Gender Bender: Flying Business Class

Business class on Cathay Pacific.

A few times a year, my work takes me to places for which I get to fly business class. It’s definitely a perk, but it certainly has more to do with flexibility of booking/unbooking for my employer than it has to do with my comfort. No problem here – I’ll take business class hands down any day. I have even become rather picky, complaining about old style recliner seats on Lufthansa versus the fully-flat-bed-angled-so-you-don’t-see-your-neighbor on Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific. You don’t have to crawl over your neighbor, and have something like privacy when surrounded by thirty-some other people snoring, twisted up in yesterday’s clothes and eye masks.

But as I approached the Lufthansa Business Class check-in desk in Frankfurt last week, I was stopped by a staff member: “Are you travelling business class?”

You don’t have to fly business class to see that most of the people who line up for that section are older white males. As a young woman, I don’t fit the demographic. It wasn’t the first time I had to wave my ticket at staff or fellow passengers when they were about to tell me to get in the line for Economy Class.

Business Class has largely been the domain of men. Many times when I’ve seen women in business class, they are accompanying husbands/partners. It’s not that women business travelers are absent from Business Class, but they are far fewer in number. Read this article by Nina Liss-Scultz about sexism in the Olympics, including the the horrid practice of Japan and Australia sending their men’s teams to the Olympics on business class, while relegating their women’s teams to travel in coach, even though the women’s teams have been more successful. As fellow writer Krystal Bonner noted in this article, the Japanese Football Association defends it’s policy that women travel in coach class, noting that their body size is smaller. As a former member of  Japanese dance troupe, I was the tallest person there – men and women included (they were always making me dance male roles).

The absence of women in business class is a visual indicator for the glass ceiling like no other.  It’s not the airline’s fault for not booking a larger amount of women in business class (but it is their fault for assuming young women not sporting designer clothes belong in economy class). It is indicative that women are still struggling up that ladder.

About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.