British Airways Flight Attendants Win the Right to Wear Pants! Is That a Good Thing?

Female British Airways flight attendants no longer have to wear skirts.

An argument over who wears the trousers at British Airways has been won by the workers, after the airline agreed to allow all cabin crew, male and female, to keep their legs covered.

After a two-year dispute, all crew will be allowed to wear trousers if they choose, undoing part of the dress code imposed on new recruits who have joined the company since 2012.

Legacy flight attendants assigned to British Airways’ “Worldwide” fleet could wear pants already. “Mixed fleet” — flight attendants hired over the past 6 years for lower pay, and as a broad generalization that I find provide far better service — required women to wear skirts.

Clearly the role of the flight attendant has changed over time and societal attitudes have changed too.

While the flight attendant dates to 1912 onboard a Zeppelin, the first female flight attendant was hired by United and the airline flight attendant was initially a nurse.

That demure beginning morphed over time into a hyper-sexualized persona.

Braniff advertised that their flight attendants would ‘strip’ inflight.

National Airlines flight attendants encouraged passengers to “fly me.”

Southwest Airlines based at Dallas’ Love Field. Its ticker symbol is LUV. Their original ticketing machines were called Quickies. Flight attendants wore hot pants.

Southwest’s practice of hiring only attractive women as flight attendants was successfully challenged in court.

Some airlines inject a sort of glamour into their attire. And some still a certain sexiness. Others do that with a veneer of cultural authenticity by tying uniforms to the traditional dress of an airline’s hone country.

Delta of course has had its Red Dress. Not revealing, but form-fitted and attention-getting. (Although there was a protest because the red dress wasn’t made in ‘plus sizes’ and of course pilots would rate the attractiveness of flight attendants based on whether or not they were ‘RDQ’ or Red Dress-qualified.)

In the US airlines have laid off flight attendants more than hired them over the past few 15 years though that has changed of late. Simple demographics, average age has gone up. And it isn’t considered appropriate to view airline employees as sex objects — either by the passenger or by the airline.

Travel itself just isn’t glamorous in the same way now that it is accessible to so many more people. Travel is more normal, less a novelty. And society itself is far less formal. When I was an 8 year old kid flying between parents on opposite coasts I was dressed in a jacket and tie. I don’t wear open toed sandals inflight but I don’t dress up for it either. I wear whatever I was wearing that day for work or whatever I want to be wearing at my destination.

So it doesn’t make sense anymore to view flight attendants like it is still the 1960s.

On the other hand the mantra that flight attendants are there ‘primarily for your safety’ isn’t the right answer either. They provide service and hospitality too. They represent their company and its brand. So a sharp look that fits the company’s image makes sense.

Hooter Air failed. That’s not enough to make an airline. (Destinations like Myrtle Beach, South Carolina weren’t either.)

A sharp look, that sets the tone for friendly and professional service, is what makes sense in the modern North American and European market. So it’s great for BA cabin crew that Mixed Fleet female flight attendants can wear trousers like Worldwide fleet flight attendants can. The key is for mixed fleet service not to degrade to the point of worldwide.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. You forgot to mention PSA., the best dressed of all, with their mini-skirts.
    One of their ad said: ” If you liked our seats, wait ’till you try our beds”. That was at the time PSA had purchased the lease on the San Franciscan hotel in San Francisco.
    That was priceless.

  2. Late one evening my wife and I and our 4-year-old were flying Braniff during the “air strip” days. About a half hour into the flight a female flight attendant stood at the front of the aisle and slowly took off her dress, revealing loose-fitting pantaloons and soft top. Little Tommy watched intently and then said: “I want my pajamas, too.”

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