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Physiological and psychological effects

The role of fight attendants assumes a pivotal role as they have to play multifaceted roles in offering services to air passengers. Flight attendants not only have to take care of the passengers, they also have to offer first aid, medical assistance in case of emergency, to monitor the passenger’s activity inside the flight cabin and see that passengers leave the plane with ultimate joy. This research evaluated the existence of acute job stressors among flight attendants and examined the relationship between psychological distress and job dissatisfaction with that of job stressors.

Many empirical studies have proved that job stressors have a meaningful effect on psychological and physiological effects on flight attendants. Flight attendants living alone had more stress. Further, taking into account the persistent threats of future terrorist attacks, flight attendants are vulnerable group for whom further assessment and treatment interventions for stress-related symptoms appear essential. Hence, this research study recommends that enhanced social support may be significant steps toward augmenting the satisfaction and well –being of flight attendants.

This research essay also analyzes in detail the nature of work of flight attendants in general, the physiological and psychological effects of stress they encounter when they are in duty, how to overcome the same and how government can help them to raise above form these issues. Introduction: Stress can be explained as a physiological or emotional retort to exterior stressors and stressors are circumstances or incidents that cause stress.

According to Cooper, stress is associated to different kinds of issues distinguished from other issue areas since it deals with any demands that tax the system, in whatever form it is, a psychological issue, a social method or a physiological method and the response of that system. The retort is relied on how the concerned individual apprises or interprets the importance of a threatening, damaging or challenging incident. [1978, p. 207]. An occupational stress is one which relates to emotional mood or state which emanate from an inconsistency between the level of demand and the individual’s capacity to cope with it.

Thus, an occupational stress is a subjective event and presents in people’s recognition of their incapacity to manage with the demands of the employment situation. [Kroemer and Grandjean, 1997, p. 212]. Ingredients of stress Thus, stress has the following three ingredients. 1. Real or assumed eliciting incidents namely stressors. 2. Emotional and psychological conditions. 3. Physiological and behavioral retaliations to incidents. [Stores and Kite, 1994]. Thus, in short, a stress can be explained as the cognitive evaluation of the scenario by an individual in such incident and relates to what that individual perceives about what is going on.

The role of flight attendants assume high significance as they have to offer modest and highly restrained responses to medical and other emergencies during a flight trip, to be vigilant and to monitor for any suspicious activities within the cabin atmosphere that may deliberately or accidentally hamper the safety of travelers or the flight crew, to make sure that passenger comply with Federal aviation regulations and to respond to passenger “air range”. Many air travelers are of the view that flight attendants are not as significant as pilots, air traffic controllers or other industry workers.

It is to be noted that in the event of non-catastrophic accident, it is the flight attendants not the air traffic controllers or pilots who will have the onerous to save passenger’s lives. As allowed by Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] , flight attendants ordinarily work up to 20-hour days and this is four hours more than what Pilots are required to work and have to adjust five or more time zones on daily basis. [ USA Today , 2007]. Flight attendant’s likely to suffer from stress due to critical flight incidents, physical job stressors like flight vibration, noise and working within limited working space.

Further, flight attendants are said to be suffering from flight phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. One research study illustrates that about 35% of flight attendants often feel anxiety before flight take-off occurs. There is a general feeling among flight attendants that insufficient supervision and social support is in existence and they were highly disappointed with non-sharing of information pertaining to specific operational procedures and technical matters. Being away from home for many days also make flight attendants to feel isolated and loneliness.

[McDonald et al, 2003, p. 710-714]. Stress and Flight Attendant’s Profession: One may encounter “Stress” due to emotional experience and also feel stress in a psychological or in a physiological response which can take the shape of a cognitive defense and a behavioural response – doing somewhat about the scenario. Stress may affect health of an individual. This is known as Physiological stress. It relates to simulation of nervous system, resulting in rushing of adrenaline which is nothing but a secretion of stress hormones and a sensation of high alertness.

There will be sudden increase in blood pressure, body temperature, respiration and heart rate of an individual when stress occurs. This is mainly due to shock and faintness. If this body condition is prolonged, an individual body can feel exhausted and susceptible to disease and may collapse. Stress can be classified into four subdivisions as fatigue, environmental stress, other biological factors and sleeplessness. [O’Hare and Roscoe, 1990]. Under environmental stress, working atmosphere can be referred as a source of stress.

When there is a need to work fast or to exert a large amount of physical effort or to work for long hours, this is called as stressful working atmospheres. A flight attendant may develop ‘role ambiguity ‘stress when he or she does not have apparent information about his job objectives, expectations of colleagues or responsibility and scope of the job. Likewise, she or he may also develop ‘role conflict’ stress if there is differing demands from him or her from different clusters of people concerning function and role.

If there is poor relationship between superiors, subordinates and peers, then an employee is having chance to have relationships stress. In an air crash, air safety investigators will also try to get some conception on pilot’s life stress levels to interpret of an accident sequence as stress will have its impact on pilot’s performance. It is to be noted that stressors varies from an individual to individual. An incident may be stressful to one individual and the same may not be stressful to another.

If an individual is able to have perceived control over the stressor, he may have stress less life and will have quality health. A flight attendant duty period or working hours starts in one city and ends in another city or in another country and they have to spend many days on layover and hence away from their home . The dual responsibility of being flight attendant and as devoted mothers and house wives is really a difficult task as they have to remain out of home for many days.

Further, as some airline imposes restriction to get married or getting conceived, they have to fight to retain their right to continue in employment even after marriage and claim their eligibility for maternity leave. It is to be remembered that flight attendants work in a circumstances that presents specific physical constraints. Flight attendants work for many hours in a demanding, often detrimental, probably perilous and often experience stress in the workplace.

The decrease in the porosity of the working day , the increase in the working hours , escalating uncertainty and unpredictability and the chipping away at airport control , security and independence have transformed into more stress and work pressure in the workplace. The loss of control, the more demanding work frame, and constant uncertainty around working hours have made the flight attendant’s job a very arduous job. [Vivian Shalla, 2004]. Sexual harassment Some female flight attendants report that sexual harassment by passengers makes them seriously depressed and some even have thought of committing suicide.

This type of stress may be due to the prolonged nature of this kind of harassment and its impact may be compounded by other kinds of unacceptable passenger relationships that naturally affect the health of flight attendants. One research study reveals that female flight attendants are often the victim of job stressors like psychological and mental demands , discrepancy between outside job obligations and job demands , low supervisory shore up and dissatisfaction in job were pointers of psychological distress among flight attendants.

Suicidical tendencies One another Italian research study reports that female flight attendants has to cope up with many job stressors like dealing with highly demanding passengers and balancing their functions as partners , mothers and community leaders. This study has also reported that risk of suicidical tendencies prevail more among female flight attendants due to anxiety, depression and satisfaction in job. Family relationship

Further, female flight attendants always pose frequent tension over their child care and their stress is likely to increase due to conflict between work demands and family relationship. Majority of the female flight attendants have described their work as “destabilizing “and “devastating “. Research study conducted by McDonald et al reveals that flight attendants who have preschool –aged children were more likely to pose difficulties in establishing balance between work demands and obligations at home thereby resulting with anger, perceived stress and anxiety.

Impact of 9/11 attack After 9/11, now there is an increased threats to passengers safety and flight crew, a decline in air travel and large number of airline personnel were retrenched, increased filing of chapter 11 bankruptcy petitions by airlines and there is a proposal to train the flight attendants on handling arms to fight against any future terrorist attacks and these factors have made important shifts in the job environment of flight attendants that would have implications for their health and welfare. Critical flying incidents

Passenger jets were employed as the weapon of mass destruction in the unparalleled September 11 attacks. During 9/11 incidents, unfortunately, all flight attendants and other crew members on four hijacked flights were lost their life. Flight attendants working on other 9/11 flights were directed to other alternate airports around the world, leaving many in unfamiliar cities and airports for many days thereby delaying their reunion with their beloved ones. Some critical flying incidents have been demonstrated to contribute to the prevalence of chronic psychiatric reactions among flight attendants.

Further, feelings of fatigue and linked biological disruption may negatively impact the physical health of female flight attendants including chronic reproductive and cardiovascular outcomes. Spontaneous abortions According to recent research studies, female flight attendants may suffer from increased rates of spontaneous abortion. This is due to high exposure to circadian rhythm disruption, augmented gravitational forces, noise from ozone zone, vibration, fatigue, decompression episodes and impact from hazardous chemicals.

[Cone et al, 1998, p. 210-216]. A research study conducted in Finland demonstrates that female flight attendants who employed during early pregnancy had a slightly elevated peril of spontaneous abortion as correlated with those flight attendants who were pregnant but were on leave. The result is in conformity with earlier research studies, depicting suggestive evidence of a slightly augmented risk of spontaneous abortion among female flight attendants.

Earlier studies have reported an augmented risk of spontaneous abortion and menstrual irregularities among women as flight attendants in commercial airlines. Daniel et al found out that spontaneous fetal loss happened nearly twice in the pregnancies of flight attendants as compared to those in other profession. Further , Cone et al reported that flight attendants who employed outside the home witnessed a nearly 200% risk of spontaneous abortion as contrasted with flight attendants who did not employ outside the home during pregnancy.

Increased risk of spontaneous abortion among flight attendants is linked to the high number of flying hours during pregnancy. Further, flight attendants are exposed to varied number chemical, physical and psychological elements that are essentially detrimental to fetal development. Friedberg et al projected that flight attendants are professionally exposed to cosmic radiation. It is to be noted that in-flight cosmic radiation which consists primarily of gamma rays and neutrons, is probably to cause mutations at a larger rate than the natural radiation at ground level.

Thus, flight attendants who are exposed to this mutations originated by radiation may experience fetal loss as well as birth defects. Exhausting nature of work, particularly that involve long hours of standing and walking in a narrow space like inside flight cabin appears to augment the peril of preterm delivery. The frantic work space in short duration flights and fatigue on long-haul flights may create mental stress, which has also been found associated to spontaneous abortion. Posttraumatic stress disorder. [PTSD].

As per research study carried out by Lating et al, flight attendants suffered from psychological reactions and functional coping responses in the aftermath of September 11 incident. Out of the 2050 respondent in the survey, about 19% stated that they were suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. [PTSD]. Taking into account the traumatic incidents experienced by the flight attendants and continued threat of future terrorist attacks, it is recommended that further assessment and treatment intervention for stress-related symptoms among flight attendants appear necessary and inevitable.

Having lost more over half dozen flights due to terrorist action, American Airlines declared layoff to flight attendants since September 11 attack in an attempt to cope with the core economic effect on the airline industry as there was a steep fall in air travelers due to terrorist attack phobia. More particularly, from October 2001 to July 2003, American Airlines have issued more layoff to its flight attendants. [Price, 2003]. These retaliatory actions perused by American Airlines which is directed and associated with terrorist attacks and mainly to recoup its financial losses, have the probable impact on flight attendants emotional effect.

Physiological effects Due to bad air in the flight, some times a flight may be forcibly turned to land in unscheduled airport. Due to bad air, the flight attendants are experiencing increased loss of motor skills and mental alertness and loss of ability to judge time passage. It has been observed that flight attendants lost consciousness due to bad air in the cabin of flight. After many years of resistance, the Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] has finally consented to work with OSHA to enhance the working atmospheres of flight attendants, while they are in flying aircraft.

The Association of Flight Attendants claims that their members should not be compelled to work in a frequent unhealthy environment day in and day out. Improving air quality in cabin is a crucial issue as it would enhance the health standards flight attendants and Flight Attendant’s association has recommended that airline should come forward to increase the price of their air tickets by a couple of dollars so as to recoup the $ 60,000 per plane they said to be saving annually by using recycled air.

[Hanson, 1997, p. 18]. When SARS [Severe acute respiratory syndrome], a deadly new disease that spearheaded during 2003, all most all countries got panic. Hong Kong was badly affected by SARS and intensity was such that the schools were closed and there was imposition of quarantine. In Asian flights, airlines offered masks to their flight attendants and passengers. Flight attendants at this juncture were very panic and affected by stress caused by the SARS Phobia.

[The Arizona Republic, 2003]. The role of flight attendants in the flight and their help in maintaining the passenger’s safety are laudable. For instance , President Bush in his State of Union address made at fag end of 2002 cited the following incident . Just before Christmas , an airline flight attendant found a suspicious passenger lighting a match. That suspicious man quickly restrained by crew and came to know that man has been trained by Al Qaeda and was armed with explosives.

The action of flight attendant Hermis Moutardier and Cristina Jones was lauded by President Bush in his State of Union address delivered on 31st January 2002 as they have saved nearly 200 lives. Thus, flight attendants can very well exposed to stress by activities of hijackers, terrorist who want to demonstrate their adventure inside flight cabin. [World News Digest, 2002]. The tobacco industry, in October 1997, announced that it had arrived at a $ 349 million settlement with flight attendants who charged that their health had been spoiled by exposure to secondhand smoke.

Research study conducted by Hyeonkyeong Lee et al on the correlation of lower-back pain and work-associated psychological elements, work-associated musculoskeletal disorders in flight attendants in the U. S reveals that about 146 women reported that they had symptoms of lower-back pain. About 88% of them witnessed such back-pain once in a month and about 72% was categorized as having back-pain with moderate intensity. The research study also reported that about 61% of them came under the meaning of having a lower-back, work-associated musculoskeletal disorder.

[Hyeonkyeong Lee, 2008, p. 14]. Impact of Stress on Performance: No doubt, stress will have direct effect on quality of work one provides. Stress may lead to committing errors, responding inappropriately or ending in “freezing up’. Stress may end in poor performance which may end in tunneling of attention, bad decision making, poor judgment, distraction, disorientation or forcing to resign from a job. Stress can also lead to onset of fatigue. How Flight Attendants can manage their stress:

Flight attendants during their off duty times should do vigorous aerobic exercise that too with relaxation techniques and in pleasant settings. They should aim for social support to minimize their stress. They should try to develop some hobbies like writing in journals about their experiences and thoughts. On the part of airline management, they should help to reduce the stress factor among flight attendants by reducing role vagueness by assigning clear cut job functions and minimizing role conflict by proficient management.

Flight attendants can pursue some sensible preventative measures like reducing risky attitude in times of stress and recognizing one’s own restrictions. To minimize stress during work, flight attendants should have the following in mind. They have to keep fit themselves well by eating, sleeping, relaxing properly and by having proper time management sense. Further, flight attendants should leave the stress at home and then report to duty with confidence and should not practice the procrastination.

While at work, they should have control over their psychological environment and not to react emotionally. For managing the risk, they should avoid unnecessary risks, should be mentally prepared to accept probable work overloads and to avoid self-inflicted stress by making early decisions, to resist any deviation from checklists, adhere to routines and mentally prepared for any delays. It should be borne in mind by flight attendants they should not pursue short cut methods to relieve themselves from stress by taking alcohol , drugs or self-medication.

Conclusion: Considering the alarming national security issues regarding air travel since September 11 incident, and the war in Iraq and probable retaliatory attacks by terrorists, it appears reasonable that unique and more detailed research studies on stress, coping and identification and treatment of flight attendants should be perused. Considering the nature of work and chance for being affected by stress, the Association of the flight attendants prefers to maintain their own counseling and stress management services.

An Italian research study has reported that risk of suicidical tendencies prevail more among female flight attendants due to anxiety, depression and satisfaction in job. Majority of the female flight attendants have described their work as “destabilizing “and “devastating “. Research study conducted by McDonald et al reveals that flight attendants who have preschool –aged children were more likely to pose difficulties in establishing balance between work demands and obligations at home thereby resulting with anger, perceived stress and anxiety.

According to recent research studies, female flight attendants may suffer from increased rates of spontaneous abortion Taking into account the traumatic incidents experienced by the flight attendants and continued threat of future terrorist attacks, it is recommended that further assessment and treatment intervention for stress-related symptoms among flight attendants appear necessary and inevitable.


Aspholm ,Rafael , Lindbolm , Marja –Liisa , Paakkulainen , Harri , Taskinen , Helena , Nurminen , Tuula , Tiitnen & Aila. [1999]. Spontaneous Abortions Among Finnish Flight Attendants. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, Vol. 41 [6], p. 486-491. Callagham, Elizabeth. (2007, Sept), Feminity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants. (Book review). Women’s Studies 36. 6, 460(1).

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