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Crewed Talk: How Airlines Groom, Regulate & Enforce “The Look” of Flight Attendants

Crewed Talk: How Airlines Groom, Regulate & Enforce “The Look” of Flight Attendants
Sarah Steegar


One thing I will be forever fascinated by is flight attendant style. I can’t help but be interested when an airline gets new uniforms, and honestly, I admire the top-to-toe uniformity — in every sense of the word — of certain foreign crews.

This is never truer than when some of us flight attendants are waiting for our layover hotel rooms after all-nighter flights. Sometimes, I think we must look like a group of zombies starving for key cards and bedclothes. At 5 a.m., though, I can’t make myself care if my scarf is crooked or I’ve got flyaway hairs. Meanwhile, an Asian crew could be sitting in the same waiting area, straight-backed and fresh-faced like their shift was starting instead of ending. I don’t even understand. Pulling off the image round-the-clock is a feat!

I couldn’t resist this HuffPo interview with two flight attendants about Emirates’ signature glam standards. I expected to hear about crazy grooming demands, but their responses mostly felt familiar. For example, when the two women were asked, “How much of your training program is about image? What are some of the rules?” they mentioned “one full day” of the program on image. Huh, that sounds about like us.

Charm Farms, erm, I mean “training centers,” usually have their own in-house salons. As a New Hire, I couldn’t wait to go, like they were going to fairy godmother me into a true stew with the wave of a magic hairbrush. When the image portion of training actually arrives, however, it’s a bit more stressful than that.

The program calls for private critiques consultations in a series of specialized “grooming” stations for nails, skin care, makeup and hair. Although we are not locked into particular brands or colors of makeup like some airlines (e.g., Emirates flight attendants have to wear red lipstick from a certain range to coordinate with the hat, and nail polish must be clear, natural or the same red as one’s lipstick), they have firm ideas about what they want.

We each exit the face station truly “(re)made in their image.” It was more makeup than I’d wear in a year, but you better believe I copied the look exactly every single day — and I pretended to love it. We became so paranoid in training that we even toyed with the idea the groomers knew the colors were horrid on us but they wanted to test our levels of cooperation. That’s how scared you are of getting kicked out! So I shut my mouth and slapped a load of lipstick on it. I actually had a hair showdown, in which the groomers demanded a (by all accounts unnecessary and expensive) change in color. I was given three days to comply — or else. In a fit of indignation, I went to an outside salon and got the beauty equivalent of a dissenting doctor’s note. Thad did the trick! Looking back, I’m lucky I wasn’t kicked out for rebellion. I have a feeling that at many foreign carriers, I would have simply been let go.

The interview with the Emirates flight attendants goes on to mention the carrier’s strictness about uniforms, with rules like the hat being worn “two finger widths” from the brow. Mostly, I’m just sad that no U.S. airlines offer a formal uniform hat at all — I would revel in the rules if they did! — but they manage other, picky regulations. I was once written up for wearing two rings on one hand, and then put on probation for a second earring stud.

I can’t deny you might be thinking at this point. “If U.S. airlines are so big on uniformity, too, why don’t they look as cohesive?” I know. For today, let’s just say there are a lot of cultural reasons (both geographic and business) that play a role. For example, take the fact that U.S. airlines represent a range of ages and sizes that you won’t find at some other national carriers. That’s just the tip of the cultural iceberg.

Whatever the dynamics, certain crews undeniably stand out, and other crews love to see them as much as you do. Passenger heads aren’t the only ones turning when a huge, stylish formation walks through the terminal. They look amazing! On that note, I admit I’m as American-style as they come. I stand in the airport admiring (and a little jealous of) the tightly organized look of another crew… while also feeling grateful that no one will ever chase me down for wearing the wrong shade of lipstick.

[Photo: iStock]

View Comments (6)


  1. cochinjew

    October 28, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Thank you. Yesterday afternoon I saw an Air Berlin crew coming off the terminal to their transportation. They looked fit, prim and not a hair out of place. They were european and not an Asian among them, and as you say they stood their with straight backed confidence. I wanted to go back to look at them and admire them. QR flies to Miami now and it is a sheer pleasure to look at their crew getting off or going to work.
    Is it true that 1 in 5 US FAs are over 50 years of age and that 2 out o five are over 40 years? Plus the fact that 2/3 of the american residents are overweight or obese, may all have to contribute to the fact that the US FAs are less than pleasing to the eye. But more than that there is the american cultural attitudes. On my AA flight from London to Miami recently, in the Business Class there were people with Gym Shorts and thongs! So it is not just FAs but also the passengers..
    My next two of the three long hauls are on Qatar Airways1 I am already looking forward to it!

  2. Points Scrounger

    October 28, 2014 at 11:57 am

    On the other hand, during an LAX hotel shuttle ride I was struck by how shabby the Volaris uniforms looked — like something designed by K-Mart.

  3. Occupationalhazard

    October 28, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    For example, when the two women were asked, “How much of your training program is about image? What are some of the rules?” they mentioned “one full day” of the program on image. Huh, that sounds about like us.


    There was an article in last months Departures that indicated that “image and uniform training” lasted a full week, and overall training lasted seven weeks. I, of course, know nothing of such things, but just pass this along.


  4. BadgerBoi

    October 29, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    “Foreign”? Where exactly is that, one of the smaller European nations, or a tiny Asian kingdom perhaps?

  5. NotSoFrequentColorado

    January 18, 2018 at 9:52 am

    I get really annoyed at people complaining about FAs being fat or old. Their job is to bring you your refreshments and help insure your safety in a crisis. Why do you care what they look like? I can remember the days when “stewardesses” were required to ALL be female, young, single, white, thin and pretty. So glad those days are gone and job requirement is simply that they be good at what they do.

  6. Dzigavertov

    January 18, 2018 at 11:37 am

    I agree with NotSoFrequentColorado, though I think dress and appearance is a part of professionalism. Doesn’t matter what you physically look like, but your dress and personal hygiene is important in most service professions.

    There’s a relationship, but not always. I’ve seen very well dressed/presented FAs in Western Europe who treated me like dirt. I’ve seen poorly dressed/presented FAs from the U.S. who gave excellent service. I’ve had FAs on Asiana very well dressed and given excellent service. Then there was the puddle jumper in Brazil where I was just thanking the almighty for getting me there safely.

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