Put aside the fact that passengers didn't bring their 5 million bags on the aircraft (as they do today), the overhead racks were used primarily for hat boxes, coats, pillows & blankets. Fine China was actually used to serve passengers, gloves were used in flight by the Attendants, kids (and some adults) were able to actually visit the cockpit during cruise altitude.
Imperial Airways of the United Kingdom had "cabin boys" or "stewards"; in the 1920s. In the USA, Stout Airways was the first to employ stewards in 1926, working on Ford Trimotor planes between Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Western Airlines (1928) and Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) (1929) were the first US carriers to employ stewards to serve food. Ten-passenger Fokker aircraft used in the Caribbean had stewards in the era of gambling trips to Havana, Cuba from Key West, Florida. Lead flight attendants would in many instances also perform the role of purser, steward, or chief steward in modern aviation terminology.
Female flight attendants rapidly replaced male ones, and by 1936, they had all but taken over the role. They were selected not only for their knowledge but also for their characteristics. A 1936 New York Times article described the requirements:
"The girls who qualify for hostesses must be petite; weight 100 to 118 pounds; height 5 feet to 5 feet 4 inches; age 20 to 26 years. Add to that the rigid physical examination each must undergo four times every year, and you are assured of the bloom that goes with perfect health."
It was an easier job then....for the most part. Passengers didn't have to worry about getting to the airport 2-4hours prior to scheduled departure to wait through security checkpoints. However that did change and metal detectors were installed when talks of highjacking started to come around, and then of course the events after 9/11 which changed the history of aviation as it once was.
The majority of a flight attendant's duties are safety related. Prior to each flight, flight attendants attend a safety briefing with the pilots and lead flight attendant. During this briefing they go over safety and emergency checklists, the locations and amounts of emergency equipment and other features specific to that aircraft type. Boarding particulars are verified, such as special needs passengers, small children travelling as unaccompanied or VIPs. Weather conditions are discussed including anticipated turbulence. Prior to each flight a safety check is conducted to ensure all equipment such as lifevests, torches and firefighting equipment are on board, in the right quantity, and in proper condition. Any unserviceable or missing items must be reported and rectified prior to takeoff. They must monitor the cabin for any unusual smells or situations. They assist with the loading of carry-on baggage, checking for weight, size and dangerous goods. They make sure those sitting in emergency exit rows are willing and able to assist in an evacuation and move those who are not willing or able out of the row into another seat. They then must do a safety demonstration or monitor passengers as they watch a safety video. They then must "secure the cabin" ensuring tray tables are stowed, seats are in their upright positions, armrests down and carry ons stowed correctly and seat belts fastened prior to takeoff. All the service between boarding and take-off is called Pre
Take off Service.
Flight attendants are highly trained to deal with a wide variety of emergencies,and are trained in First Aid. More frequent situations may include a bleeding nose, illness, small injuries, intoxicated passengers, aggressive and anxiety stricken passengers. Emergency training includes rejected takeoffs, emergency landings, cardiac and in-flight medical situations, smoke in the cabin, fires, depressurization, on-board births and deaths, dangerous goods and spills in the cabin, emergency evacuations, hijackings, water landings, and sea, jungle, arctic, and desert survival skills
Flight Attendants not only have to watch out for safety, but we have to keep a close eye on potential dangers to the flight itself. On top of that, service must be at an all time high, as well as simple knowledge of complicated new seats that airlines try to compete with for the business traveler.
With the weight standards, marriage restrictions, and other changes over the years, you will now find many flight attendants to be larger in size, married, and sometimes not dressed to the high standards that the airline set back in the day.