Cathay Pacific

Seven airlines whose female flight attendants wear trousers – unlike Cathay Pacific, where it’s skirts only

Across continents there are airlines that give female flight attendants the option of wearing trousers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2018, 5:17pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2018, 9:35pm

It’s 2018 and gender identity and equality – particularly in the workplace – are top of the agenda. However, parts of the aviation industry are still clinging on to outdated regulations, with airlines still requiring crew members who identify as female to wear skirts. 

Constricting and impractical in an emergency, skirts are a legacy of an era when airlines would market themselves based on the attractiveness of their staff. While many travellers shuffle through the gate and onto the plane in stretch pants, hoodies and trainers, airline staff must look smart and presentable at all times – even 10 hours into a flight at 10,000 metres (33,000 feet). 

Last week, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific was criticised by the leader of its 7,200-strong flight attendants union for its strict rules regarding make-up and its requirement that female attendants wear skirts.

“The stereotype of the flight attendant is very old-style already: looking pretty, full make-up and wearing a skirt. It is a good time to have a revamp of our image,” Vera Wu Yee-mei, chairwoman of the Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants Union, said.

Time to change air hostesses’ old-fashioned image, says Cathay Pacific union, backing end to ‘skirt-only’ rule in Hong Kong

It’s not as if the Cathay union is trying to start a revolution – airlines around the world already offer female flight attendants the option of wearing trousers. Here are seven among the many that allow their female cabin crew the choice.

British Airways

In 2016, female flight attendants working for British Airways won the right to wear trousers after it emerged that recently hired employees had been made to wear skirts only, unless they had a medical or religious exemption. 

The Unite trade union, which represents airline staff, pointed out at the time a host of practical reasons for allowing a more flexible dress code: that trousers guard against the chill when travelling to colder destinations, that they are less flammable than nylon tights worn with skirts, and that mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus have a harder time biting someone wearing trousers. 

Why Cathay Dragon flight attendants are right to oppose skirts-only rule

After a two-year dispute, the union won and now female attendants can request trousers as part of their uniform.

Air India

Air India’s cabin crew uniform underwent an overhaul in 2015, when the airline’s management decided to ditch its flight attendants’ trademark black and red sari uniform in favour of “western formals”. 

“We have decided to retain the sari, which is widely regarded as a symbol of Indian culture. But to offer a more contemporary look we plan to give our cabin crew a choice of uniform on both domestic and international sectors,” an official said at the time. 

Designed by India’s National Institute of Fashion Technology, one of the country’s most respected design colleges, the new look includes three styles: a long black jacket with trousers, as well as a red and yellow sati and a yellow churidar kurta (a long garment with a side split) with black trousers. Meanwhile, male attendants now wear black trousers, blue pinstripe shirt, red tie and black jacket.

When Hong Kong’s first night flight took off from Kai Tak 58 years ago

Ethiopian Airlines

Ethiopian Airlines hit the headlines in December 2017 for its first flight staffed entirely by women – from cabin crew, to pilots, to check-in staff and on-ground flight dispatchers. The move was intended to encourage more women to join a traditionally male-dominated industry. 

“This is an ample opportunity to inspire young African female students to believe in their dreams and embark to fill the skill gap for aviation professionals. Women are the continent’s greatest untapped resource,” said Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde GebreMariam. 

Female flight attendants don’t have to worry about sexism in their dress code, either: crew members sport a practical yet stylish combination of emerald green trouser suits and crisp white shirts. With its progressive attitude, the African carrier is marking itself out as one of the world’s most forward-thinking airlines.

Bangkok Airways

One of the more colourful and inspired uniform designs, Thai carrier Bangkok Airways’ lively turquoise look evokes clear blue skies. Its female attendants have the option of wearing trousers or culottes after an overhaul of its dated rainbow fish design in 2011. 

The airline’s capri trouser option for women doesn’t provide as much coverage as those for men, but it’s a step in the right direction. The uniform was created by leading Thai designer Polpat Asavaprapha, who said: “Especially for air hostess, I designed dress in pattern of skirt and trousers mixture which offers not only outstanding look, but also informality and flexibility.”


Dutch carrier KLM introduced trousers to its uniform for female cabin crew in 2010, offered as an option alongside two different cuts of skirt – all in the airline’s distinctive shade of azure blue and worn with smart white shirts. 

“The new uniform is feminine, very versatile and timelessly elegant,” said the designer Mart Visser. The trousers were introduced after the company’s 11,000-strong female workforce demanded change.

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic’s uniform underwent a high-fashion makeover in 2014, when designer Vivienne Westwood was brought in to inject some glamour into the airline’s outfits. As at British Airways, cabin crew members who want to wear trousers must request to do so. 

We are introducing a new look which captures the spirit of Alitalia today as it continues on its journey of renewal and growth
Cramer Ball, CEO

In response to a request to clarify the airline’s trouser rules, a Virgin Atlantic spokesman said its cabin crew uniform prioritises “comfort and safety” and “includes a number of options including trousers which can be requested by cabin crew and a choice of one-, two- or three-inch [heel]red shoes. These shoes are only worn on the ground and flat shoes are worn by all crew once on board the aircraft.”


Italian airline Alitalia joined the ranks of forward-thinking carriers in 2016, when it unveiled a new uniform collection created by Milan-based designer Ettore Bilotta. The couturier was inspired by glamorous Italian fashion from the 1950s and 1960s, but left out the era’s rampant sexism. 

Female air stewards have dress, skirt and trouser options, all in wool with green and burgundy shades. 

“We are introducing a new look which captures the spirit of Alitalia today as it continues on its journey of renewal and growth. Our aim was to create a stylish collection which would represent Italian excellence around the world. The new uniforms complement the renaissance of the Alitalia brand and the rejuvenation of its aircraft fleet and products for its customers,” said Alitalia CEO Cramer Ball.