Male flight attendant trend is taking off in Japan

  • For years, young women have dominated Japanese airline flight crews, but times are changing
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 December, 2018, 6:15pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 December, 2018, 9:16pm

More men are taking jobs in the traditionally female-dominated profession of Japanese airline cabin crew as smaller airlines actively look to distinguish themselves from their large domestic rivals.

The increasingly physical nature of the work in combination with the growing need to deal with unruly or drunk passengers, mean soradan (airmen) are being seen in the skies above Japan in larger numbers.

Koichi Ito joined Star Flyer, a medium-sized carrier based at Kitakyushu Airport in Fukuoka prefecture, as a flight attendant after working in a hotel. The 38-year-old said when he was a student he was impressed with the male flight attendants he saw on foreign carriers.

“They were cool,” he said. “I wondered why Japanese airlines employed only female cabin crew,” he said.

In considering some possible advantages of being a male cabin attendant, helping passengers put away and take out their increasingly bulky carry-on luggage, among other more physical tasks, came to mind.

“Male and female flight attendants have a different sense for passenger needs, and by combining both genders, the quality of service improves,” Ito said.

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Star Flyer currently has about 160 cabin crew, including eight men, and plans to hire six more male attendants by next summer.

“The use of male cabin attendants is effective in impressing passengers that we offer a different service from big airlines,” said a Star Flyer spokesperson.

At Jetstar Japan, a low-cost carrier based in Narita, Chiba prefecture, men account for about 15 per cent of all flight attendants.

Men currently account for around 1 per cent of the flight attendants at Japan’s two major airlines – Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways – considerably smaller than the 40 per cent at Singapore Airlines and 10 per cent at Korean Air, South Korea’s major airline.

A spokesperson for Air France, where today more than 30 per cent of flight attendants are men, said France has a modern culture in which men work widely across the service industry.

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In contrast, Japanese airlines had until recently almost exclusively employed young female attendants on international flights, said an executive of a leading domestic airline, apparently because this pleased their mostly male business clientele.

But now the situation is changing.

“An increase in young women and foreigners among passengers has created various needs including those that can be met by male crew members,” said Hiroki Nakamura, a 38-year-old male flight attendant for Japan Airlines. “We’ve also seen a rise in male cabin attendants in their 20s.”

Aviation analyst Kotaro Toriumi said an increase in female cabin crew members who still work after marriage and childbirth has changed the perception about the occupation, with men now considering it a viable career choice and, it seems, valuing it more highly.

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Attention to male crew members has also grown because of Kodansha’s weekly comic Soradan, a story about an 18-year-old boy who lost hope and became a flight attendant to try to turn his life around.

Issei Itokawa, the female author of the series which ran until this summer in Morning magazine, said, “When I was doing research, I learned that male crew members play a role in solving trouble, such as with drunk or belligerent passengers. I hope my manga will encourage many men to become soradan.”