While the name of the first American stewardess – Ellen Church – is well known to people who are interested in commercial airline history, the first female flight attendant in Europe is not as well known. Nelly Diener started working for Swissair in 1934, and during her brief career she was featured in several news stories. One look at this picture gives a hint about why that might have been the case – look at this great shot of her wearing a rakishly tilted uniform cap:
By all accounts Nelly had a charming personality, and was known as Engel der Lüfte (“Angel of the Skies”). I recently found another picture of her that is also obviously posed, but includes a detail of her profession that I hadn’t seen before:
Note the wicker basket, which was used to transport food and cutlery to the aircraft, and dirty dishes away at the end of each flight. Wicker was the strongest light material available until the invention of plastic, and was used for airliner seat bottoms and luggage racks. I was surprised to see the rigid rather than folding handle on this one, and wonder where in the aircraft they stowed the basket.
Tragically, Nelly Diener’s career was very brief – she started working in May of 1934 and was killed in a crash during a thunderstorm in July. A Swiss aviation history website at nelly.ch is named in her honor.