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. No good.. unless is a pic of Satan or some sexual image but as long they are cover and the flight do therr fair..

  2. Einstein long ago came up with the IQ Relativity Theory.

    “As the partial pressure and number of tattoos rises, (especially in regards to face/neck tattoos), the diminution in radioactivity and concomitant decrease in Intelligence Quotient is exponentially affected, in a downwardly vectored direction”!

  3. Could Southwest do anything else that might make them look behind the times? “Upgrade our computers? NO” Focus on performance instead of appearance? DEFINITELY NOT”

  4. Being in the medical field, LOTS of people I work with have tattoos. Even a boomer such as myself does not become offended. In fact, I have never heard it mentioned by patients or visitors, ever. If you don’t like tattoos, fine, but realize that choosing a provider or professional based on appearance, is a form of prejudice. Are you going to say you don’t want a male nurse, a female physician? Will you refuse to let someone care for you if they have the audacity to color their hair? What about someone with a different skin tone? Grow up.

  5. As long as tattoos are covered fine
    Not professional looking otherwise
    Has nothing to do with intelligence
    Just business etiquette

  6. There are people with tattoos who I consider as smart and who I respect. But as a matter of probability tattoos are a signal of a person who feels the need to stand out from others in a discordant way. These people also consider tattoos to be a form of self-expression, which indicates to me that they are unable to express themselves through language, writing, or more conventional ways. I consider those to be negative character traits and indications of poor education in a general sense.

    Moreover, since old people with tattoos look particularly sad and ridiculous, I think those who get them while young have a higher discount rate for present gratification with relation to detriments to be paid in the future – like smokers, which is a highly correlated group – and I don’t consider such people generally to be aligned with the way I think or make decisions.

    So its not personal. I think people have an absolute right to get and wear tattoos. But I think that tattoos are a heuristic tool for allowing one to make certain judgments about people who choose to apply them to their body, and I have an equal right to exercise that tool in making hiring decisions and in choosing who to associate with.

  7. @Mak
    that was the most brilliant and accurate reply in this entire thread…
    people with tattoos think they are special, cool and better than others…while carrying a huge chip on their shoulder

  8. Good for them . totally narcissist that customer, rest of society, employees have to look at somebody’s back alley idea of art. You want a good job pack your entitlement for body art away

  9. Suzanne I don’t know you but I appreciate you. Personally I’m not tatted but I can point to a lot of intelligent VP level and up with tattoos. They are nothing more than a more permanent version of clothing and generally picked with care. They shouldn’t be a disqualifier in any arena. No more than glasses.

  10. it’s 2023 and people are still fussing about non relevant matters. How does someone’s tattoo affect customer service. just worry about getting us where we need to be safely and on a.timely manner.

  11. @Raven I think your question evidences that you don’t appreciate or relate to how other people feel about what they see – rightly or wrongly – as permanent and senseless mutilation of one’s skin. For people who believe that, tattoos are disturbing and give off certain signals – again, rightly or wrongly – about the person serving them.

    If you still don’t get it, reducing the issue to its most simplistic terms, people have a natural preference to be served by those they perceive to be beautiful, and a disinclination toward being served by people who they perceive as unattractive . You might not agree with it or understand it, but the vast majority of people simply perceive tattoos – which you see as some sort of art or self-expression but to most is a mark of self-mutilation and a psyche predisposed toward it – to be unattractive, if not disturbing. Employers quite understandably don’t want to alienate any customers and prefer to avoid tattooed employees.

    Make sense now?

  12. @DJ
    Times evolve. I’m a civil engineer with a fill sleeve on one arm and about have on the other. I do business with both sleeves rolled up all the time and I just keep getting more. You keep practicing in the old world, and I’ll keep moving toward the future of business and what it means to actually be successful.

  13. As a passenger, I would find anyone working on an airplane displaying tattoos on any visible part of their body repulsive. I believe F/A’s such present themselves as clean, professional people whose instructions I would want to follow in an emergency. I think United, Virgin Atlantic, and any other airlines who compromised their appearance standards made a terrible business decision. If I can’t see the tattoo, I don’t know it is there. But I think the public in general finds tattoos offensive. I certainly do.

  14. So eith has had a relaxed dress code for years. The airlines have too many stuffy rules that a lot of good workers might be excluded if they have a tattoo. As a f/a for 23 years we have been treated poorly for many years . I can’t wait to retire .

  15. Glad to see this. One must respect a company who has a policy of xxx. You know the standard live up to it. I personally have no issue with tattoos but the company says no the answer is no. And it is not discrimination like some hinted it is across all employees.

  16. I agree with Southwest policies and here’s why if they are a flight attendant and they happen to forget their makeup and didn’t cover them up before they left home there is no way for them to cover them up after they get to the airport and then a flight is delayed. as a woman I have forgotten my makeup many many times and even though I don’t put on makeup I don’t have any tattoos to worry about or reveal. someone else on the other hand if that’s supposed to show a face tattoo or something like that if they don’t have their makeup to cover it up and violates their policy and they’re cold and it will happen.

  17. Who cares if they have. Tattoo, it got nothing to do with being a professional. I know doctors the have tattoos, police officers, firefighters, paramedics, airline pilots, but people care what flight attendants have.

  18. Gary said in the article but regardless if said is true…business will give more freedom or more pay but won’t give both…I’ll take the cash any day, and let the narcissists take the “freedom”.

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