Traditionally, female cabin crew members have faced strict demands in terms of how they should present themselves: perfect hair, layers of makeup, and uniforms designed to make them look as attractive and polished as possible.
But now, UK-based airline Virgin Atlantic has announced changes that indicate the industry is beginning to move away from its highly sexualised and objectifying attitude to female flight attendants.
Female cabin crew have reportedly been told that they don’t have to wear makeup, and also now have the option of wearing trousers as standard, rather than having to have a request approved.
While it might not sound like a particularly groundbreaking announcement, it's important in an industry famed for its objectification and, frankly, sexism.
A survey last year, by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), revealed that sexual harassment is “rampant” in the industry — with nearly 70% of flight attendants having experienced sexual harassment at some point in their career.
Of those, 68% said it had happened three or more times in the past year, and a third said it had happened five times, according to Business Insider.
Meanwhile, nearly one-fifth of respondents said they had been sexually harassed physically by a passenger in the past year — and over 40% of those said it had happened three or more times.
“They also report being subjected to passengers’ explicit sexual fantasies, propositions, request[s] for sexual ‘favours’, and pornographic videos and pictures,” said the union.
Sara Nelson, president of the AFA, said: “The time when flight attendants were objectified in airline marketing and people joked about ‘coffee, tea, or me’ needs to be permanently grounded. #TimesUp for the industry to put an end to its sexist past.”
Virgin’s executive vice-president of customer, Mark Anderson, said in a statement to HuffPost: “We have been listening to the views of our people and as a result have announced some changes to our styling and grooming policy that support this.
“Not only do the new guidelines offer an increased level of comfort, they also provide our team with more choice on how they want to express themselves at work,” he added. “Helping people to be themselves is core to our desire to be the most loved travel company.”
If staff do choose to wear makeup, there is still a colour palette of lipstick and foundation in the airline guidelines.
Most international airlines do still tell their staff what type of makeup to buy and wear, according to the Guardian; however, easyJet and Ryanair are reportedly more relaxed.
Meanwhile British Airways still reportedly requires women to wear makeup — at least lipstick and blusher, to “groom and maintain” their eyebrows, and conceal “obvious blemishes … wherever possible” — but they are allowed to wear trousers.