Which Airlines Allow Female Cabin Crew To Wear Trousers?

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at developments in airline cabin crew. We’ve examined why cabin crew are predominantly female and also sailed back in time to look at uniforms over the last 100 years. Even though we like to think that our society is quite progressive, some gender battles are still being fought within the airline industry. For one, a few carriers have only just allowed their female flight attendants to wear trousers.

Japan Airlines Boeing
Japan Airlines cabin crew have been allowed to wear trousers since April 2020. Photo: Melv_L – MACASR via Flickr

Women’s fashion is an ever-evolving facet in our society. New trends come and go and are recycled. However, there are some standards which are only just now being loosened despite the progressiveness of the 21st Century. To understand the significance of more recent policy changes, let’s look back at how skirts and dresses became a strict standard.

Trouser-wearing women become the new norm

It wasn’t really until the mid-20th Century that women wearing trousers became an acceptable and more common practice. Before then, you would have found most women clad in skirts and dresses.

In the airline industry, women almost exclusively wore knee-length pencil skirts that were adjusted over the years to accentuate their figure. Apart from a brief period in which some cabin crew wore hot pants to underscore their sex appeal, dress codes for female flight attendants have been pretty rigid.

Now that’s changing.

BOAC 1950s uniform
A lot has progressed in terms of women’s uniforms. Photo: Getty Images

Modern-day victories for women

Last month, Japan Airlines overturned outdated uniform standards. From 1st April 2020, female cabin crew with the airline are permitted to wear trousers and benefit from a range of footwear options. A nationwide campaign invoked by feminist and activist Yumi Ishikawa led to the historic change.

While it might seem surprising that Japan Airlines has only now overturned its previous uniform standards, it’s not far behind some other airlines. On 15th January 2020, Aer Lingus unveiled its new uniform. For the very first time, it included trouser options for women. In 2019, Middle-Eastern airline Etihad extended its trouser policy for just ground staff to encompass cabin crew as well.

One of the reasons why it’s likely taken so long for airlines to change their policies is because the vision of the cabin crew member has long been ingrained in tradition. Trouser-wearing women go against the image of the glamourous female attendant. However, much more pressure from staff and unions is being put on airlines now to make the change.

Aer Lingus trouser options
Aer Lingus’ new uniform now has trouser options. Photo: Aer Lingus

Which airlines allow their female cabin crew to wear trousers?

These airlines are some of those who have adapted their uniform policy to include trousers for female flight attendants since 2010:

  1. Dutch airline KLM introduced trousers into its cabin crew uniform in 2010
  2. Bangkok Airways did the same in 2011.
  3. In 2014, Virgin Atlantic took advice from fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and incorporated trousers for women.
  4. Air India scrapped its more traditional dress code in 2015, changing saris for trouser options.
  5. In 2016, both British Airways and Alitalia changed their policy to add trousers for female cabin crew.
KLM 747-400
KLM adopted trousers earlier than some other airlines. Photo: BriYYZ via Wikimedia Commons

What uniform policy changes symbolize

When uniform policy changes align with women’s rights, there is a great cause for celebration. The ability to wear trousers psychologically if not symbolically represents freedom, and crucially, gender equality. Yet, these surface-level changes are not quite enough.

While women are not mandated to wear skirts, they often must request to wear trousers. On top of that, work still needs to be done regarding footwear options. Even though fewer women are required to totter in high heels, some cabin crew uniforms still demand that they do. Norwegian Air, for example.

The argument for forcing women into these traditional dress codes does not make much sense, besides physical appearance. Flat shoes are clearly the more suitable footwear option, and trousers allow for much more maneuverability in comparison to tightly fitted skirts.

Golden Girl, Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Atlantic now has trousers for women and no makeup obligations. Photo: Aero Pixels via Wikimedia Commons

Also, many airlines still require cabin crew to wear makeup. In 2019, it was seen as a victory when Virgin Atlantic made the ‘liberal’ decision to relax the obligatory foundation and mascara.

There is far more that needs to be done if the industry is to come full circle in its modern-day approach. That said, a “slowly-slowly” resolution is much better than no progress at all.

Do you agree that more changes need to be made to cabin crew uniform standards? Or, do you think these changes are taking things too far? Have your say in the comments.