Airlines notoriously have strict grooming policies for cabin crew with some mandating the exact shades of makeup to be used and only allowing crew to wear their hair in approved styles. These grooming policies normally put a lot more pressure on female cabin crew but men don’t go unnoticed – they too also have to comply with grooming guidelines like how they wear their hair, including facial hair.
It might not ever have occurred to you before now but have you ever noticed male cabin crew at any of the Big Three airlines in the Middle East – Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad – wearing a beard? The answer will most definitely be ‘No’ because all these airlines ban male cabin crew from having a beard. In fact, it’s been known for male cabin crew to be asked to shave mid-flight on ultra-long-haul sectors because they were developing a five o’clock shadow!
That’s not to say that all facial hair is banned – certain styles of moustache are allowed but crew members who don’t come from the region are generally discouraged from having a moustache.
Yet, we’ve now learned that Etihad Airways is about to buck the trend and become the first airline in the region to allow male cabin crew to have a beard. It’s obviously not the biggest change but it does mark another data point in how airlines around the world are starting to relax grooming policies as our values across society start to shift.
We’ve already seen Virgin Atlantic get rid of a requirement for female crew to wear makeup, while also allowing male crew to wear makeup if they wish. A number of other airlines already have similar policies or have quickly followed Virgin’s lead.
We’re not expecting Etihad to quite take this approach just yet but this small yet significant grooming policy change does at least show that more and more airlines are finally catching up with modern values.
Don’t expect Etihad’s male cabin crew to suddenly start turning up for work unshaven though. There will still be plenty of rules – first and foremost will be a requirement that crew can’t start growing a beard on duty. That means that many might have to wait for a long holiday before they grow one out and the beard will have to be neat and tidy.
It’s interesting that Etihad is making this change during a massive transformation programme that will hopefully get the carrier into the black after several years of massive losses. Etihad is repositioning itself from what many saw as an incredibly luxurious but perhaps out of reach boutique airline to a carrier that offers choice and a product for anyone, regardless of their budget.
Unfortunately, that means Etihad is being forced to make some tough decisions – decisions that aren’t necessarily popular with passengers. Only yesterday, Etihad revealed it would be ripping out individual seatback screens on the majority of its single-aisle A320-family fleet. The airline has really embraced introducing as many ancillary revenue streams as possible, including Buy Onboard F&B in addition to complimentary meals.
The changes are easy to criticise but they might be key to its future success – right now, the airline is offering a broad spectrum of products to suit every taste. From the three-room Residence class on its A380, right down to hand baggage only basic economy fares on short-haul routes.