Change is in the air. This year, Virgin Atlantic eased its strict criteria prohibiting employees from displaying tattoos, meaning your next in-flight pot of Pringles or gin miniature could be delivered by an ink-covered arm. In an about-turn from the airline’s famed high heels, red suits and matching lipstick of old, it also removed the requirement for crew to wear gendered uniforms.
This makes Virgin more progressive than most airlines, including British Airways, Ryanair and easyJet, which prohibit any visible tattoos on flight attendants (although British Airways has recently allowed “man buns” as part of a relaxation of gendered uniform rules). But body art is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to regulations on cabin crew appearance. Air India recently reportedly released a 40-page booklet of grooming guidance for its staff (see what was included below).
From relationship status requirements to swimming tests, and the airline that demands you have no tooth decorations, would you pass the test to work as cabin crew? Read on to find out.
Are you balding?
In October 2022, Air India staff were presented with a dossier on grooming, according to the Hindustan Times. Among the guidance was a ban on crew cuts for male staff members with “deep receding hairlines” or “balding patches”. Instead, cabin crew with hair loss have been instructed to shave their heads. Daily. All grey hair must be dyed too, while beards and stubble are also banned. Instructions to carry a shaving kit on every flight mean that even the most hirsute can remain smooth chinned.
Do you have a healthy BMI?
Air India also made the news in January 2022, when cabin staff voiced their concerns after the executive director informed staff that each crew member would be subject to BMI and weight checks on a quarterly basis. On the careers page for Air India, it reads: “BMI Range: Female candidates – 18 to 22 / Male candidates – 18 to 25.” This means that a woman who is 162.5cm (5 foot 4 inches) will be ineligible to work if they weigh more than 58.5kg (9 stone 2 pounds).
Can you tread water?
Air New Zealand has only one fitness prerequisite for cabin crew, and it’s a slightly unnerving one. “You will need to be able to swim 50 metres under two minutes and be able to tread water for one minute unaided,” it reads on their careers page.
They are not alone. Air Niugini, the flag carrier for Papua New Guinea, says: “Candidates must be able to stay afloat without the aid of a floatation device for at least two minutes.”
Somon Air, a Tajikistan airline, says that a swimming test is part of the recruitment process. Ryanair is more lax with its swimming requirement, saying: “You must be able to swim 25 metres unaided,” which is the same for Aer Lingus.
Are you a ‘good looking girl’?
Shockingly, as recently as 2016 Azerbaijan Airlines advertised for a position open “only to good looking girls aged 18–30”. In a more recent advertisement listing on the official website, the term “good looking” was removed, although a new requirement banning scars and birthmarks had been added.
Are you not too short, and not too tall?
According to Cabin Crew Wings, a resource for flight attendants, a number of airlines have a maximum height requirement because there isn’t enough space in the cabin for crew members over a certain height to safely perform duties. The most generous is Lufthansa, at 195cm (6ft 4in), followed by easyJet and KLM at 190cm (6ft 2in), then Ryanair, Flybe and British Airways at 188cm (6ft 1in).
On the other end of the spectrum, as a general rule, most airlines require cabin crew to be 157cm (5ft 2in) or taller, so they can safely reach the overhead lockers.
Are you single?
The Sri Lanka Airlines cabin crew recruitment page says that ideal candidates will “be single”, which harks back to a 1966 advert listed in the New York Times for an Eastern Airlines flight attendant position, with the requirement that candidates must be “single (widows and divorcees with no children considered)”.
Air Niugini, the flag carrier for Papua New Guinea, also says applicants: “must be single and not have any dependent children” – a factor that is underlined in its most recent recruitment advert.
Are you older than 25?
Air India also requires that all candidates are: “Between the age of 18 and 27 years (relaxed to 32 years for experienced cabin crew)”.
Aeromexico goes one year younger, saying: “Aspirants who are between the age group of 17–26 years can apply.” For Air Tanzania, Air Niugini and Sri Lanka Airlines it’s younger still: the acceptable age bracket is capped at 25.
Do you consider yourself ‘dandruff free’?
Reports from ex-Qatar Airways crew on the internet describe being checked-over by a Grooming Officer before every flight. The officers check that staff are adhering to grooming guidelines that include having twice-monthly manicures and using “pearly/satin-type of lipstick” according to a 2007 version of the Qatar Airways Cabin Crew Grooming and Uniform Regulations. The document also includes suggestions to “floss teeth regularly” and be “dandruff free”.
A recent job advert for a ‘Grooming and Standard Assistant’ cited duties including ensuring that “all Cabin Crew are in compliance with Grooming and Standards Regulations before and after flight duty” as well as negotiating “with salons, grooming parlours and fitness centres to obtain additional benefits for Cabin Crew”.
Do you suffer eczema or migraines?
There are a number of ailments that will rule you out of applying for cabin crew at Turkish Airlines. If you have a prescribed inhaler to treat asthma, for example, you are out. Frequent diagnosed migraines will also rule you out of applying for cabin crew, as will a diagnosis for anxiety, chronic gout, eczema or psoriasis.
Do you have a nose stud?
British Airways describes its uniform standards as a “simple, elegant look”. This means flight attendants can wear a single ear piercing no more than 10mm in diameter. Nose studs and tongue piercings are strictly prohibited.
Are you partial to chewing betelnut?
Watch out for this one. The Papua New Guinea airline Air Niugini says candidates must “be of sober habits and not chew betelnut”, a seed which some people chew for a natural high similar to the effects of tobacco or caffeine.
Do you wear ‘tooth decorations’?
Because if you do, you won’t be joining the KLM team. A representative told the Telegraph: “We expect our cabin crew to be between 1.58 and 1.90 metres tall; to have a well-groomed and representative appearance; no visible tattoos, piercings or tooth decorations; and willing to wear the KLM uniform.”
Are you happy to follow a make-up regime?
Emirates has not published any explicit information on its expectations for the appearance of its female cabin crew; however, on the Emirates cabin crew careers website, there is a video called ‘Looking the part’ showing a timelapse of a female member of staff receiving a complicated make-up treatment.
Step five of the training process is a one-day session called “uniform standards”, which covers: “uniform standards, skincare, make-up, hair care, nail care and a healthy lifestyle.”