British Airways' Female Crew Members Can Finally Wear Pants

Photo: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty Images.
British Airways’ full fleet of crew members can, at last, opt for pants as part of the company's uniforms. Longer-term cabin crew employees have already been able to don pants instead of skirts. But the airline's 3,000 newer hires that joined the company since 2012 have had to deal with a stricter dress code, which required female crew members to wear skirts, except when religious or medical reasons called for exemption.

It's taken two years of pushing for pants to bring the more gender-equalizing uniforms to fruition. Unite, the union for British Airways' crew members, told The Guardian that 83% of the fleet wanted the option of more covered-up uniform bottoms for "warmth and protection." Another timely rationale for wanting an expanded, egalitarian dress code: to be more amply covered against the Zika virus or malaria.

So why have recent hires had to adhere to a more antiquated, gendered dress code? Apparently, it's because they joined the airline under different terms than their more seasoned peers in the aftermath of crew strikes in 2010 and 2011. (Female crew members have been able to wear pants on lengthier flights since 2003, when uniforms for the airline's long-haul flights were redesigned.)

"British Airways’ stance was unbefitting of a modern airline in the modern age," Unite's regional officer, Matt Smith, told The Guardian. "Not only is the choice to wear trousers a victory for equality it is also a victory for common sense and testament to the organizing campaign of our members."
As for British Airways' counterparts in the sky, Etihad Airlines' female flight members don't have any trouser options as part of the company's uniform. Skirts are protocol for female employees at Virgin Atlantic, with any requests to wear pants decided on a case-by-case basis. Skymark Airlines, a Japanese carrier, was criticized in 2014 for having mandatory miniskirts as part of its uniform for female staffers.

But it's not just pants that have caused a ruckus for those who work 30,000 feet in the air. Stereotypically feminine grooming preferences have also been nixed by airlines. In 2013, Turkish Airlines banned its female flight attendants from wearing red lipstick or nail polish on the job.

For other stewardesses, unwanted attention has been the primary issue: That was the case for Cathay Paciific's female crew members. Two years ago, the airline's union complained that the overtly sexy uniforms were leading to a slew of onboard harrassment incidents. Qantas Airlines also ran into dress-code drama when it unveiled a uniform revamp that was deemed too provocative.

It's a small gesture of progress that all of British Airways' female crew members can choose to forgo skirts. Granted, the female flight attendant is a role that's historically been highly sexualized (even though, interestingly, it was initially a gig held solely by men; up until 1958, women were even banned from being hired by Pan American). But in 2016, women in the airline industry shouldn't have to fight that hard (or at all, actually) for the option of a more modest getup on the job.
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