Last year, British Airways overturned a policy that saw its female cabin crew forced to wear skirts. Or so we thought. It now turns out that BA still doesn’t consider trousers a “standard” part of its uniform for female employees. In February 2016, British Airways claimed it had amended its uniform policy following a two-year campaign by female crew to have the option of wearing trousers.
But we recently learnt that female new starters are only being offered skirts as part of their uniform allowance. Bizarrely, however, this policy only applies to its ‘Mixed Fleet’ cabin crew based at Heathrow Airport. New crew members at Gatwick and London City airport’s can still choose whether they wear trousers or a skirt as standard.
The policy also doesn’t apply to ‘Worldwide’ or ‘Eurofleet’ crew – those are staff who joined the airline before 2010. Why the uniform guidelines only apply to a very small group of crew remains unknown but it’s believed that Mixed Fleet would be least resistant to the policy.
We reached out to British Airways and asked them whether they were concerned this policy could be seen as sexist or discriminatory. A spokesperson declined to directly address this point but did say they “regularly meet with colleagues to discuss cabin crew uniforms and listen to any concerns they raise.”
The spokesperson continued: “Our cabin crew take great pride in their appearance while representing British Airways and our uniform is designed to be stylish, professional and comfortable.”
The airline acknowledged that trousers weren’t a standard option in the uniform allowance but did go on to say that female cabin crew could request trousers by getting authorisation from their manager. The news comes just weeks after the British Airline Stewards and Stewardesses Association (BASSA) accused British Airways of “crass and sexist” policies.
That complaint stems from a requirement for female crew to carry an official BA handbag with them when on duty. According to the UK’s tabloid newspaper, The Sun, 500 cabin crew have complained about the policy – the union says crew already have enough to carry without having to haul a handbag on their shoulder as well.
Of course, British Airways isn’t the only airline to have a uniform policy that might be considered old-fashioned by some. Here’s a look at what some of the airline’s biggest rivals require their female cabin crew to wear:
Fellow British airline, Virgin Atlantic, also has a ‘skirt only’ policy for its female Cabin Crew. However, Virgin requires all its female to follow the same guidelines so you’re unlikely to see any female Virgin Atlantic cabin crew wearing trousers.
The airline introduced a new look in 2014 and cabin crew now wear designer threads created by celebrated British designer Vivienne Westwood. Although even these striking red garments aren’t without controversy. Some crew have allegedly complained about the uniform being uncomfortable and too tight for anyone but the most waif-like.
British Airways passengers are probably seeing more Qatar Airways cabin crew than what they were expecting. The Persian Gulf airline has stepped in to supply nine aircraft and a team of cabin crew to cover a walkout by BA staff.
Yet despite owning 20% of BA’s parent company, the Qatar Airways uniform policy is very different to British Airways. Female cabin crew are free to wear trousers and many opt for this choice over wearing a skirt. In fact, Qatar Airways is the only airline of the Middle East Three (Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, Emirates) to have such a forward uniform policy.
Speaking of Emirates, the only female crew you’ll likely see wearing trousers are the so-called Cabin Service Attendant’s (CSA) – These crew only fly on the airline’s Airbus A380 fleet to service the luxury onboard shower spa in the First Class cabin.
All other female cabin crew are encouraged to wear skirts but staff are allowed to request trousers in limited and very specific circumstances – normally because of an injury but the reasons vary.
Abu Dhabi-based airline, Etihad Airways, also launched a new look for its cabin crew in 2014. The uniform was designed by Italian Haute Couturier Ettore Bilott and was part of a complete redesign of the Etihad brand – a programme the airline called ‘flying reimagined’.
Onboard the airline’s aircraft, female cabin crew aren’t allowed to wear trousers – in fact, Etihad says trousers aren’t even an option. Elsewhere, female staff are encouraged to wear a skirt wherever possible but can opt for trousers if absolutely necessary (normally for religious reasons).
What do you think of the British Airways uniform policy? let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.