Virgin Atlantic’s landmark gender identity policy that allows cabin crew to “express themselves” through uniform choice has been restricted to just two countries after the airline conducted risk assessments and decided that within the Virgin Atlantic route network, only the United States and Israel were “accepting of non-binary identities”.
Last September, Virgin Atlantic made history when it became the first UK airline to ditch traditional gender-based uniform rules. Instead of a ‘male’ and ‘female’ uniforms, the airline now has a ‘red’ uniform which features a skirt and a ‘burgundy’ uniform which is a three-piece suit.
Cabin crew are meant to be allowed to choose the uniform they want to wear regardless of their gender identity, although the freedom to choose has been severely restricted due to safety fears in many countries because of discriminatory attitudes towards LGBTQIA+ people.
A spokesperson explained that ongoing risk assessments are conducted across the airline’s destinations which take into account “laws and attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community”.
As part of those risk assessments, the airline has reportedly concluded that it is only safe to apply the new gender identity uniform policy on flights to the United States and Israel. On flights to all other destinations, including across the Caribbean, Africa and India, cabin crew must wear a uniform that matches the gender recorded in their passport.
Even when flying to a ‘safe’ destination, cabin crew must carry both uniform sets just in case the plane has to divert to another country and to ‘ensure their safety’.
In a statement, a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson told us: “The safety and security of our people and customers is always our top priority.”
“We’re proud our leading Gender Identity Policy allows our people to express themselves through uniform choice. As part of our policy, we complete ongoing risk assessments on all countries we fly to, considering laws and attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community and expressions of identity on a case-by-case basis.”
In the run-up to the FIFA World Cup in Qatar last November, it was revealed that Virgin Atlantic had restricted its gender-neutral uniform policy for a special charter flight to get the England team to Doha due to attitudes towards the LGBTQIA+ community in the Persian Gulf country.
In 2021, Virgin Atlantic warned 12 Caribbean countries that ‘state-sponsored homophobia and transphobia’ could be costing them as much as $689 million in lost tourism every year from LGBTQ+ travellers who would rather spend their pink dollars in more welcoming destinations.
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.