British Airways Crews Are Unhappy With Their Uniforms & Dress Requirements

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It’s British Airways’ centenary year this year and among the various promotions, nostalgic revivals of old liveries and new commercials the airline is also unveiling a new uniform for its cabin crews….but the cabin crews aren’t happy.

It was back in September last year that British Airways announced that Ozwald Boateng would be designing the new uniforms for British Airways and that he (and his team) would be “working closely with the airline’s employees throughout the development process, from shadowing them to understand their roles and how the uniforms need to perform, to design, testing and final delivery“.

Well, there’s been a breakdown in communications somewhere because, with the new uniforms expected any day now, one of the unions representing the British Airways crews has written an open letter to Alex Cruz complaining about, amongst other things, the lack of consultation on the new uniform and issues with the current uniform (especially from the point of view of female members of cabin crew).

Here’s the full text:

a letter of a companya close-up of a letter a close-up of a letter

At first I thought the letter was complaining about the new uniform but, after having read through the text a number of times, there appear to be three main issues:

  1. The current female cabin crew uniform is unacceptable (from a modesty standpoint)
  2. The current dress requirements for female members of BA cabin crew are considered outdated and sexist.
  3.  The lack of consultation with regards to the new Ozwald Boateng uniforms has left crew members concerned that these issues are not about to go away anytime soon.

I have absolutely no idea how much or how little consultation there has been with the BA crews over their new uniforms but, in an age where airlines like Virgin Atlantic are removing the requirements for female cabin crew members to wear makeup, it’s surprising that BA doesn’t appear to have considered the broader issues surrounding its crews’ uniforms and dress requirements.

Firstly, BA must have known about the transparency issue with its current uniforms so, at the very least, you would have thought the airline would make a show of making sure the crews are happy with whatever will be replacing the offending items of clothing – it would cost them nothing to do so and would head off issues like the one it’s facing right now.

Secondly, although I think the female members of BA cabin crews look great in the hats they’re required to wear, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that asking them to wear hats when male members of cabin crew don’t have to is going to be pretty contentious.

Asking a female member of staff to wear an item of clothing that a male member of cabin crew could also be asked to wear (but isn’t) is asking for trouble….and it shows a worrying lack of foresight on the part of BA that no one at Waterside thought this could be an issue.

a group of people standing in front of an airplane
Image courtesy of British Airways

Having said all of that I don’t think that Unite’s letter is on solid ground with all of its gripes.

The letter mentions that BA’s regulations require that “a woman should have to ask a senior crew member (often a man) for permission to remove her jacket if overheated” but it doesn’t go on to mention if there is a similar requirement of male cabin crew…and that’s quite an important thing to know.

If this rule really exists and is only in place for female members of cabin crew I’m shocked that it’s still in place. If it’s a rule that applies equally to male and female members of cabin crew then the way Unite has framed its issue is disingenuous.

Unite appears to be suggesting that this is another example of sexism in the workplace at British Airways but, where in other parts of the letter it makes it clear what the different requirements are for male and female members of cabin crew, here it’s noticeably quiet….and I can’t help but wonder why.

Bottom Line

Overall this appears to be a very silly misstep on the part of BA and the airline is probably lucky that Unite drew the line at uniforms and didn’t also open up the debate on the requirement of female members of cabin crew to wear makeup.

The airline and it’s employees don’t exactly have the best of working relationships so you’d think that management would be keen to take the easy wins when it’s faced with them….and making sure crews are happy with something as simple as the clothes they’re expected to wear is a very easy win indeed.

When management can’t see the easy wins staring it in the face you have to wonder just how well it will handle the tougher situations which are usually just around the corner.

(If any members of BA cabin crew are reading this I’d love it if you’d let me know the facts as you see them in the comments section below. Anyone from management is welcome to comment too)


    • That’s interesting (and thanks very much for the info). How do you feel about the uniform situation?

  1. some of the happiest crews I’ve ever seen work for Southwest….Southwest has a very flexible crew uniform policy, one that reflects their crews and their airports (PHX in the Summer versus Chicago in January). I realize that SWA “plays” in a different space and is a domestic airline that does not have to meet significant international cultural / branding challenges but the lesson is the same. Happy Work Clothes = Happier Crews. It is astonishing that the transparency of the blouse was not caught during round one of fabric selection. But I guess this is what can happen if you use a fashion designer and don’t consult with the crew that will use it. And the hats….kill them…just ask a nurse to wear their old caps and you will probably need a nurse or a doctor… 🙂

  2. I love our current uniform, and I love the hats. Surveys said about half of the staff would like a hat, half don’t. Those numbers mentioned in the letter are wrong. Having to ask for permission to take your jacket off has never been an issue, as far as I am concerned, neither for females nor males. So far I’ve been treated as an adult.

    • Thanks very much for taking the time to comment. Does this mean you think the issue is being blown out of proportion? (and if it is, why are they blowing it out of proportion?)

  3. All crew were invited to become a ‘uniform champion’ and I believe there are about 1,000 champions across the company. The uniform champions are being consulted are being consulted on their opinions for the new uniform, and some have visited the factory where it will be produced. I am almost certain that all of the issues mentioned in the letter will have been spoken about, because they are the things that have been wrong with the current uniform for years.
    Wearing jackets is something that is decided on the day, and applies to the whole crew. There is absolutely no discrimination.
    I believe this letter in fact points to Unite itself wanting to be involved in the consultation process, not that crew are not being consulted (see the first line of the second paragraph of the letter). The company has reached out to colleagues who want to be involved, and they are involved. It should not be for an outside organisation, particularly one with such a negative perception of the company, to play a part in this process.

    • Wow. That’s very interesting.

      So BA crews have been consulted (and are still being consulted) and this is just noise from Unite who feel left out of the dialogue which is going on between management and the crews?

      If that’s the case it’s more than a little disturbing that an organization whose sole purpose should be to represent the interest of its members is apparently stirring up trouble just to further its own ends.

      Anyone from Unite care to comment?

  4. There is a certain type of crew member that likes to be a ‘champion’. They are ‘yes men/women’ who think it will help them along in their careers and get them noticed for promotion etc. They will give the company whatever feedback the company wants.
    Information from company wide anonymous surveys by the union is much more accurate.
    Hardly anyone enjoys wearing the hat. It is impractical in our job. However smart it looks.
    The wearing of the jacket rues are non-discriminatory, but generally it’s only the women that have hot flushes, and when they come, often as you are struggling through an airport with baggage, that jacket & hat have to come off quickly, before you pass out.

  5. Why on EARTH are BA bothering to even change the current uniform? It looks perfectly nice and smart as it is. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. They should keep the current uniform and to hell with changing it. A very bad idea.

    • Try wearing it, it’s dated, uncomfortable and unlike by those who wear it in an industry where BA is being vastly left behind to all other advancements made by other company’s.

      • Sorry, but I don’t agree. Many BA crew LOVE wearing the current uniform. It is so smart and is, in fact, the smartest in the whole airline industry. If it really HAS to be changed, then for Gawds sake let’s hope they don’t turn it into a drab, dull, unglamorous piece of rubbish.

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