CHIANGRAI TIMES – At flight attendant preparation classes at Kasem Bundit University (KBU) and Mae Fah Luang University (MFU), the female-to-male ratios are about the same.
At state-run Mae Fah Luang University (MFU), in the northern province of Chiang Rai, about 15 of the 50 students are male.
In the lecture room at KBU’s Rom Klao Road campus in Bangkok, the mix is roughly the same _ five out of 25 are men.
Across the capital at the Bangkok Airways recruitment centre in Chatuchak district, applicants for cabin crew jobs are roughly 75% women and 25% men.
The gender mix for those applying for cabin attendant jobs at other airlines, Thai and foreign, is about the same.
The numbers of men seeking to enter this profession and those already working as cabin attendants at commercial airlines are dwindling.
Lecturers, recruiters and in-flight service managers at airlines, including national carrier Thai Airways International (THAI), agree that men are disappearing from the cabins of commercial airliners.
There seems to be a general perception, at least in Thailand, that the job of cabin attendant is increasingly reserved for ladies.
That is one reason why men hesitate entering the career, said a male in-flight manager with 35 years of experience in on-board service at THAI.
“Working as stewards _ the preferred term to describe male cabin crew _ is losing its lustre among many Thai men,” the retiring official, who asked not to be named, explained.
The opportunity to fly abroad for free, considered one of the most valuable benefits for those choosing a career in the air, may be losing its appeal as international travel becomes increasingly affordable.
However, there are different views from others working in the aviation profession.
“Young people who desire to become cabin crew seem to be primarily driven by their desire to travel,” explained a German aviation professional with 15 years of industry experience worldwide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“I don’t believe young men are generally deterred from joining the ranks of flying staff by airlines that prefer one sex over the other,” he added.
Kanyaratana Xuto, the human resources director at Bangkok Airways, agreed.
“Men are still interested in flying, but the opportunities are fewer, as airlines have a growing preference towards females,” she said, adding that these men would simply apply to airlines that do not discriminate against them.
Females also tend to be more interested in cabin crew jobs, as they tend to see the career as being glamorous and respected by society, plus the pay is good, said Puvadit Jirakongpas, who lectures on the airline industry at KBU.
Flight attendant recruitment advertisements placed by airlines such as Qatar Airways, China Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Japan Airlines restrict applicants to female only.
Startup airlines like Thai Smile Air, a budget offshoot of THAI due to get off the ground in July, are also recruiting females.
“I would argue that the primary factor in selecting female over male cabin crew is the demographics that determine the airline’s recruitment policy and product proposition,” said the German aviation professional.
Research would probably conclude that the majority of senior airline managers _ the decision-makers _ are male, middle-aged or older and usually of more conservative beliefs.
For those decision-makers, beautiful young women serving passengers are seen as more desirable, even a competitive necessity, he pointed out.
Take the reality of how US and European airlines are perceived.
The image of more seasoned, less enthusiastic attendants places them at a disadvantage to Asian airlines that advertise with young, beautiful women.
Some Asian airlines do actively promote both their male and female onboard staff, but once again preferences veer towards youth and beauty.
An airline’s brand proposition is typically still closely linked to the romance of flying.
For many decision-makers, this image is usually associated with a female rather than a male smile.
Employers are traditionally wary of young women due to the risk of maternity leave and the cost and loss of their contribution to the business during this period.
Yet despite this, airlines will accept the associated risk and liabilities to ensure their brand is desirable and will sell over their competitors.
On a final note, however: is this so different from how cars, hotels, restaurants or even banks or hospitals position their brands?
Visit any bank or hospital in Bangkok and you are greeted with a youthful, beautiful and predominantly female smile.
Writer: Boonsong Kositchotethana