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Economy & Tech

Japan Airlines Appoints Former Flight Attendant as First Female President

Mitsuko Tottori, who has dedicated her career to safety and service, will be the first woman to lead Japan Airlines — or any major Japanese airline.

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Japan Airlines President Yuji Akasaka (left) shakes hands with Senior Managing Executive Officer Mitsuko Tottori at a press conference on January 17. (©Kyodo)

The glamor often associated with the airline industry by those outside seems to differ from the everyday experiences of its workers within. For instance, cabin crew are prohibited from wearing necklaces. Only one ring, no wider than four millimeters, can be worn on the fingers. Earrings are limited to white pearls, each with a diameter of 5 millimeters (0.16 in) or less. These are the strict grooming regulations imposed on the cabin crew at Japan Airlines (JAL). 

After the company's bankruptcy in 2010, public money was used to reconstruct the business. During this time, a passenger expressed displeasure at a ring a flight attendant was wearing. It was a wide, expensive ring from a luxury brand. The passenger felt that the flight attendant should have demonstrated more thoughtfulness, given the company's financial struggles. The four-millimeter rule for rings was implemented based on the lessons learned from the incident.

As former JAL flight attendant Izumi Egami wrote in her book Shiawase Manner to Omotenashi no Kihon (Happiness Etiquette and the Basics of Hospitality), a flight attendant's true reflection is not discovered in a mirror but rather in the eyes of the passengers. 

She emphasized that the "cost-free" elegance of a smile held more value than accessories. Egami wrote that this principle was ingrained in the cabin crew. 

Flight attendants serve passengers in the closest proximity, gaining an extensive understanding of their needs. Additionally, safety management undoubtedly becomes second nature through their daily training. 

"Shiawase Manner to Omotenashi no Kihon" by former JAL flight attendant Izumi Egami. (©Kairyusha)

First Female President

JAL's newly appointed president, Mitsuko Tottori, is a former flight attendant and currently serves as the senior vice president for customer experience. It will be interesting to see how she translates her experiences into effective management.

Tottori's appointment as JAL's President and Representative Director is significant for two reasons. She is both the first woman and the first former cabin crew member to hold this position at the company. 

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Furthermore, the significance of her selection is underscored by recent events, such as the Haneda Airport runway collision in January. The swift and precise evacuation guidance provided by the cabin crew proved instrumental in saving the lives of all 379 passengers onboard. 

With her career grounded in the principles of safety and service, it is exciting to witness the managerial expertise and leadership Tottori could bring to the role.

JAL is said to embrace the principle of "100-1 = 0," which means that a single mistake by one person can damage the reputation of the entire company. The pressure of bearing the responsibility of representing all colleagues is not difficult to imagine.

Above all, as the demand for air travel rises post-COVID, ensuring the safety of the skies will remain the utmost priority for the new president.

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(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: The Sankei Shimbun

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