Flight attendants at United Airlines have told bosses that their time would be better spent helping to resolve “real-time and immediate issues” rather than concentrating on a so-called uniform compliance check program that will see managers diverted from operational issues to become ‘grooming and uniform police’.
The decision to carry out spot checks on flight attendants that might be flouting United’s uniform and grooming policy comes as the global aviation industry struggles to keep up with the demand for air travel this summer.
United Airlines has so far managed to swerve the kind of operational meltdowns that have hit rivals like Delta and JetBlue with just 23 cancelled flights and 102 delayed departures on the Tuesday following the Independence Day weekend.
But flight attendants represented by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) say managers need to be helping on the frontline during peak travel periods.
“Considering all of the other challenges we are facing on a daily basis in the height of one of the busiest periods of travel, the timing of this initiative is poor and suggests a management disconnect exists on the pulse of the Flight Attendant group,” the union told United late last week.
“We ask management to consider that the energy and resources being put into the uniform checks by local base management, during the “height of our travel season,” might not be put to better use.”
Even if United has so far swerved major disruptions, flight attendants say they are dealing with daily catering issues, crewing problems and other issues that require support and attention from base managers.
Those managers might not, however, be available to provide real-time assistance because they are tied up inspecting the appearance of flight attendants.
And during those inspections, they might find flight attendants not wearing their uniforms correctly because there is a low stock of certain items. New hire flight attendants are being sent out from training school without a full set of uniform and are instead resorting to swap boards to get hold of uniform.
Last year, United made major changes to its uniform and grooming policy, allowing flight attendants to show off visible tattoos while in uniform for the very first time.
The standards have also been rewritten to make them gender-neutral, allowing male staff to wear piercings, makeup and a variety of hairstyles that were previously banned. There is also no requirement for female crew to wear makeup if they don’t want to.
United told employees that it hopes the newly relaxed policy will “reflect a more modernized look, with inclusive standards that better permit freedom of gender expression so that employees can feel their best at work.”
In principle, the flight attendant union says its members want to “meet uniform standards while looking and feeling our best”.
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.