Hawaiian Airlines first opened the aircraft cabin doors on November 11, 1929 as Inter-Island Airways, flying sightseeing tours of the islands. Within five years, the airline had introduced airmail and air cargo service to the Islands, followed by a string of other ‘firsts’.
Thirty years later, Hawaiian Airlines Flight Attendants joined the union that would become the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) and emerged as an integral and influential force in our union, with an enduring impact on their airline and beyond.
Today, Hawaii’s oldest airline services six of the eight Hawaiian Islands, 12 international and 11 U.S. mainland destinations with a fleet of 50 aircraft. Hawaiian Airlines consistently ranks among the top U.S. airlines from safety to passenger service. It is no coincidence that behind these stellar rankings are dedicated and longstanding union leaders, like AFA MEC President Sharon Soper and AFA Negotiating Committee Chairperson Diana Huihui.
“Union work either calls to you, or it doesn’t,” said Sharon, reflecting on her service in AFA leadership. “It called to me.”
A major motivation was the discrimination against women that they witnessed on a daily basis. Female ‘air hostesses’ faced weight, age, marriage, pregnancy and equal pay discrimination. Sharon and Diana were determined to right these injustices.
Diana recalls the realities of such discrimination. “Female Flight Attendants weren’t able to get loans because the assumption was that they would get married, lose their jobs and be unable to pay back the loans.” AFA leaders pushed in every way possible to improve the contract and extend benefits for members. The union pushed for improvements while also taking part in a broader effort to beat back discrimination on Capitol Hill and in the courts.
Since becoming involved in the 1960s, Sharon and Diana have provided strong and steady union leadership in good times and in bad, making inroads at the bargaining table that would later be reflected in the law.
For example, in an era when pregnancy meant losing your job, the Hawaiian AFA Negotiating Committee fought for language that protected pregnant single mothers so they could maintain their jobs and support their children. Despite the Negotiating Committee’s best efforts, they were unable to overcome gender discrimination and convince management to protect pregnant married Flight Attendants as management believed those Flight Attendants could rely on their husbands for financial support. With passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this form of employment discrimination became unlawful under Title VII. Following passage of the law, AFA successfully fought such discrimination in the courts.
The evolution of the Flight Attendant profession as aviation’s first responders was the culmination of Flight Attendants having a vision of a better future for our profession and stepping up to play an active role in realizing that vision. We are proud of the role that strong women, like Sharon Soper, Diana Huihui and so many others, have played in the evolution of women’s rights and of our union's success in shaping our Flight Attendant careers.
We wish a happy anniversary to Hawaiian Airlines and all of the AFA members who fly today and have flown for this iconic airline.