Southwest Airlines has started to terminate new hire flight attendants even as they near the end of their training after the carrier decided to tighten enforcement of its longstanding ban on visible tattoos in uniform.
In an internal social media post reported by View from the Wing, trainee flight attendants were warned that any tattoos on the fingers, hands, face or neck would result in an immediate release from training.
The tough enforcement action would still stand even if flight attendants are able to cover their tattoos with makeup. In recent weeks, there have been several reports of new hire flight attendants being terminated while still in training school.
Airlines are known for their strict uniform standards which have traditionally barred flight attendants from displaying visible tattoos while in uniform. But in the last couple of years, those rules have started to be eased and Southwest flight attendants had expected their employer to follow suit.
In 2022, United Airlines became one of the first airlines in the United States to allow some visible tattoos, and in recent months Breeze Airways has followed suit by allowing small tattoos on fingers, arms and even behind the ears.
Internationally, Virgin Atlantic made headlines last year when it opened the door to flight attendants to display visible tattoos of any size, as long as the designs weren’t offensive – a determination remains at the discretion of the airline.
Generally speaking, however, even airlines that have relaxed their tattoo policies haven’t gone so far as to allow flight attendants to show off ink of their necks or face.
Air New Zealand is possibly the only airline that currently allows face tattoos – due largely to acceptance of Tā Moko (a form of tattoo which is traditionally practised by Māori and often worn on the face).
In 2021, Canadian airlines were told they couldn’t prevent flight attendants from displaying visible tattoos but an independent arbitrator drew the line at face and neck tattoos. Carriers like Air Canada and Westjet are also able to reject tattoos that they deem as offensive.
Southwest Airlines did not immediately respond to comment.
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.