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CNN  — 

United Airlines is rewriting some of its rules surrounding flight attendants’ appearance, loosening regulations on hair, makeup and tattoos to be more inclusive.

Cabin crew uniforms are well-known for being strict and gender normative. Most airlines have specific uniform requirements for men and women, and many carriers police staff’s hair and makeup.

US airline United has made a small but significant change in this arena by revising some of these regulations.

From September 15, United customer-facing employees will be permitted to have visible tattoos, while customer-facing workers of all genders will be able to wear makeup and nail polish should they wish.

Employees of all genders will also be allowed to wear their hair down.

The goal, according to United, is to allow employees to “feel welcome to be their authentic selves at work and celebrate their individuality, while also serving as ambassadors for our global United brand.”

Small but significant change

Customer-facing United employees will soon be allowed to have visible tattoos.

These uniform amendments are still limited – any visible tattoos have to be smaller than an employee’s work badge and if employees choose to wear their hair down, it must be shoulder length or shorter.

For the aviation industry, however, these changes are a big deal.

Virgin Atlantic, for example, allowed female air crew to swap skirts for trousers and go without makeup only in 2019.

Meanwhile, British Airways still stipulates that men’s hair “must meet a conventional style which is appropriate for a professional environment; shaven or sculptured styles and long hair are not permitted.”

United Airlines employees has also loosened rules around hair for employees of all genders.

Ken Diaz, the president of United Airlines’ branch of the Association of Flight Attendants, said the AFA applauded United’s new rules.

“This policy change will make work more inclusive for every Flight Attendant to be themselves and focus 100 percent on our job as aviation’s first responders,” said Diaz in a statement.

United Airlines told employees that the airline plans to expand these loosened rules to apply to other United employees – including pilots – later this year.

United was in the process of launching a new uniform before the pandemic – a development that’s postponed for now.

In the meantime, United has been “evaluating every aspect of our uniform and appearance standards to align with our brand values of seeking opportunities for inclusivity.”

Employees of all genders will also be permitted to wear nail polish.

Industry conversation

In June 2021, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to Alaska Airlines asking the airline to stop enforcing a gender-based uniform policy. The letter was sent on behalf of Alaska Airlines flight attendant Justin Wetherell, who is nonbinary.

“I don’t want to be forced into a binary uniform that excludes me and leads to me being misgendered at work,” said Wetherell in a statement in June.

“The uniform policy places a particularly heavy burden on nonbinary employees, but the uniform’s policy also harms any flight attendant who does not fit Alaska Airlines’ preferred image of either male or female,” said Joshua Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project.

Alaska Airlines responded in a statement stating that “since early 2020, all flight attendants have been able to order any pant or parka style and have been able to select the uniform kit of their choice, regardless of gender identity.”

The airline also pledged to implement new gender-neutral hair policies, and added that it is “committed to continuing to explore uniform and grooming standards for our flight attendants.”

Next generation of uniforms

While older airlines reconsider their uniform policies, some newer airlines have opted for gender-neutral uniforms for crew from the outset – including Aero K, a recently launched domestic South Korea carrier.

In a post on Instagram, Aero K said the uniforms were designed “with consideration and respect” with the goal of allowing flight attendants “to better perform various duties regardless of age and gender.”

The stylish uniforms were featured on Vogue Korea’s social media.

Meanwhile, start-up airline PLAY also premiered gender-neutral uniforms. The Icelandic carrier said the red and gray-colored options make comfort and practicality a priority.

“Forget running around in high heels – comfortable sneakers are the way to go. Instructions regarding hair, make up, tattoos and nail polish are gone,” reads PLAY’s news release.

“The uniforms are not gender specific, and our crew can pick whatever works for them from a varied selection of outfits.”

Top image courtesy of United Airlines