Sexist baggage must be ditched by airlines
With female cabin crew at Cathay Pacific wanting to wear trousers, carriers should remember today’s customers expect good service and safety, not skimpily dressed staff
The job of flight attendant is the same for men and women. Yet Hong Kong’s four passenger airlines insist, as do most of their counterparts elsewhere in Asia, on treating the sexes differently when it comes to what they wear.
Male clothing is appropriately comfortable, but female counterparts are expected to have knee-high skirts, heeled shoes, immaculate make-up and for some carriers, blouses so short that in some work situations, they are revealing.
The blatant sexism not only makes carrying out duties more difficult, but also negatively impacts the image of companies doing business in an intensively competitive industry.
Skirts, particularly those that are expected to be worn tight, are less comfortable and along with other mandated rules on physical appearance, are often perceived as contributing to sexist behaviour by some male passengers.
Some staff contend that wearing them can also hamper their ability to help customers during an emergency.
All of Hong Kong’s carriers have “skirt-only” dress codes for female flight attendants, but staff at the biggest, Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon, have begun pushing to be allowed to wear trousers. Male crew on both were last year permitted to wear short-sleeve shirts.
The boardrooms of most of the world’s airlines are male-dominated. They have been slow to move away from the practice of objectifying female flight attendants to bring business and enhance their image, particularly in Asia.
But the practice of wearing trousers is increasingly widespread among European and North American carriers and two in South Korea, Korean Air and Asiana, are leading the way in the region.
At the other end of the spectrum, though, is Vietnam’s VietJet, which outdatedly promotes a sexualised image by running advertisements using lingerie-clad models and selling calendars with pictures of flight attendants in bikinis.
But carriers that have made the change realise customers expect good service and safety, not flight attendants who are highly feminine and skimpily dressed.
The feeling is being pushed along by spreading global activism by women for equal treatment and an end to sexual harassment in the workplace. Airlines will face growing staff turbulence if they fail to respond positively.