Southwest Airlines Kicking Flight Attendants Out Of Training For Tattooed Hands And Fingers

In summer 2021 United Airlines relaxed its appearance standards for flight attendants, allowing tattoos that were no longer than the company’s work badge. Male flight attendants were allowed to wear makup and nail polish, and have hair longer than their short collar. The airline said they wanted to “empower” employees “to represent themselves in the way they feel most confident.”

Then in summer 2022 Virgin Atlantic started allowing flight attendants to show off their tattoos. Alaska Airlines made a similar change.

It’s no coincidence that these changes occurred at a time where it was difficult to recruit employees, where pay outside the airline industry was rising (so flight attendant compensation was less competitive) and when flight benefits were harder than ever to use with increasingly full flights.

Southwest Airlines, on the other hand, has reportedly been dismissing flight attendants from training over their tattoos. On the one hand, other airlines aren’t particularly permissive about tattoos on the face and neck either. On the other, Southwest’s rule applies even when these tattoos can be covered with makeup.

It seems like tattoos is something that might come up during a flight attendant’s initial interview, rather than waiting until training to be kicked out over it. It’s also an odd place for Southwest to make a stand, considering the informality of their crew compared to some other airlines. However flight attendants with certain tattoos may find a more welcoming home in training with other carriers.

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. Maybe the people doing the recruiting should be let go. If tattoos are a problem that should be addressed during any initial interview not after the fact. It may not be a lot but this cost the company by wasting time and resources.

  2. While the timing of this ‘tattoo issue’ is bad, it’s a good start. Tattoos are disgusting and people who get them have a screw loose. They can’t see that today’s fad is a permanent disfiguring of their skin. Akin to putting a ring in your nostril, but the ring can always be removed. Being tattooed is an indication of lack of judgement. The last thing I want to see on someone who is serving me food and drink is a tattoo.

  3. Police departments across the country are relaxing their tattoo standards because many ex military people have tattoos now. If the police can change their hiring rules why can’t SW get with the times.

  4. @jsn55 Considering that humans have been getting tattoos for thousands of years, I’m not sure I would call it a “fad”. If you don’t want to be served by people with tattoos, you may want to stay home.

  5. SW is right on this
    People with tattoos think they are special and cool and very arrogant
    Yesterday I flew air canada and a trashy attendant had a tattoo on her neck and she was constantly covering it with her scarf, almost unconsciously
    The tattoo is just a symptom of the underlying personality
    I have never met a smart person with tattoos

  6. Good for Southwest. Passengers don’t want to see metal impregnated, symbol pocked androids. Customer preference is foremost.

  7. Good.

    As for this BS: “Police departments across the country are relaxing their tattoo standards because many ex military people have tattoos now. If the police can change their hiring rules why can’t SW get with the times.”

    Despite their fantasies otherwise, the police are not the military, and we do not have to want or accept that look in our police.

  8. -Wrong-

    They are not “Flight Attendants” – They are Flight Attendant Candidates – They are not employees!
    They were informed of this policy prior to training – A few decided to challenge this – They wanted this job, They agreed to adhere to the Southwest Policies. However you feel about Tattoos it is their policy, Follow it or you could work “Under the Wing” ~ The title of this post is a tad misleading.

  9. Personally, I do not like tattoos of any type, small, large, etc. but I realize that my personal preferences do not transfer to other people’s choices. Whereas, to me tattoos are never image enhancing, there has been in recent years a significant trend to their acceptance and usage in many layers of society. I still associate tattoos with convicts, sailors, and people in lower socio-economic levels but again, I realize that is no longer valid.

    I appreciate Southwest’s attempt to upgrade the image of the flight attendant with their code against highly visible tattoos, and wish them luck, but suspect that they will eventually need to lighten up on the rule.

    Perhaps the applicants didn’t sport a tattoo at the interview, and added it between acceptance and training, otherwise, it does seem inappropriate to dismiss them after the job offer was accepted. Is this a new policy, a new interpretation of an existing policy, or is someone now enforcing the policy?

  10. To all of those who have a comment about how bad or nasty tattoos are, know that when you lay your head on the pillow tonight, that there’s a good amount of folks who provide a layer of police and military protection so that you can sleep peacefully who has tattoos that you despise.

    You’re welcome!

  11. Part of the problem is, what tattoos would be acceptable versus unacceptable. This isn’t like a shirt that they can be told to take off. What if someone has a gang symbol or vulgarity? What about a sailor tattoo of a well-endowed girl in a grass skirt?

  12. Tattoos are for sailors and convicts. No room for them in the professional work environment. Go clutch your “BuT mUh PeRsOnAl cHoIcE” pearls somewhere else.

  13. Personal preferences aside, at the end of the day, this is a legal issue and will likely rely upon a legal remedy to resolve. My understanding is that the underlying legal issue is a term entitled BFOQ (Bona Fide Occupational Qualification), which allows narrowly tailored discrimination in those cases reasonably necessary to the normal operation of a particular business or enterprise. For example, if the Director of a Motion Picture wishes for his or her lead to be female and smoking hot, that is generally going to be OK as a BFOQ. Ironically, I’m told that the airline industry lost a BFOQ lawsuit when it argued Flight Attendants are preferably female: They lost, because the position is primarily related to Aircraft Safety, and thus appearance or gender is not a BFOQ. Just given that precedent I would assume that SWA would lose on the Tattoo issue, but I’m neither General Counsel nor an expert. Perhaps one of our General Counsel blog readers can help out on this one…

  14. I’m from a different generation where tattoos were verbotten, particularly if you wanted a serious big money job in DC/NY. But times have changed and you see tattoos everywhere now, though still less so in the corporate world. I doubt very much you will find people tatted across their necks, faces, hands etc. in big law firms, i-banks or c-suites.

    Personally I am more concerned about the level of service and following of rules (i.e. not making stuff up) than I am about appearance. Tattoos are among many attributes I find ugly but I’m not hiring an FA to be my girlfriend.

  15. @TexasTJ. So if an Airline decided to make a reality TV show about flying, we could go back to flight attendants being smokin’ hot females?

  16. Tattoos are for white trash losers and sailors. Anyone who gets one is self-eliminating from the professional class.

  17. To those of you that tattoos freak out I say Ha! You have the right to be offended in the free world. Judging a person because of a tattoo is so silly and petty. You wouldn’t be put off if a flight attendant with tattoos saves your life would you?

  18. Actually quite a few millionaires (who are college graduates) sport tattoos…ever watched a NFL or NBA contest lately?

  19. @steve
    You are not really suggesting nba and nfl players are the smartest people around are you?
    Personally I have never seen a lawyer, surgeon, judge, engineer, etc etc with visible tattoos

  20. Flying is not an everyday event for everyone on the plane. Having a safety officer on the plane with “love/hate” across their fingers attempting to give an Unaccompanied Minor assurance the plan won’t crash, seems pretty unreasonable compromise to a flight attendants “personal preferences”.

  21. This is a generational divide, and to those here saying tattoos are “ugly,” “disgusting,” “low class,” “white trash,” “only for sailors and convicts,” “not belonging in a professional environment,” “lacking judgment,” “sign of personality problem,” “sign of lacking intelligence,” etc., etc., here are the stats.

    30-35% all ages, via two different 2019 studies
    40% for those under age 35
    36% for those 36-54
    16% for those 55+

    Per the website listed:
    What is the Reason for this Drop-Off?
    Tattoos used to be taboo. Those in the 55-and-over demographic came of age in the 1960s and 70s, when sailors, prison inmates, gangsters and motorcycle riders had tattoos. Tattoos were rare in the general public.

    Multiple tattoos are also popular:
    19% two or three
    18% four or five
    16% six to ten

    Also stated:
    This survey also found something interesting: very few people cited employment as a reason for not getting a tattoo. In past generations, having visible tattoos was sometimes a barrier to career advancement.

    You can view them so harshly and negatively, but that view is antiquated.

    I would absolutely not have a problem with someone working as a flight attendant with body art/personalization (yes, this is what it is). The only time I can see it being an issue is if the person has multiple face tattoos as it is then a distraction and can’t be covered up. To me, what is an ACTUAL (rare) concern is with something on the person that can impede their job, e.g. long natural or fake nails, excessive jewelry (e.g. a large ring on every finger, wearing 20 bracelets), etc.

  22. Perhaps Southwest will also relieve CEO Bob Jordan of his duties, since he’s also still in training mode…

  23. I don’t blame SW one bit. The last thing I want is to deal with someone who look like they’re in a prison gang. Does that make me sound a bit elitist or perhaps unreasonable? Perhaps yes, it does. However, when I pay good money (and I usually fly first class) I would like to interact with people who do not look like they’ve just escaped from an episode of Sons of Anarchy.

    We’ve gotten so lax and permissive regarding appearance and dress codes in all areas, like schools, that its to the point of ridiculousness. People often fail to take any pride in their appearance. Some dress so poorly that its hard to take them seriously. Again, I know that makes me sound like I’m old fashioned and out of touch, which I suppose I am.

    SW has every right to enforce and require dress code and appearance requirements, including those governing tattoos, as long as they are communicated in advance and enforced evenly. IF people don’t like it there’s always Spirit!

  24. If the airline doesn’t want to allow tattoos, it is certainly their right as the employer. If the man or woman has a problem with that, they can look for another airline

  25. I can almost assure you that every negative post on here is by a baby boomer. Good grief. Times are changing and to call people ‘trashy’ is just pitiful. Having a tattoo is a personal choice and if it doesn’t effect YOU. You should mind your own business. This country would be eons ahead if folks just minded their own. Again , as a former employee of said airline, they have bigger problems than small tattoos.

  26. Good, people with the tattoos unless they are cultural (hint: if you’re in the us or Europe they aren’t) should be ashamed. They are low class and disgusting.

  27. Well, believe it or not, even USAirways had a rule that you couldn’t grow a beard if you were hired without one!

    Reading these comments, *gulp*, show there’s a lot of — strong, uh. yeah.

    I’ve got a half sleeve tattoo on my arm that stops just before my elbow, so when I wear a dress shirt, you can’t see it. I also have one on each leg – which are covered when I wear pants. I’d NEVER want one on my hands, neck, or face – because I still want to be presentable in a professional environment.

    Hawaiian Airlines & Mokulele Airlines, with LOTS of polynesian, samoan, and tongan staff – which have their ENTIRE BODIES COVERED, are allowed tattoos but they must be discretely covered. Even on flight attendants, you’ll see them wearing either a white or black full length undershirt covering up their ink (unless that’s changed in the last 2 years). Personally I love poly-ink/art, especially hearing the story about each tattoo.

    I think that having your hands/face/neck free of tattoos is what Southwest wants, and if that’s their rule, then that’s their rule.

  28. There was a flight attendant from Nantucket; she had a tattoo shaped like a bucket. The uptight passenger saw it, clutched her pearls and yelled “oh, f*** it!”

  29. I’m glad SWA has done this. Tattoos are trashy. I don’t care if a cop has one or several, but flight attendants SHOULD be held to a higher standard. I realize this is 2023, but tattoos are nasty.

  30. Robert – “Having a safety officer on the plane” — tell me you’re a sheep without telling me you’re a sheep.

    Munchkin 33 – “I can almost assure you that every negative post on here is by a baby boomer.”. GenX, thanks. Now run along, you millenial trash. The grown ups set the dress and appearance standards, and if you don’t like it, you can go work somewhere else.

  31. As long as a flight attendant with or without a tattoo can evacuate your damaged aircraft in less than 90 seconds and has the superpower to push your semi-conscious body down an inflatable emergency escape slide, that is good enough for me.

  32. Next up. Employees want to work in pajamas and Niki slippers. Can’t afford my mortgage but just one more tattoo. Tattoos are a obvious commentary on peoples priorities. Me, me ,me.

  33. Bottom line, it should have been made clear in the interview process that visible tattoos are not permitted. SWA is entitled to have whatever policy they want regarding body art. What I find nonsensical is dismissing these people after the fact (unless of course the person ran out and got a tattoo after getting hired).
    Personally I have no tattoos and I often think when I see some of the people with them that one day they will realize they don’t look so great and will want them removed which can be quite costly and not pain free.
    @Doug, I never said that professional athletes were the smartest group of people, only that they are millionaires.

  34. While one can wear a tattoo in public and other places that are open to it, it’s very simple that if the airline has policies in place re no tattoos then the case is done… No tattoos… Period…Full stop

  35. @JT. There is a learning experience here. Go to Venice Beach and observe the women that are now over 55 with tattoos. “What is seen cannot be unseen.” C.A. Woolf
    Or if you prefer “Once a profound truth has been seen, it cannot be unseen”.

  36. Sounds like most folks on this thread are absolutely Boomers. I hope y’all have medical problems and every single nurse, doctor and tech have tattoos. I have friends in law, medical doctors, school principals, bank executives and guess what, all of them have tattoos. Every restaurant in the country has majority staff with tattoos. At this point you all should go live in a van by the river because you are just miserable people.

  37. Places need to change with the times. I’m a nurse. I have visible tattoos. They are tasteful and mean something to me. My patients LOVE them. Young and old. They are Ice breakers, they tell a story. Getting a tattoo is a person’s choice. Not everyone has to like them. Not everyone has to get them. They don’t mean we are uneducated or white trash or whatever some of you have been calling us. Just because a person has a tattoo shouldn’t make them unemployable. What if weight, or color, or gender, or age became a problem. What happened to the United States being a “Melting Pot”

  38. I will say, they send you packets prior to training telling you that you can’t have visible tattoos. It also states it in the job description when you apply.
    You’re also not fully hired until you complete training, so it’s to be treated as an interview.
    So they should’ve known at the time of applying, and prior to going to training.
    Also your interview isn’t in person, it’s virtual.
    I have a tattoo but I cover it up.
    That’s always how this industry has been—professionalism. I have no issues with ppl who have tattoos. But like a lot of jobs, some don’t allow it.
    If it’s policy, then it’s policy. Just like some jobs require uniforms; or business professional clothing.
    You can’t be upset when you’ve been told multiple times before training or even applying, you can’t have visible tattoos and then be upset you got sent home for it.

  39. Good. Tired of the inked horde showing us all how individual they are by covering themselves with suspiciously similar looking tattoos. How unique and special and “meaningful.”

    Yes, tattoos have been around for centuries – in a few isolated cultures which have been largely relegated to history books. The cultures which wore tats also generally wore loincloths made of animal fur, so if you want the tats, don’t do it half-assed. Put on your loincloth and go live in the jungle.

  40. I’m blown away by all the snowflakes on here offended by ink on other people’s bodies. I don’t have tats and could care less if anyone else has one. Every type of person gets a tattoo for many different reasons. Also surprised someone mentioned that they never seen a doctor or lawyer have one, like that should be the standard anyway. Just try going outside. It doesn’t even matter how lame the tattoo is, it’s not on me so who cares. A tattoo on someone doesn’t jump off their body and affect anyone. Critical thinking just doesn’t happen anymore.

  41. Jonathan

    “Sounds like most folks on this thread are absolutely Boomers”, sorry you presumptive little child, but GenX here. And the grown-ups get to make the rules at the business. You don’t like it, go cry in your rainbow cereal.

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