Monday, February 6, 2023
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Air India crew hide greys, follow strict makeup while global airlines allowing tattoo, piercing

Many airlines expect their crew to follow strict dress codes and decorum, but Air India’s commandments even instruct members on what to say and not to say on social media.

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Air India has updated its ‘Cabin Crew Handbook’, a 39-page dossier on the dos and don’ts for its crew members. This Air Bible, as I like to call it, has instructed male crew members with deep receding hairline and balding patches to switch to a clean shaved or bald look.

“Bald look is allowed for crew with male balding patterns. Crew with U and V shape hairline on crown, visible scalp and large bald patches must keep a full bald look. Head must be shaved daily for a clean look. Crew cut is not permitted,” the updated handbook says. Not to forget that the hair “must be dandruff free at all times”.

The list is long. Beards are a strict no-no and male members must carry a shaving kit on every flight. Any spot of grey hair must be removed and dyed a natural shade or ‘company ruled colors’.

For female crew members, high top knots, low buns and pearl earrings are banned. Only diamond and gold studs can be adorned. Expensive stuff!

The Air Bible is quite considerate and well thought out in its project—in-depth tables of permitted eyeshadow shades, lipstick shades, nail paint shades of Bobbi Brown, HUDA beauty and M.A.C—all endeavouring to make up the Perfect Air Hostess. These requirements are part of the effort to construct a new image of the airline, which recently turned private.

Also read: The new Air India is a work in progress. The Tatas will get it right sooner rather than later

Airlines around the world have changed 

Cabin crew members of many airlines are expected to follow strict dress codes and decorum, but the Air Bible’s commandments go an extra mile, instructing the members on what to say and what not to say on social media. They must refrain from posting videos in uniforms and cannot “discuss politics, religious, company related issues”. Members of the crew have expressed their discomfort with the guidelines, as Hindustan Times quoted an Air India official saying, “Some think it is required for building the image of the airline, but others see it to be a little too much.” Another Air India employee had a different insight into the matter. In a conversation with ThePrint, they said that some of the employees were not resistant to the change. These include the new, more younger recruits, who have embraced the uniformity. However, the permanent employees, particularly the ones in their 40s feel discomfort with the change.

In early November, British Airways’ male pilots and cabin crew were allowed to have piercings and wear makeup for the first time, after the airline updated its guidelines with non-gender-specific rules. The Guardian reported: “All employees in uniform can wear mascara, false eyelashes and earrings…as well as carry accessories including handbags.” In September this year, Virgin Atlantic permitted cabin crew members to wear any uniform they like regardless of their gender and display tattoos. Aer Lingus and Japan Airlines have relaxed the rule requiring female cabin crew to wear high heels and skirts, while others have introduced new gender-neutral uniform items designed for comfort. And in South Korea, the domestic carrier Aero K Airlines said uniforms introduced in 2020—featuring sneakers and T-shirts—“were created with consideration and respect to better perform various duties regardless of age and gender.”

But not every airline has adapted to changing time. Singapore Airlines, which is renowned for its strict image guidelines, has been making its flight attendants wear the same uniform since 1968, with strict instruction to adhere to rules about hairstyle, lipstick colour and more. So, is Air India on a time travel machine with ‘Emergency Eject to Past’ mode on?

Also read: From challenge to a challenger – Why Air India’s new journey has a lot flying on it

Air India is turning old-school (again)

Economist and author Shrayana Bhattacharya, in her book Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh, writes about the aviation sector employing young women as flight crew since the 1960s. By the late 1990s, the emergent Indian middle class had altered the ‘exclusive’ nature of flying. Airlines began hiring out-of-work models, beauty queens and aspiring actresses “who needed to make some cash until they got their big break—all personable young women not averse to hard work in exchange for traveling the world for adventure and financial freedom.” But this search for ‘adventure and financial freedom’ came with a huge cost.

In 2003, Frontline magazine reported that the company sacked cabin crew members, primarily women, for being overweight and those above 35 had to undergo internal gynaecological examinations once a year. Male crew members were not subjected to any medical examination. Moreover, women were allowed to have only two children while men did not have to adhere to this rule.

In 2018, then Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi, requested Air India to sensitise its male employees after she reviewed the progress of cases of sexual harassment.

Given the long participation of women in the Indian aviation sector, the industry revealed how women’s role in the workforce is imagined in the patriarchal society, “with the female employee forever expected to be dutiful and beautiful, an item on display as opposed to a valued professional”, Bhattacharya writes. The Air Bible, with its detailed tables, charts and the dos and don’ts, perpetuates this notion and the pressure placed on the female body. And in return? Women are punished, shown the door more frequently, and left to nurse their dead careers. Game over.

Airlines around the world are waking up from archaic notions of gender norms and Western standards of beauty. Can Air India let its crew members breathe a little bit and make them stop sucking in their waistlines and hiding their silvery greys? That seems to be the only way for it to land in the 21st century.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)

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