United Tells its Flight Attendants Their Appearance is Too Sloppy

Brian Sumers at Skift reports on two memos that United Airlines has sent to flight attendants scolding them for their personal grooming.

United Airlines wants some flight attendants to take their wardrobes and “personal grooming” more seriously, saying crew members who wear “skirt lengths that don’t conform to the standard,” wrinkled or stained shirts, or worn-out shoes may be hurting its brand, according to two new internal memos.

United’s Vice President of Inflight says “We lost our focus on the value uniform standards have on our customers’ perception of our company.”

The reason that two memos went out is because the first one ‘was a draft’ they had to walk back, while the second one contained more “flowery language” and consulted United’s flight attendants union.

According to the airline, “When our employees feel and look their best, it makes it easier for them to deliver the top-notch service our customers deserve” and as such they’ll be holding “image fairs” at their flight attendant bases to educate employees on what to wear, and how to wear it.

There’s no question that image matters, although we often downplay the importance of appearance in the U.S. preferring to pretend we’re uninfluenced by it. We don’t take things to the lengths that Asian airlines do, like Singapore Airlines teaching precision in how meals are served,

They start laying down servingware “inside out” — serving a window seat passenger that means placing items first by the window, placing one item precisely on the tray at a time and ensuring that Singapore logos face the passenger. Then they switched to a middle seat passenger in the same aisle which meant laying things down in the precise opposite direction.

They practiced asking a passenger if they’d like bread and they practiced pouring champagne.

Now that United will be feeding passengers again they want flight attendants to look the part, too.

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. Agree! All airlines should address this issue. Many female Flight attendants wear “guy shoes and socks” with sweaters tied around their waist and males roll up their sleeves like they are ready to fight.

  2. They are sloppy because they hate their jobs, passengers and don’t give a shit anymore

  3. UNIFORMS? UNITED, in particular among Western carriers, could start with their flight attendants.

    I flew BUSINESS from Newark to Buenos Aires and San Francisco to Hong Kong in FIRST

    On all occasions (outbound & return)? The attendants were ANCIENT.

    My travel partner, eyed one lady doing drinks service on the leg down to Buenos Aires and asked “is she holding up the cart or is the cart holding up her? They both look like they are going to fall apart”

    Sorry – I’ll stick with Asian and Middle Eastern carriers!

  4. It’s really embarrassing how some of them dress. Even if you aren’t doing it for the customers (even though you should be), have a little self-respect for yourself and don’t come to work dressed like a college student going to an 8am lecture.

  5. What Marco S. says.

    American carriers need to look closely at their flight attendants. On a recent trip to the UK, Delta had me fly on a Virgin flight. All I can say is: WOW! The crew were all, smart, well dressed – all wearing the same uniforms, that were clean, well pressed – not ancient, well groomed and all very pleasant, helpful and kind. It really is a surprise that anyone would want to, voluntarily, fly with United or AA nowadays.

  6. Their age doesn’t matter to me and I get needing a certain amount of flexibility in their wardrobe given that their PRIMARY PURPOSE isn’t supposed to be serving food & drinks but the SAFETY of passengers, however, whether they wear skirts/dresses or pants, their attire should be clean, without wrinkles & stains and well fitting. I see so called professional folks these days that look just awful, clothes either so tight it hikes up or so loose it is falling off, wrinkled clothes, dirty shoes, hair all a mess, stained clothes, etc.
    The same can be said for passengers who wear some pretty horrible stuff too but they are presumably going on vacation…I don’t think you should have to dress up to fly (although I usually wear something presentable and comfortable) but you shouldn’t look like you just woke up from a three day drunk and rolled out of bed either.
    Society as a whole in much of America has simply gotten the attitude that they don’t care….it is like we are depressed as a nation. Some folks still care, dress appropriately for the situation be it for dinner or travel or work, but some have just lost their damned minds. We seem to have simply forgotten what MANNERS are, people don’t bother to extend even the slightest courtesies such as opening doors for one another, saying please, thank you, good morning/afternoon, calling at the appropriate times, simply taking casual to extremely uncomfortable levels. When is the last time you received or sent a WRITTEN thank you note? When do you hear children say sir/ma’am? It is truly a mess and I feel sad for younger generations who have all but lost the understanding of manners and why they exist.

  7. I agree. They look like slobs who just got out of bed. No ties on men; clogs on women. Questionable hairstyles. FAs once were glamorous and impeccably groomed and dressed. What happened? Now they resemble the unkempt passengers.

  8. A lot of them are such fat bastards they can hardly fit into the clothes they are given, so I’d start wigh a weigh in, anyone overweight or obese gets 6 months to slim down ot they’re out, Im amazed it took them so long to realize they look grubby and disheveled, The In Flight manager needs to be punted, whats he been doing?

  9. I’ll just add that I’m happy UA actually recognized that this was an issue for some FAs and is doing something about it. IME though, the worst offenders are still PMUS FAs… Some even still wear elements of the PMUS uniform. Ditto for the GAs in PHL.

  10. Calling older flight attendants ancient is a pretty lousy thing to do. I’m not condemning it, but maybe they need that job for one of a million reasons, who are you to comment on how old they are. As long as they can do their job well, who cares what their age is. Eye candy isn’t in the contract of carriage in case you didn’t notice. I’d take an older, happy, engaging flight attendant over a younger prettier surly one any day.

  11. There needs to be a retirement age of flight attendants at 30. Once you hit 30 need to take a ground job. Flight attendant should not be a career, a career is being a librarian, teacher, account or a nurse. And I think a requirement for high school graduation is learning how to dress and groom professionally.

  12. The answer is to fire Scott Kirby. Work place morale will improve then they can start addressing other issues.

  13. Some of you are horribly judgmental about appearance and age. Cleanliness and presenting oneself well put together without stains and wrinkles is important in a service industry, but fat shaming and ageism are so awful and these comments are a reflection of your own lack of character and possible worthlessness to society. Oops, I’d absolutely spill drinks and secretly lick spoons while serving Jean Delisi and Robbo!!

  14. I fly United almost exclusively being based out of IAH. I honestly don’t care if the flight attendants showed up in plain clothes, what needs to go is Scott Kirby. That man has hurt the reputation of United way more than all the sloppy flight attendants combined, the David Dao incident, and all the pet killing. Smisek with a vengeance.

  15. Well, the passengers are much, much worse. What has happened to a sense of pride in personal appearance and even basic hygiene. I don’t have an issue with the FAs when the passengers are total slobs that should also lay off the feed trough a bit too.

  16. So retire at 30 years old. Sounds like you want eye-candy to watch in-flight. So, an F/A would only be able to fly 9 years before being forced to take a ground job. What makes ground jobs acceptable to move a 30-year-old to? At one point, F/A’s had to also quit flying if they got married. Supervisors checked F/A’s before they boarded their aircraft for uniform and makeup appearance. F/A’s used to be put on weight restrictions after being weight before allowing to board their flight and were given only a few weeks to lose the weight or be grounded.

    Geez, what generation are you from? Oh, also, as far a career positions of those careers at or soon after 9 years those F/A’s will be making more money than the ones you mentioned to put toward their retirement!

  17. The issue is that there is too much power in the flight attendant unions that they cannot uphold certain standards. That is why you get such superior service on Qatar Airways compared to United.

  18. Robbo,
    A lawsuit stopped the weight program years ago.
    . We did have appearance checks, and did weigh in. I think our mindset was different back in the 1970’s also. Some f/a look great, some need a little help. Back in the day, we had appearance counselors That had an office at the terminal. They were there to offer suggestion.
    We not only had classes on safety and service but appearance also. From what I have been told, there hasn’t been a lot of attention paid to that.
    I also remember, we all want to look our best…

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