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Why is the appearance of women so important to airlines? An investigation into the appearance of female cabin crew and how they are portrayed in the media.

Why is the appearance of women so important to airlines? An investigation into the appearance of female cabin crew and how they are portrayed in the media.
Author: Danielle Bristow
1 Commentries
The role of cabin crew has always been seen as glamorous work since the 1930’s and despite several changes to the workplace, female cabin crew still hold this ‘glamorous’ label. The way airlines portray their female cabin crew through advertising only adds to this stereotype, therefore this paper aims to explore the issues associated with the appearance of female cabin crew and provide an analyse of airline advertisements, with focus on how the women are portrayed.

Key words: Females, Emotional Labor, Gender Equality, Uniform Standards, Sexism

The cabin crew profession has become one of a fully developed salesperson on a mass transportation carrier (Bergman and Gillberg, 2015), and whilst the glamour of this role still remains, working conditions of the job has changed. With the demand for air travel greater than ever before, female cabin crew members must prepare for the constant changes, those that include – bigger aircrafts, more passengers and less crew.

Emotional labour is a context which is greatly recognised in the tourism industry and in particular experienced by women working as cabin crew (Whitelegg, 2002). Female flight attendants are part of the majority of customer service employees within the airline industry, therefore the need to maintain positive interactions with customers for long periods of time results in emotional labor. In order for female crew members to maintain a professional approach and enhance the airlines image, they must convey emotions such as happiness and confidence when dealing with all customer types, regardless of how they feel. Emotional labor is a gendered feature within public sector work, (Norsby and Davis, 2007) as whilst it is optional for men to express themselves in a caring manner in the workplace, it is compulsory for women due to their caring and sympathising nature (Guy and Newman, 2004).

Over the years, the appearance of female cabin crew has been greatly recognised. The uniform standards for female cabin crew differs between airlines, however all female crew encounter strict arrangements regarding their appearance, including – height and weight requirements, lipstick to match their uniform and hair being no longer than collar length. The issue of airlines being image consultants for their female cabin crew can be addressed here. Image consultants encourage their employees to change their image in order to create a more professional appearance by making changes to their looks, characteristics and behaviour (Wellington and Bryson, 2001), which essentially is how airlines manage their female crew members.

The no tattoo policy for females aspiring to become cabin crew is somewhat quite surprising. Inequality in the cabin crew appearance is recognised within the British Airways uniform, as whilst it is ok for male crew to be fully clothed, any females with tattoos in areas from the thigh down, chest or arms is strictly forbidden due to their uniform requirements – even after the case was won for women to wear trousers. Male cabin crew and pilots do not face these pressures due to showing less flesh, however women are excluded from the job role if they have tattoos in certain areas which airlines do not accept – this limiting the job opportunities for some women, regardless of their customer service experience.

The portrayal of gender equality is represented in many ways through the media (Baum, 2012), and whilst the technical side of the aircraft such as the cockpit is mainly male orientated, the hosting and customer care within the aircraft can be identified as being a feminine role Mills (1995) – adverts from Virgin and Etihad Airways helps support this statement.

Virgin’s ad ‘still red hot after 25 years’ demonstrates the sexist behaviour towards women – the term ‘red hot’ not only suggesting the colour of the uniform but that of the crew’s appearances. This advert generated complaints of sexism and derogatory behaviour towards women. The all-female crew being ogled at by male passengers as they walk through the airport, whilst the male pilot follows – this demonstrating the power and control the pilot has over his female crew.

Etihad Airways advert ‘change the way you see the world’ also displayed derogatory behaviour towards women. This advert displays the female flight crew smiling to all of their passengers, broadcasting the emotional labor experienced by female cabin crew. Meeting the needs of male customers was also displayed. A tagline ‘people tend to get a little excited for your arrival’ was used, displaying excited passengers taking photographs as the women flight attendants arrived into the airport – the airline portraying the women as being something to look at and admire. The majority of media coverage shows the pilots to be male, as well as the luggage handlers and the females to be check in assistants and cabin crew, there was no role reversal.

Women encounter many challenges in the cabin crew profession, in particular with their appearance. Although many changes have been made to the workplace, female cabin crew still suffer with having to be controlled, experiencing emotional labor and looking glamorous at all times. Airlines only add to this stereotype by portraying females in the media as sexy, eye-catching and desirable. Regardless of service or price – if the crew are attractive, that seems the only influence on an individual’s buying decision.


Baum, T. (2012) Working the skies: changing representations of gendered work in the airline industry, 1930-2011. Tourism Management, 33(5) 1185 – 1194.

Mills, J.A. (1995), Man/aging subjectivity, silencing diversity: Organizational imagery in the airline industry. The case of British Airways, Organization, 2(2) 242 – 269.

Guy, E.M. and Newman, A.M. (2004) Women’s jobs, men’s jobs: Sex segregation and emotional labour. Public Administration Review, 64(3) 289 – 298.
Emotional Labour within Airlines
Author: Emma Kimpton
I have chosen to comment on this particular paper as the title caught my eye due to the interesting topic the author has chosen to write about. This paper also focuses on experiences of women in the workplace, which is similar to my piece of work.

The author begins by explaining how the demand for air travel has increased within recent years and is higher than ever, however air travel companies have responded to this by lowering their amount of staff. This opinion compares favourably to the opinion of Bergman & Gillberg (2015) as they show how service industries are tending to employ as little people as possible to do as much as possible.

The female flight attendants of Singapore Airlines are dubbed ‘Singapore Girls’ and are expected by the company to create a comforting in-flight experience. In particular, Singapore Airlines considers the role played by their air hostesses as an effective way of portraying the desirable oriental feel that the customers want to experience (Lin, 2015). This opinion reflects that of the author of this discussion paper as she explains how cabin crew constantly need to maintain a professional approach and embody and enhance the image of the company, thus showing how emotional labour is a big issue within this industry.

It is interesting that the author does not note that traditionally only men were employed by airline companies to work within the cabin. However in recent times, it is considered ‘women’s work’ as the job role embodies a domestic atmosphere where the employees serve food, clean and tidy and look after the people within their domain – just as they would at home (Whitelegg, 2002).

As the author explains, emotional labour is greatly recognised within the tourism industry, particularly within female cabin crews. Bergman & Gillman (2015) support this as they explain how cabin attendants have to manipulate their own feelings in order to manipulate the experience of the passengers which then meets the company’s strict demands. Thus, exploitation and profit are closely related to both high quality service and customer satisfaction.

The use of airline company advertisements as examples supported the work well and was relevant to the main discussion point of this paper. The three main references and the references within the work were well chosen for this topic.

All in all, this discussion paper was really interesting and highlighted key, important points of working as a female flight attendant. It was interesting that the conclusion highlighted that the appearance of the cabin crew influences the choice of the consumer and it would be interesting, and beneficial, to further research this opinion in the future.

Bergman, A. & Gillberg, B. (2015) The cabin crew blues. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, 5(4), pp. 23-39.

Lin, W. (2015) Cabin Pressure: Designing affective atmospheres in airline travel. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40(2), pp. 287-299.

Whitelegg, D. (2002) Cabin pressure: The dialectics of emotional labour in the airline industry. Journal of Transport History, 23(1), pp. 73.