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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 March 2019

Virgin Atlantic ditches make-up rules for cabin crew

The airline no longer requires female staff to wear make-up when on duty

Virgin Atlantic air stewardess and steward training at The Base training facility in Crawley. Getty Images
Virgin Atlantic air stewardess and steward training at The Base training facility in Crawley. Getty Images

Virgin Atlantic has announced new rules that mean female cabin crew no longer need to wear make-up when flying.

The changes also include a trouser uniform option for female crew, something that was previously only available on special request.

Crew can still opt to wear make-up, but if they do so there is a list of colours for lipstick and foundations which they must select from. The company also runs a Groom School session where all new cabin crew will be coached on grooming guidelines before they start flying.

Cabin crew represent the face of an airline and as such have always been subject to rules regarding grooming and appearance.

High standards

British Airways still requires female staff to wear make-up, but dropped it's no trousers for women rule three years ago. It also has instructions relating to how thick tights worn by female staff should be.

Malaysian Airways have strict eyeshadow palette rules and Singapore Airlines has only three approved nail polish shades and colourful sarongs that all female staff must wear.

Singapore Airlines insist that female crew wear make up and sarongs in keeping with the brand image. Courtesy Singapore Airlines
Singapore Airlines insist that female crew wear make up and sarongs in keeping with the brand image. Courtesy Singapore Airlines

Regionally, Emirates has a list of lipstick and nail polish shades that must be adhered to by cabin crew. Application tips for candidates applying for such positions include wearing a full face of make up for females and being clean shaven for men. Etihad has similar standards and also advises that visible body piercings, other than one earring in the lower lobe of each ear for females only, are unacceptable.

The updated rules come after an announcement by the International Air Transport Association to launch the IATA Diversity and Inclusion awards to recognise diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

A shift in perception

The changes could mark a shift in attitude towards cabin crew, a role that has traditional been very heavily regulated. In the early days of flight attendants, strict age and non-marriage clauses meant that the career was mostly a short-lived option with women leaving the service to marry or being grounded when they reached 32 years of age.

United Airlines traditionally had strict rules for how cabin crew could look and act. Courtesy Flickr /  San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive   
United Airlines traditionally had strict rules for how cabin crew could look and act. Courtesy Flickr /  San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive   

Vintage adverts recruiting cabin crew promoted non-marriage as the preferred option with a 1967 United Airlines advertisement stating ‘Marriage is fine, but shouldn’t you see the world first' and the length of dresses and skirts, and preferred hairstyles were all strictly controlled.

Virgin Atlantic’s changes make the airline one of the first to discard make up rules for female cabin crew but it's not the first time the airline has been in the news due to make-up. In 2013, Virgin boss Richard Branson dressed in full female flight attendant uniform, including make up, to serve passengers on an Air Asia charity flight from Perth to Kuala Lumpur.

Updated: March 5, 2019 12:56 PM

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