American Airlines Is Working On A New Employee Tattoo and Piercing Policy

After the second quarter American Airlines earnings call on Thursday, employees gathered for a ‘State of the Airline’ presentation and question and answer session with top leadership. View From The Wing reviewed a recording of this session.

A representative of the teamsters union, which represents passenger service agents at the airline, asked CEO Robert Isom about uniforms “and the tattoo and piercing policy” and asked whether there’s a date where the airline would make changes?

Isom offered that he “didn’t know” and doesn’t “have experience with tattoos” so he looked to other executives for answers. And what we learned is that the airline is “working through it” – they don’t “have a date” and is working on “balancing the interests” of customers and employees. They’re not “anti- anything” and is figuring out how to “go about that” and “will work towards a date.” Isom conceded “it’s important.”

This spring American Airlines made a push to crack down on cabin crew violating their appearance standards. While American’s uniforms aren’t the fanciest, their appearance standards remain relatively conservative.

Here’s the Flight Service uniform standards guide that was issued alongside new uniforms in March 2020. In addition to detailing how the uniform should be worn it also reinforces behavioral rules such as:

  • Crewmembers “may not purchase or consume alcoholic beverages, gamble, or sit at a bar, including for the purpose of consuming food.”

  • In addition they aren’t supposed to use “cellphones, smart watches, headphones, etc.” while “onboard the aircraft with customers”

  • They cannot sit on baggage belts or electric carts, and avoid chewing gum in customer view

The female dress may not be more than 1 inch above or below “the crease at the back of the knee.” The ‘all season coat’ may only be worn “during extreme cold or inclement weather while outside the terminal in the elements.” I think that makes the coat not ‘all season’. And who is wearing a vest with no shirt underneath?

Female nail polish has to be the same color on each nail (but no green, orange or yellow). No glitter or artwork on fingernails is permitted. If any nails chip then “all polish must be removed.”

Social standards have evolved. Who is flying is different in the airline’s telling, it’s less corporate travelers and more leisure travelers. So it may be appropriate to update the airline’s image – something many other airlines are ahead of American on. And that’s something that will be taken up for flight attendants as well as passenger service agents.

Virgin Atlantic and Air New Zealand allow flight attendant tattoos. United Airlines and Alaska allows modestly-visible tattoos that are no longer than the uniform’s badge. I suspect that American will eventually end up there as well. That makes hiring easier (no need to disqualify people who otherwise possess the interest and skills) so may be advantageous to the carrier and no longer a turn off to the median customer. And that doesn’t rely on HR babblespeak about ‘bringing your authentic self to work’ (no one actually does this).

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. “…they aren’t supposed to use “cellphones, smart watches, headphones, etc.” while “onboard the aircraft with customers”

    Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha….. Oh wait, there’re serious? If they drop all the FAs who sit around during the flight on their cellphones, who’s going to be left to hide out in the galley and provide no service?

  2. I suppose I’ve become inured to tattoos, although I still chafe at above-the-collar neck tattoos.
    I am not as sanguine about facial piercings, especially the bone-through-the-nose variety which I find off-putting and disgusting. Which probably guarantees AA will allow them.

  3. Don’t they all use ‘cell phones’ (handheld terminals) for customer service transactions ?

  4. Not hard to see where this is going. At least the new policy will likely alleviate the cognitive dissonance caused by someone with a professional appearance talking smack at you for no reason.

    In corporate speak: “The appearance standards of our employees are being changed to better align with our service philosophy.”

  5. I admit I’m old school. I find tattoos unprofessional. Who will be the tattoo police to monitor what’s appropriate size and/or offensive?

  6. @EthelMay, as a professional with a corporate job with a tattoo on my arm, I find your comment unprofessional.

  7. How about no visible gang tattoos or tattoos with words and symbols commonly considered highly offensive. Then partner it with a policy only allowing tattoos featuring the American Airlines logo if they are consistent with one or two designs pre-published by the airline.

  8. What is with these people? They turn their bodies into a hideous canvas. No nose rings. Nasty. Problem is they yell discrimination. Once you let standards down it’s hard to restore them and lawyers win. Too bad they can’t tackle weight limit. Good Luck American. We’ll be watching.

  9. Evolved? Actually, social standards have devolved. I got lucky on my AA JFK-DEL flight. I won’t chance being lucky teice in a row. I’ll stick with Qatar Airways, whose staff keep me well ensconced in the Golden Age of Travel.

  10. Unrelated but American Airlines seriously offered me a $25 trip credit for a 6 hour delay on a domestic flight. Absolutely astonishing the level of disrespect they have for their customers!

  11. I’m all for no visible tats and no piercings

    People have the right after 18 to mutilate their bodies all they want but AA also has the right to determine what time of image they want on the front lines promoting their brand

    No different that how many restaurants ensure the hostess if young and cute and the peeps in the kitchen look like the cast of Deliverance

  12. I don’t see the current tattoo and piercing policy. Following the link, it can be found on page 9. It seems reasonable to me: the tattoos must be covered. It’s not mentioned in this blog post, probably because it does not serve the blogger agenda.

  13. They are already a LCC, may as well take it full throttle. I remember Caviar and made to order eggs in FC European flights in the early 90s. How far AA has fallen.

  14. Crazy how many people still correlate tattoos and piercings with someone’s ability to perform the functions of their job. Last I checked, tattoos have zero influence on someone’s job performance. Nor does having a tattoo make anyone any less professional. Are y’all also saying that people who have tattoos for religious or spiritual purposes are unprofessional? Grow up

  15. To the customer who complained about AA offer of 25.00 cert for 6 hr delay probably not telling you it was a weather event or air traffic cause..

  16. If the crew has a great attitude and provides great customer service IDGAF if they have tattoos covering their entire body including Mike Tyson face tats. I have a live-and-let-live worldview and would never endorse restraints on body ink.

    But that doesn’t mean I will refrain from judgment on the type of people who get tattoos. I was raised in a generation and household that considered tattoos low class and ugly.

  17. As long as it’s kid friendly, who cares?
    Some of y’all have so many issues about the crew but half the passengers barely wear clothes.

  18. Only losers get tattoos. And Sally, you are not a ‘professional’, you pour coffee for a living

  19. How does having tattoos make any difference to your work efficiency? I have a total of 8 tattoos. Some of them are huge. That doesn’t change who I am from within. This is just so stupid. Also the cellphone part is highschoolish as they will have to do their job anyway to keep their job and avoid getting fired. Let them have a breather for a few seconds unless it’s flirting on jib itself .

  20. When I started with AA in 1976, I couldn’t even a blemish on my face. Back then, they hired 100 out of 1000 people who applied. When I put on my uniform, I was so proud to be the face of AA… then after Crandall left, AA started yo fall apart. The uniform was suddenly being altered by the younger version of us. I retired in 2006 due to a car accident but I will say that I still wore my uniform proudly until the day I decided I couldn’t physically do my job. If things aren’t corrected in the beginning, then it really is too late to stop it. I flew with a girl with pinkish hair before I resigned. I grieved my job the first year after I left. Then I started to see what others started to do on the job. I remember I saw one female flight attendant walking down the corridor with house shoes on. Then I was happy I retired.

  21. Face tattoos should be mandatory for AA FAs. Fits with their trash airline image.

  22. While they are making changes to the appearance policy, perhaps they would want to overhaul the family working together policy also. Many of us at small stations are being disqualified simply for bring related to someone already working with the company. So much for getting a good education.

  23. Large number of people in the military now have tattoos. Police friend of mine says the my local state police are relaxing their tattoo rules because they would eliminate many ex military personnel impacting their ability to hire qualified people.

  24. When someone wears a uniform (military, airline, etc), I expect a certain level of decorum; especially with those with direct customer contact!!

    I don’t want to see tattoos splattered on legs of woman (stockings) or on men (pants); across your face (even the military states below a certain vertebrae of the neck); nor on your fore arms (again the military states a certain distance above your wrist). Hair color, piercing (there’s so many pieces of cartilage available) and make-up should also present a professional appearance.

    The phrase of “its harder to be a Pan Am stewardess than a FBI agent” needs to be recreated from what I have seen of late!!

  25. I have worked at several places that went from a no tattoo and only one earring in each earlobe, to you can have tattoos and piercings. And I can honestly say that is always the worst decision. It happens time and time again, almost immediately. The people look trashy and it’s just a different lower caliber of people. Their unreliable, aweful workers, Don’t follow any of the rules and way things are done. And they just can’t keep a clean mouth. Cussing and talking about EVERYTHING under the sun, not caring if customers hear it or not and that you shouldn’t and aren’t allowed to do that. Horrible attitudes too. And they ALWAYS think they are the best gift to the employers, perfect model employees and they can’t understand why no one likes them, and the Don’t get recognized for good for. They also drive away the good employees because they can’t stand being outdone and become very mean. Plus Customers don’t like it/them either because they recieve attitudes and don’t like that look either. A piercing hanging from the inside the upper lip is disgusting.
    But anyone who yelps about what is said above and gets affended, Will just prove that they are one of the above.

  26. I would love to be able to wear short sleeves in the middle of summer on a full hot plane in MIA with no APU.

  27. Wait, same people that dont think they should get paid as much as other essenrial workers, now are being compared to military uniform decorum !and standards? Wasn’t just waiters in the sky two posts ago?

    The hypocrisy!!!

    About time!! You go American, show them a new world and give them a valuable contract!!!

  28. I have to say that I very much enjoy flying anywhere outside of the US where flight crews put their job above their personal choice of body art. The international crews are definitely more professional. When I arrive in The US it’s like a sloppy freak show, people used to care about their appearance and didn’t throw fits when they were told they couldn’t draw on their faces. American pilots WERE considered the best on the planet. What happened to the beautiful Stewardesses and the chiseled good looking pilots? They used to exude confidence. Now they just look like a sloppy thrown together motley Crue. The USA has slipped along with their credit rating.

  29. The same snowflakes whining about how “horrible” tattoos are are probably the same snowflakes who whined about having to wear a mask. “I can do what I want with MY body, but you can’t do what you want with yours.”

  30. Relaxed standards draw in the lowest common denominator. And appearances do reflect a mindset. If you’re covered from head to toe in tats and body piercings, You look demonic and crazy. Wild hair colors may mean you’re young and not to be taken serious. Obviously I’m very conservative in this aspect. Ex-military. So looking clean, strong and capable resonates with me….

  31. How about everyone mind their own business?

    Stop wearing yoga pants and pajama bottoms when you fly and I’ll feel better about wearing a 3 piece suit in 100 F temps.

    Get a life.

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