Yesterday, Air New Zealand fired a sartorial starter’s pistol in the race for a new uniform.
Fashion designers have until the end of next Sunday to submit expressions of interest to redesign the airline’s look, as the wardrobe for air and ground crew gets an overhaul.
The document soliciting pitches said it was looking for a designer who could deliver more than 5000 uniforms and a new look that reflects the “Aotearoa of today and the future”. More than new clothes, the airline said it was rethinking its whole staff uniform policy.
Air New Zealand said that part of this update would be “revising our grooming standards”.
Airlines, like other public-facing companies, have detailed guides on staff presentation. These detail everything from acceptable shades of eyeliner and hairstyles to whether staff should be clean-shaven and what forms of jewellery can be worn on the job.
Some carriers issue physical booklets outlining hairdos and don’ts for serving cabin crew. The Qatar Airways Cabin Crew Grooming & Uniform Regulations is 64 pages long.
While some airlines are very open about their rules of personal presentation, the Air New Zealand grooming guide is a closed book.
A spokesperson for the airline said the most recent grooming standards were updated in 2020 but, as an internal document, it was not to be shared publicly.
One of the updates came in September 2019 when the airline allowed visible tā moko and “non-offensive tattoos” when in uniform or performing business duties for the airline.
What are the current rules other airlines impose on their staff appearance and what changes could we see in Air NZ cabins?
Do cabin crew have to wear makeup?
2019 was the year Virgin Atlantic made up its mind to drop makeup requirements for flight attendants.
While many airlines recommend a “natural” look, surprisingly few permit female cabin crew to attend work without foundation.
Air New Zealand is among those airlines which have guides against wearing too much or no makeup.
The former Careers website aspiretofly.co.nz advised hopeful flight attendants to “invest in long-lasting foundation”, “good primer” and “coloured lip balm” to maintain appearances during a 12-hour work day in the cabin.
Grooming guides will recommend acceptable shades and even brands for eyeshadow, lipstick, nail varnish and other cosmetics.
Despite having strict guidelines, most air stewards are not provided with an allowance to buy makeup, though some airline workers will get discounted rates through their airline.
What are airline rules on beards and hairlines?
Air India announced that a change in uniform and grooming standards were central to the ‘transformation plan’.
A grooming guide released in January 2022 sparked outrage by calling for a quarterly “BMI, weight check” for crew members. Unions spoke out against the ‘weight check’, saying that slimming shouldn’t be a requirement for trained staff to do their job.
While most airlines do not give strict weight limits for crew, they will often have stipulations, such as Qatar Airlines’ guide, which says “weight must be proportional to height”.
“Cabin crew who are well-dressed and well-groomed according to uniform standards and regulations present a positive and professional image of the airline,” said Air India at the time.
Hair was also a focus of the new-look airline. Combovers were banned in favour of the bald look.
The Air India grooming guide calls for crew with “deep receding hairlines or bald patches” to shave their heads. Grey hair was also a black-and-white issue, with male and female staff required to dye white patches.
Facial hair is another policy which varies greatly between airlines. In North America, United and Delta require crew and pilots to be clean-shaven, while Southwest will allow moustaches providing they do not cover more than 50 per cent of the upper lip.
Too short to be a cabin crew member?
Remarkably, airline appearance guides will also dictate the “minimum height” and athletic ability of employees.
Although this is not something that can be altered with cosmetics, minimum height is a condition of employment.
Last year, Malaysian Airlines ruined the dreams of many prospective crewmembers with an online recruitment advert which stated crew had a minimum required height of 157cm. Prospective crew accused them of ruining ‘childhood dreams’ - 157cm is well over the average height in Kuala Lumpur.
In previous recruitment drives, Air New Zealand has said applicants “must be able to lift a 10-kilogram weight to a height of 170cm without shoes and with both feet flat on the floor.”
The reason for this seemingly arbitrary detail is that it’s a safety requirement.
As an air steward, responsible for the wellbeing of 200-plus passengers, the airline requires employees to be able-bodied and able to respond in an emergency.
Air New Zealand also requires flight crew hopefuls to be able to perform a swim test of 50 metres in under two minutes and hold a Hato Hone St John Level 2 First Aid Certificate.