Keywords â€“ Flight Attendants, Cabin Crew, Aesthetic Labour, Appearance Requirements, Dress Code, Airline Industry
This conference paper discusses the positive and negative issues towards aesthetic labour in the airline industry, paying particular attention to cabin crew. Though it may seem that there has been more discussion surrounding the negative aspects than the positive aspects this topic is particularly controversial. The concept started when job advertisements specified appearance requirements, now it seems airlines require a certain type of person or look for the role of cabin crew. Usually this is attractive females as this is the expectation of customers, airlines want to have a competitive advantage and therefore use cabin crew as an eye for advertisements. However, this has caused issues in the past for example Ryanair and its â€˜sexy adâ€™. The way women were portrayed in the ad is considered sexism, however arguments were highlighted that crew were aware of this. This paper also highlights the positive arguments regarding aesthetic labour as a good business strategy, high grooming standards and an attractive appearance from staff are likely to bring in more customers. Discrimination was mentioned by many articles regarding â€˜overweightâ€™ and â€˜unattractiveâ€™ people being rejected for service jobs and the rejection of males. Airlines for example Southwest Airlines are guilty of this in the past by only hiring attractive females and enforcing â€˜sexualised outfitsâ€™; this is usually the cause for sexual harassment in the workplace due to provocative and suggestive clothing requirements. However, it is argued that this is due to a competitive advantage within the airline industry and the customer expectation of cabin crew being young and attractive females in particular.
Cabin crew requirements are strict mainly due to the reputation of the airline, women are expected the wear skirts, high heels, makeup and sometimes barrettes. Men on the other hand are expected to wear ties, trousers and keep beards shaved. It is expressed by many academics that even the slightest drop in standards can cause termination of employment for example weight gain or even ache. Crew are expected to keep up with standards and look after their appearances for example skin care regimes, dieting, manicures, makeup and hairstyles. This conference paper also discusses the issues regarding effort between males and females, it is suggested that females have stricter requirements than men as they are not required to wear makeup or high heels. However, this concept still boils down to customer expectations and the company image; it is the expectation of society which is the reason for the no tattoo policy as many deem tattoos â€˜unprofessionalâ€™, an incident with British Airways shows airlines are not willing to â€˜get with the timesâ€™. Once again academics argue that these expectations are good for business as this is attractive, customers care about the appearance of staff due to the level of interaction on a daily basis and if the staff do not keep up with hygiene and appearances this maybe discouraging. Overall, the issue lies with customer expectations of how cabin crew should look and the airlines reputation.
Depending on how strict the dress code is may have a deeper impact on cabin crew especially if health and safety is at risk; health and safety regarding the uniform worn by flight attendants is discussed by many academics, the safety of footwear and high heels are deemed to cause health issues in the future for example foot, leg and back problems. Trousers have been accepted recently by British Airways as a sign gender equality and protection for crew, trousers will protect and comfort crew on long-haul flights, weather conditions and even the Zika virus. The clothing needs to provide a certain level of protection for crew members in a crisis situation as the crew have the responsibility of helping passengers, therefore, heels are likely to be argued as inadequate footwear. Many people may disagree with these changes due to lack of research surrounding the problems with such clothing, however, it was not apparent till further research that uniform or aesthetics are important to the health and safety of the crew, not only physically but mentally. Academics have argued the issues regarding mental health and aesthetic labour, the link is evident. Appearance requirements place extra stress on staff causing possible mental health issues in the future for example anxiety, strain and depression. Flight attendants spending extra time and money on fulfilling these requirements are likely to cause financial worries and lack of sleep which are unhealthy for any worker. Although this is oblivious to many people that flight attendants have suffered from these issues due to a long-term persistence, airlines have the ability to change and improve the dress code standards to decrease the chances for future crew. However, due to customer expectations and corporate image, this is very unlikely.
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