To mark International Women's Day (you didn't forget, did you?), Air France has designated an all-female crew to oversee a flight from Paris to Washington today.
The airline has made this an annual tradition since 2006. But this year, the flight will take place on an Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger aircraft.
With two pilots and 22 attendants, Air France says that this will be "the largest exclusively female crew in its history," Canoe.ca reports.
It's a nice gesture, of course, but one that also invites various questions: Namely, why is this such a big deal?
One report suggests that while there are more men working as flight attendants today, it still remains a predominantly female profession (in 2007, 26.4 men for every 100 women).
Commercial aviation is one of the few fields where gender roles persist. Many pilots enter the field from the military, which is largely composed of men. And the perception endures that serving in-flight meals is a woman's job. Air France used the word "stewardesses" in its statement. As the French say, plus ça change. … But perhaps to Air France, the idea represents solidarity: girl power at a cruising altitude of 39,000 feet.
Here's something else to consider: If Air France did not point out this exceptional occasion, would passengers even notice? After all, the pilots remain behind a locked door and it's entirely plausible that any given flight could end up with all-female cabin crew just by chance.
Pilot Christine Heitz is quoted as saying: "Seeing an all-female crew makes an impression. I'm very excited about the idea of this flight." But as Jezebel points out with characteristic digression, the flight seems like a missed opportunity to do even more – like fill the plane entirely with female passengers. Depending on seat configuration, the plane can take anywhere between 525 and 853 people. That's a lot of women.
In somewhat related IWD news, the Economist has put together a "glass-ceiling" index that ranks developed countries according to whether they provide equal treatment at work. The magazine analyzed five different sets of data including the male-female wage gap and proportion of women in senior jobs. Canada came in at a not so shabby fourth, with New Zealand, Norway and Sweden occupying the top three spots, respectively. France, for what it's worth, came in 11th out of 26 countries.
So here's an idea: Maybe next year, Air France could send experts from the lowest ranking countries – Switzerland, Japan and South Korea – to New Zealand for some information gathering. The female co-pilots could even throw in a tour of cockpit.