How often do we see a male flight attendant in a skirt or a female flight attendant passing through the aisle in bright sneakers instead of polished heels? The answer, some years ago, was close to never, but now, there is a slight wind of change. While we have seen in-flight cabin crew in gender-defined uniforms, airlines across the world are opening up to the idea of gender-neutral uniforms.
With the ‘Be Yourself’ resolution creating an impactful change among different personalities and institutions worldwide, part of the aviation industry has also been seen joining hands with the change. In recent years, several renowned airlines have exercised the bold choice of normalising gender-neutral uniforms among pilots and flight attendants.
Some airlines, including JetBlue, Alaska Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, WestJet, Play Airlines, British Airways and Delta, have already revised their respective dress code policy. These companies have given a free pass to flight attendants and pilots to select their uniforms and wear make-up regardless of their biological identity.
Gender-Neutral uniforms: Concept and importance
Before proceeding, it is equally important to understand the concept of gender-neutral uniforms.
Gender-neutral uniforms mainly stand for dress codes that do not endorse a particular gender. Now, does wearing something that is gender-inclusive change anything? It surely does. The more people see each other freely expressing themselves through their attires, the more inspiring it gets.
According to The Wall Street Journal, an in-flight male crew member of JetBlue airlines, Tyler Curry, was thrilled to know that he could pick whichever uniform he wanted to fly in. Curry, who had never even thought of slipping into such an attire before, ended up receiving compliments from passengers once he started slaying the skirt and heels look.
He even recalled one of the passengers telling him that it is wonderful for her children to see this kind of difference on a plane, and she would hope to see them stand for who they are when they grow up.
Why is the airline industry introducing gender-neutral uniforms?
The subject of a gender-inclusive environment is not new to us. Although as challenging as it may appear, the initiative of the airline industry seems to be far ahead of the 21st century itself.
The strong enactment of letting male flight attendants choose to wear a uniform that includes skirts instead of trousers and heels instead of formal shoes, according to their comfort and preference, is nothing but victorious. And for female flight attendants, from donning trousers instead of skirts to keeping their long hair open and carrying the shortest hairstyle — everything is admissible.
Now, what could be the possible explanations behind this advancement?
The campaign ‘Be Yourself’, launched on March 3, 2016, and the LGBTQ travel market has significant roles to play here.
The campaign was primarily inaugurated to empower women and elevate them to flaunt the uniqueness of their beauty and individuality, regardless of the social biases such as colour and race that demarcate their identity or elegance. Eventually, the vision of this movement rose to involve every gender, promoting the need to identify, accept and take pride in who they are and what they are.
Furthermore, the revenue generated by the non-binary travel community also shaped the change. As per an article published by Hindustan Times, a 2016 WHO report says that out of the total number of global tourists, 5 per cent to 10 per cent of travellers are from the LGBTQ community, which constitutes a significant portion of the revenue. So, from an economic point of view too, being inclusive becomes critical, especially in the travel sector.
A 2017 United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) report states that LGBT travellers have been determined as a meaningful market segment and have become prominent in the world of travel and tourism.
The report adds, “All businesses and destinations seeking to attract LGBT consumers have a duty to recognise the link between social acceptance of homosexuality, government legislation and the effects of these on their businesses.”
Therefore, by setting up gender-neutral uniforms, airlines established a secure space to convey the importance of unfolding identities to its staff. While for some airlines, the diversity in the uniform policy is about uplifting the authenticity of its crew members, for others, it is about permitting people of every gender to pick a uniform kit that fits their comfort.
The bottom line is not just about matching steps with the radical modifications in the present world but also pulling them off. The more people are comfortable serving in an acceptable ambience and representing themselves for what they originally are, the more they yield competency in their respective roles. This becomes a win-win situation for all.
Which airlines have gender-inclusive dress-up policies?
1. JetBlue was among the first airlines to declare its gender-neutral uniform, makeup and hair policy in the year 2021. The announcement was officially made by the airline during Pride Month by stating, “When our crewmembers are empowered to be their authentic selves at work, the benefits are clear.”
The airline tweeted: “In June 2021, we released a gender-neutral crewmember uniform policy, a first for the airline industry. #PrideMonth” on Twitter.
When our crewmembers are empowered to be their authentic selves at work, the benefits are clear. In June 2021, we released a gender neutral crewmember uniform policy, a first for the airline industry. #PrideMonth pic.twitter.com/uq6NLyiMyi
— JetBlue (@JetBlue) June 16, 2022
2. The year 2021 witnessed Iceland’s Play airlines authorising crew members to go for the uniform they like. The official report of the airline stated “Forget running around in high heels- comfortable sneakers are the way to go. Instructions regarding hair, make-up, tattoos and nail polish are gone.” There, the uniform includes boxy blazers and pants paired with sneakers and brogues. Surely, the crew members would be flying in style!
3. Virgin Atlantic and Alaska Airlines are also on this list. In 2022, they rolled out the decision of letting their in-flight crew members put on whichever uniform they thought would match their comfort along with optional pronoun badges.
4. In the same year, Virgin Atlantic airlines announced that its crew members are welcome to fly with tattoos on instead of looking for ways to either conceal them or get them removed. However, neck and facial tattoos were still restricted, although the airlines had mentioned that they shall consider relaxing the same rules later on.
5. Canada’s WestJet, too, revised its uniforms in 2022 but with a twist. To highlight gender inclusivity, the airlines introduced collections named ‘Lakes’ and ‘Rocky Mountains’ in its options for uniforms instead of labelling them as ‘men’ and ‘women’.
6. British Airways, as well, joined this cause in 2022 and dropped its gendered uniforms and allowed their pilots and crew members to wear make-up.
How does this change impact the airline industry?
Over decades, the thought of gender inclusivity, along with making room for people of varied personalities and backgrounds, has been an on-and-off subject. However, distinctive industries have gradually walked past this. The aviation industry is one of the many that have prominently grown into a full-fledged podium where change has always been constant.
Today, the status of flight attendants, especially, is much more valued and levitated. It is no longer just about serving the passengers while flying from one continent to the other. Today, the profession gains more respect in terms of courage, growth and the identity it stands for.
The UNWTO rightly mentions, “Tourism should be planned and practised as a privileged means of individual and collective fulfilment; when practised with a sufficiently open mind, it is an irreplaceable factor of self-education, mutual tolerance and for learning about the legitimate differences between people, cultures, and diversity.”
Travelling has indeed been an exemplary source of learning various facets of life. And, with the kind of example the aviation industry is gradually putting forward, the future of a gender-inclusive travel community appears to be somewhat secure.
“LGBT travellers are a dynamic and influential segment within the tourism sector – one whose willingness to come out and be counted will continue to grow as society becomes more accepting,” says UNWTO.
Even though the transformation still has a long way to go, it is happening. Soon, it will indeed be interesting to see the vital roles of cabin crew showcased to the modern world in terms of this thoughtful change.
Hero and Feature Image Credit: virginatlantic.com
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: A gender-neutral uniform is usually a dress code that does not promote any particular gender.
Answer: The need for gender-neutral uniforms in the airline industry holds major importance. One of the reasons is, with uniforms that are gender-inclusive, flight attendants will able to express themselves for who they are and what they stand for. The more the crew members are comfortable with their authentic selves, the more they would feel confident to deliver efficient work in the field.