he aviation industry is notorious for putting a premium on the appearance of female flight attendants. From recruitment to doing the actual job, looks count for more than anything else. Whether it’s Kenya Airways, British Airways or Emirates, you will always meet the ever smiling pretty faces of ladies (and fewer gentlemen!) in the aircraft.
The looks are backed up by impeccable styling and grooming, often above-the-knee-length skirts and make-up. That’s where most airlines insist on fitting attires that bring out that sexy body that is believed to meet the customers’ psychological needs when flying – and that often plastic smiles accentuated by make-up, mainly red lipstick and the occasional eye-shadow.
But that is just about to change. British airline Virgin Atlantic last week moved to democratize the dress code for its flight attendants, giving them the option to go without make-up or wear trousers. Virgin Atlantic’s female flight attendants are known for their red skirts, ruby shoes and bold crimson lipstick. Initially, female crew members were required to wear blush, mascara and red lipstick at a minimum.
The surprising announcement is seen as the beginning of a new trend in the industry that will certainly liberalize flight attendants dress code and give them more choice over how they express themselves at work as the appearance of flight attends begins to lose premium in attracting and retaining customers.
British Airways recently dropped its “no-pants” rule but still requires female flight attendants to wear makeup. It seems customer service itself remains a determinant rather than how the person delivering it looks.
Virgin Atlantic, owned by flamboyant entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, has consistently stretched the dress style with its uniforms, choosing sleeker cuts and ever bolder shades of red.
“We want our uniform to truly reflect who we are as individuals while maintaining that famous Virgin Atlantic style,” Mark Anderson, an executive vice president with the company, said in a statement. “We have been listening to the views of our people and as a result have announced some changes to our styling and grooming policy that support this.”
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Local budget airlines such as Jambo Jet or Fly 540 have relatively more relaxed rules than big players like Kenya Airways. But while KQ and other airlines give flight attends option of skirt or trouser, the styling has to meet the unwritten industry standard.
According to a New York Times report, Israeli airline El Al requires all female flight attendants to wear high heels to greet passengers and should not take them off until they are all seated. In January, Pakistan International Airlines sent a memo to its staff members giving them six months to meet the company’s weight limits, according to CNN.
Saying it made the changes based on staff feedback, Virgin Atlantic female crew members were no longer required to wear but were welcome to wear the lipstick and foundation recommended in the company’s guidelines. “Not only do the new guidelines offer an increased level of comfort, they also provide our team with more choice on how they want to express themselves,” Mr. Anderson said.
Analysts say when a brand like Virgin signals on what matters and what doesn’t other airlines are likely to follow suit. And maybe other customer-facing professions like hospitality and advertising, which focus so much on sexy dressing.