A 70 Year Old United Flight Attendant Rebels Against the Airline’s Uniforms in an Anonymous – and Graphic – Viral E-Mail. You Have to See What She Says…

The following e-mail has been circulating broadly. I cannot directly vouch for its authenticity, though it came to me from someone inside the industry.

Considering that this is plausible regardless of the source, what does it say about labor relations, employee attitudes, and the changing nature of the profession at US airlines?

As for the specifics of the claims, do you buy that flight attendants are being asked to do more with fewer tools — considering fewer meals served and cashless cabins?


    Written by a United Flight Attendant/Anonymous

During her fitting appointment for the new uniform, a friend of mine, an attractive, sophisticated, slim woman in her sixties, asked to have her new uniform skirt long enough to cover her knees. She was told that, in an effort to prevent the flight attendants from looking dowdy, we were being outfitted in shorter, more form fitting uniforms. The majority of our flight attendants are over the age of 40, some are over 70, and many carry extra weight. Has United’s decision makers ever heard the expression, Mutton dressed as lamb? These uniforms are designed for women the age of our daughters, or granddaughters. Dressing matrons in clothing one would expect to find in a store such as Forever 21 will not make us look like those cute little girls who fly for the Asian carriers.

I would like to first address the skirt length. I am over 70 years old, active, and slim; still my inner thighs swag in a manner reminiscent of window drapery. I have seen some of my heavier coworkers seated on jumpseats while wearing short skirts, and if it weren’t for the extra weight, there would be a view of parts that should remain unseen. Perhaps United logos on crotches would be a nice additional marketing tool. After my uniform arrived, I placed the massive carton on the floor, and put on my skirt. I then bent over to retrieve the jacket from the carton, and the kitties, startled by the sight of my personal plumbing, scrambled under the couch, and remained there for hours, blinking in disbelief. My legs have always been shapely, and remain so, but I have been cursed with bulging ropey veins that cause lust in phlebolgist; unfortunately, they are also atop the fronts of my legs. Medical students take notes as they look at me, studying the major thoroughfares for blood in the human body. Since the new trousers resemble either dual sausage casings or pantaloons, the skirt is my only option, and the short length reveals the aforementioned flaw to disadvantage. It’ll give people a better view of my medically prescribed compression hosiery, though. Maybe the manufacturer’s name should be visible, and I can make money doing endorsements. Given our present wages, that could be a very good thing.

The dresses are short-sleeved, giving us older women more opportunity to reveal additional crepe yardage. Of course, as we wave goodbye, there will be that echoed farewell from the underarm flesh.

The uniforms are tight. I’ll admit that I did see one flight attendant who looked good in the aqua colored dress. She was tall, very slim, and had a nice little butt. She looked like probably 1% of our population. I saw another woman, probably 45 to 50 years of age, who was short, busty, and overweight. In one of the dresses, she looked like a navy blue loaf of bread. Even though I am not overweight, I am not the firm package I once was. The sight of myself in the dresses, reminded me of music one would hear in the chase scenes of old Western movies: Lumpity Lump, lumpity lump, lumpity lump, lump, lump. Pity the poor young woman who had her uniform fitting before her pre-menstrual bloat. Closing the zipper may be impossible during that time. And did anybody remember that everyone inflates a bit in flight? Those who remove clothing during rest breaks may end up like those hapless passengers who remove shoes during a flight, only to discover that they can no longer put them back on.

We will be required to wear a serving jacket when working in the premium cabins and an apron if working in economy. If one moves into another cabin to assist, a change of costume will be necessary. Economy workers volunteering to help in Business and First Class will be as rare as intelligence in United’s management.

Cintas, who has made our uniforms, also provides for McDonalds. Maybe they think that our job is the same, but they do not understand what flight attendants actually do. We know that our management does not. We stand on seats to reach into luggage bins, and those wearing the skirts may be giving new meaning to the term, “Friendly skies.” We get filthy, and I, either the galley attendant or assisting there as purser, usually look as if I’d been on the losing end of a food fight. By the time we land, the required serving jacket will look like a Jackson Pollock painting on feet. This does not seem like fabric that will hold up well to repeated cleanings. There are few or no pockets in the uniform pieces, and we need a place for pens, keys, and flashlights. With the thin fabric and tight fit, a lipstick in a pocket would look like an elongated tumor. Maybe we need tool belts. They could been equipped with flashing lights which read, chicken/beef, small computers, and a cattle prod. (I would also love weaponry with which to threaten the next designer of our uniforms!) Unlike Mickey Dee’s employees, we travel the world, and sometimes fly to very cold places. The new coat is short and lightweight, and those of us in skirts will suffer blasts of arctic air that may put frost on our knees and shrubbery. We aren’t always at home when we dress for work. Women who ordered the dresses say that they can’t zip them up in back. Will we soon have to share rooms in order to have assistance getting dressed? Maybe we will receive reprimands from hotel managers for knocking on doors of other guests, requesting zipper assistance.

I have flown for over 46 years and have sadly experienced the decline in the quality of flight attendants’ lives over the decades. We are given more to do with less, and unworkable procedures that are dreamed up by people who apparently have never flown. We soldier on, making things as good as we can, given the challenges hurled at us. We always “make it work,” which is probably not always in our best interest. We cannot make these new uniforms work! Management, while filling their pockets, has cheapened our airline. Now they’re trying to cheapen us, too! Welcome to Walmart Air!

What do you think?

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Political correctness gone mad, surely UA have the right as a company to choose the uniforms the help are wearing, if the help don’t like it, take another job. All I can say, it’s about to put the old boilers out to pasture. And after flying in and out of SFO recently I feel sure there area bunch of SFO based attendants who would happily wear skirts

  2. Sounds to me like she has some pretty valid complaints. Did United not consult with flight attendants and their union before bringing in these uniforms? It’s tempting to think that somehow United management had secret agenda in mind, such as to subtly add an incentive for older flight attendants to retire. But I’m much more prone to chalk up mistakes such as this to the management’s usual incompetence.

  3. I think this flight attendant should give up her wings and turn to writing, where her talents clearly lie. There’s not much runway left, time to lift off on a vocation that she really cares about!

  4. Her editorial brings to mind the recent article about the Brazilian flight attendants–all looking great in their uniforms, but not doing much of anything else. Door check? Negatory. Seat belt check? Heck, no.

    Regardless of whether the flight attendant is 21 or 65, male or female, the job is physically demanding, and the uniforms should be designed for physical comfort AND appearance. It can be done–so why not do it? Answer: UA took the cheap way out and contracted Cintas!

    Whatever happened to the beautiful designer uniforms–Pucci, Balenciaga, Pierre Cardin, Zamparelli–of the 1960s and 1970s? Haven’t the (airline) businesses realized that the crew uniforms are an important part of the “face” the airlines present to the public?

    And no, this isn’t a “woman thing”. How many of you out there would like to wear some cheapo, scratchy polyester suit to the office, the kind of suit that sags in the shoulders, cuts into your armpits, and squeezes you in the ****?

  5. Here’s a REALLY politically incorrect take.
    I’m in my late 50’s, love to travel, always considered being a flight attendant. I could never approach that job at this age as I could in my 20’s,30s,maybe 40s.

    Any one notice -There are no 40,50,60,70 yr olds in this weekends NBA Slam Dunk competition?

    Some jobs actually require the physical stamina & youthful exuberance I no longer possess- hence the difference in US union service vs Aisian Airlines & others

  6. While there are some valid points, I just shake my head at all the complaining domestic airlines employees do and also the level of service (low) they provide in general, whether it be on the phone or in the cabin. I just got off the phone w/ an int’l carrier and they could have been more pleasant or nice (no status on their airline either). I haven’t had a negative, or even slightly negative, experience with any personnel from an int’l carrier.

    And why someone in their 70s is still working..my God enjoy retirement. Perhaps she is by getting free travel and “working”. I hope to be sipping margaritas on the beach by 60…not complaining about work’s latest rule change or mandate.

    As for “physically demanding”?? I’m not sure I agree with that statement. Legally they don’t help put luggage above for fear of it falling/too heavy and causing a lawsuit, so the heaviest thing is push/pull the food/drink cart. While there is a lot of arm movement, perhaps they can offer a “nice cloth” version of the uniform for a minor upgrade fee if they don’t like them. It just feels like the automakers all over again. The company can’t do anything w/o someone in “the union” complaining or filing a grievance.

  7. Ah, you found a misogynistic granny or a fake. Well done. LOL!!!!!1!

    Just kidding. Garry, I agree with you when you say that people should only get paid by the hour, and should only get the lowest hourly rate the market will offer based on their utility and the value they add– it’s all measurable and we should hire and fire based on that. The ME carriers are giving the US legacies the best example of competition yet.


  8. Sadly, the tone she speaks, is echoed by so many other employees, even at other companies. Management is all about making the numbers. So managers can get their next 20% bonus. Product, service, isn’t important at all.

  9. Are there any flight attendants left at United under 70? Perhaps they are needed for the world class hospitality and service United is renowned for.

  10. This is sad. Not in the sense that I feel bad for this woman who must wear a uniform to work. But in the sense that she complains about what she must wear to earn a living. Be greatful that United pays her a wage and provides her benefits that the rest of this country doesn’t have the opportunity to earn. Suck it up and wear those clothes or else someone else would gladly take your job.

  11. I feel safer with flight attendants over 40, who are more experienced. However, they should probably retire when they are over 60. In many countries (for example in Europe) retirement is mandatory at 65 and many people retire earlier. A 70- or 80-year old is less able to take action in an emergency. However, a 20-year old is probably too inexperienced to know what to do also, so it’s important to have a mix of ages on each flight.

  12. that woman is so right. No way the dinosaurs of USA flight attendants will ever compare to not only the looks and style of their Asian counterparts but most importantly to the class, elegance and service standards provided. I have flown Philippine airlines and about to board Thai Airways for a flight and enjoy how they do their jobs with a smile. It isn’t just the flight attendants but the gate agents, ticket counter reps, security personnel and the people in the lounge all provide superior service to their USA counterparts. Part of this I have come to reason is because over in Asia they don’t have to deal with many of the rude and entitled USA passengers who don’t have a clue about how to treat fellow travelers or those working on their behalf.

  13. I find it terribly sad that we have so many 70+ yo working. If we hadn’t eviscerated all the pension plans, maybe they wouldn’t have to.

  14. Sounds like one of those “I need to hide USD TWENTY MILLION” spam messages I get. Way too much detail and such to take as real. I agree with the other comment here that the author should take up writing as a career if he/she has not already done so.

  15. I don’t wish it on anyone to be in a crash where your safe evacuation depends on the dexterity and strength of a 70 year old.

    If the job is to be there primarily for our safety, they should have fitness tests and mandatory retirement for flight attendants.

    You don’t see any 70 years old NFL players, and that’s not age discrimination.

  16. Go home and wear a skirt down to your feet as you wish! 70-year-olds should not fly anyways. There really should be an age gap for flight attendents

  17. I think it’s hilarious. Honestly, if this is the top complaint today, United is doing well by their crew compared to the past.

    I couldn’t even tell you what uniforms the crew were wearing on my flight yesterday, the day before, or the week before. I don’t care what they look like, as long as they are polite, professional, and efficient. Unfortunately that part is a mixed bag, and United can’t fix that with a wardrobe change.

  18. Meh. Snopes-worthy and trying too hard. There is a ton of hyperbole for the effect. And given that the “new” uniforms are from 2013, I’m guessing this is at least a year and a half old.

  19. I am sorry – I believe there should be a mandatory retirement age for
    flight attendants at 65. Male, female or otherwise,. My wife and I recently flew first class Chicago to Maui direct. It’s a high seniority flight 9 hour flight. Average age of the cabin staff seemed to be about 68. The service was slow, forgetful and surly when there was any at all. I am sure the staff knew where the emergency exits were. I sure they would have been no physical help getting out the door.

  20. I think everybody is missing the point, the article has to do with the lack of thought that went into the new uniforms, as this FA pointed out, even her younger counter parts are having problems with them, as well as the fabric in which they are bring made from.

  21. Many of these replies embarrass me as a frequent flier (150K annual). Is that really how regard those that are working around you? IS THIS WHAT YOU ARE ALL LIKE? If you are, stay the hell away from my sons. And unless you like a nice kick in the jewels, my daughters. No wonder so many of the attendants I have had are so cold. To think they consider me one of you.

    As a female business traveler who spends far too much time on planes, I appreciate hem length is critical.

    And young women get cold too, arguably more.

    Burns-y, Jamie-Boy, and Pablo if you want a show of girly parts, go to a Burlesque. Bring singles. It’s cheaper than business. Fight attendants are not strippers. I also dare any of you to kick Jessica Lange out of bed.

    I personally love attendants with experience, brains and enough security to have a sense of humor. I don’t know that anyone has all 3 until they are 35. They keep me safe, warm, well-caffeinated/hydrated/buzzed and most importantly MOVING. I don’t need a pretty boy with a vacant smile at my beck and call, as nice as they are to look at. Pretty boy doesn’t know to keep the coffee coming on a 6AM to SFO if I’ve got the laptop out and humming.

    And I hope to heaven none of you economists commenting are actually in charge of hiring people. The market demands you pay up for good people, and pay is an incentive for good performance. I left a firm because they forced to hire the cheapest people for my team. You can imagine what that did for my personal franchise. I do not want lowest common denominator at 30K ft. thank you. And unless you all always travel on the CHEAPEST economy ticket you can find ALL the time, you believe in paying up for better too.

    If I can find some of my favorite travel dresses in heavy weight stretch ponte at Zara, and can wear head to toe jersey to my meetings with CEOs, United can surely do better.

  22. I’m retired airline who flew for a few years in my career. Uniforms are eaily covered by service aprons (with extra pockets) useful for most of a flight, To go on the cheap for the basic uniform is typical of poorley managed operations in any industry and is especially so of United.

    I have flown with a number of very senior Flight Attendents all of whom meet or exceed the safety requitements and prove that at requirent training year after year.

    I have a number of high mileage neighbors who only book trips that they know are flown my Ex-Continental crews vs. United crews. Why? Uniteds entire structure from leadership to service delivery are arrogent and mostly uncarring. Completely different from CO’s Worst to First Can Do attitude.

    The uniform issue is just one example of why United has such poor rankings. Look at the bottom line and see who is making money and you’ll see who knows how to deliver a quality product. I’ll bet there are no issues like this over at South West!!

  23. I LOVE RSB! A human being who realizes people in service jobs are also…wait for it…HUMAN BEINGS! The most intelligent and reasonable response here. Have a great day, RSB!

  24. hah she should shut up and retire at 70.. really 70? total american nonsense allowing people that age to work on planes…..one day she is probably gonna croak while serving someone a meal.

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