British Airways has faced a fair amount of criticism over the last couple of weeks over it’s uniform and grooming policy – especially for female cabin crew. There have been allegations that the policy is sexist and a senior trade unionist has called on British Airways to relegate “expectations of makeup, heel length and buttoned up jackets” to the history books.
Assistant General Secretary of the Unite union Diana Holland wrote an open letter to BA’s boss Alex Cruz asking him to make a number of simple changes to the rules in order to avoid what she saw as the “sexualisation of the uniform”. This all came about after Holland heard a number of alarming stories about the uniform, including the fact that female cabin crew were being issued with semi-transparent blouses.
Another of Holland’s concerns was BA’s “overemphasis on everyone looking the same” – she says she was “shocked’ to learn that cabin crew had to ask permission to remove their uniform jackets despite the rule seemingly being in contravention of EU health and safety rules.
Well, it turns out many of BA’s cabin crew shared Holland’s concerns on this issue and the airline has finally relented with an update to its uniform policy. Cabin crew and other frontline staff will now be able to decide for themselves whether they wear a jacket or not. It’s hardly the biggest news but apparently this was a contentious subject of much discussion which has been simmering for years.
It’s not known whether British Airways plans to address any of Holland’s other concerns which included:
- Gender-specific uniform items – like high-heeled shoes and hats for female cabin crew
- Women facing disciplinary proceedings for wearing the “wrong” coloured underwear
However, the airline is currently in the process of designing a new uniform which is expected to be revealed a little later this year. This would seem like a sensible time to be reviewing all of these kinds of issues, especially in light of equality-enhancing policy changes at rival airlines.
Airlines are finally realising that society and attitudes are rapidly changing and that their cabin crew and other uniform wearers aren’t living in a parallel ‘airline universe’ where sexist and old fashioned behaviour is acceptable. No doubt this will come as a shock to many – and perhaps even a disappointment to some.
But let’s be clear – airlines shouldn’t be allowed to ignore perfectly sensible health and safety rules or dismiss equality laws for the titillation of passengers. I’m sure it’s perfectly possible for airline cabin crew to look smart and professional, while still being true to themselves.