong. I've only ever heard "flight attendant" recently, though I wouldn't misunderstand "stewardess". – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Apr 16 '17 at 13:06

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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    Out of curiosity, why not just use "excuse me" for everyone? That's what I normally do. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Apr 16 '17 at 13:07
  • @QPaysTaxes I guess I like to live on the edge. – Spehro Pefhany Apr 16 '17 at 15:02

A woman who serves food and drinks on a plane (as in the original question) is probably:

A drunken air hostess

However, a woman who serves food and drink on a plane is called simply an air hostess. You need not be overly concerned about her title — I would suggest that you address her as “Miss” or “Madam” depending on her age.

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  • The "post your answer" button is for posting answers, not jokes. The actual answer part of this post doesn't cite any source to back it up and just suggests a word that was already listed in other places on this page. – herisson Apr 16 '17 at 23:58
  • the idiom is to "serve drinks" not "serve drink" – nohat Apr 17 '17 at 4:04
  • @nohat — The idiom is "food and drink", not "food and drinks". – David Apr 17 '17 at 7:26
  • @sumelic — My answer may have overlapped another (and after your first sally you do seem to agree it is an answer) but it made an important additional linguistic point. This is an English Language site, isn't it? I wasn't aware that humour was forbidden, so I suppose I'll just have to shoot and leave now. – David Apr 17 '17 at 7:39
  • What is the important additional linguistic point? The ambiguity in the old title, which your joke relies on, wasn't even in the original question; it was the product of an edit by Lauren, a StackExchange employee who edited question titles a while ago to make the titles into complete sentences. – herisson Apr 17 '17 at 17:07

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