Etihad’s women cabin crew forbidden to wear trousers


Lean Into Aviation (3)It’s 2015 and an airline refuses to let the women in its cabin crew wear the trousers from its newly designed uniforms.

Gulf carrier Etihad has confirmed to RGN  that, while its newly designed uniforms were created with a trouser option, flight attendants will only be allowed to wear skirts.

Etihad’s new uniforms, designed at great expense by Italian couturier Ettore Bilotta, and unveiled in a runway event at Abu Dhabi airport last month, build on the airline’s Facets of Abu Dhabi rebrand, which continues throughout the carrier’s lounges, aircraft livery, new aircraft interiors and older aircraft cabin refreshes.

Unfortunately, the facets being emphasized by the airline’s uniform decisions are less than sparkling.

“There is no trouser option with the new female cabin crew uniform. Tailored trousers are one of the options for ground staff,” an Etihad spokesperson confirmed in response to RGN’s query.

When asked for the reasoning behind the trouser ban, Etihad’s spokesperson said: “There was very low demand from our cabin crew for the trouser option with the previous uniform so it was decided not to include it with the new one. A tailored pant is one of the options for ground staff, reflecting the diverse nature of their roles and working conditions.”

Yet that would seem to be a completely different reason than that given by the designer.

“Females in the inflight crew were not allowed to wear trousers, because the element of femininity had to be emphasised. It was only allowed for ground staff,” Bilotta is quoted as saying by Abu Dhabi’s The National and Australian Business Traveller.


Etihad has the widest variety of passenger experience-focussed cabin crew roles of any airline, from its inflight chefs to food & beverage managers to sky nannies to personal butlers. Oddly, the women’s uniform for the butlers does feature white trousers in a tightly fitting white stretch material, unlike the other cabin crew uniforms.

The whole situation is especially discordant given that the big three Gulf carriers are perceived by some as taking advantage of their internationally recruited cabin crew, using their power and governmental links to ensure compliance with exacting rules and standards without granting them the rights demanded in numerous other states, as well as preventing collective representation of their employees.

Etihad is one of just a few airlines that insist on skirts or dresses for their women cabin crew. British Airways’ “mixed fleet” new-contract cabin crews are currently fighting to be able to wear trousers. Singapore Airlines’ crews must wear the iconic sarong kebaya, although the airline has been moving away from an at-your-service positioning of its “Singapore Girls” in favour of emphasizing their knowledge and savvy within its advertising.

sm-P01207_01_164_RGBLet’s be clear: objectifying or sexualizing women cabin crew for a presumably male gaze is neither appropriate nor acceptable.

It’s also a remarkably poor idea from a safety perspective. In safety-critical situations, passengers need to perceive flight attendants as safety professionals, not a bit of totty who are there to look pretty and serve the drinks. 

Passengers on Asiana 214 discovered that in San Francisco, when flight attendants who had only recently won the right to wear trousers physically carried passengers on their backs from the wreckage of a burning aircraft.

Experts say that what you wear in the event of a fire matters. You want to wear natural fibers because synthetics can melt and stick to the skin, making burns far worse with a longer recovery time. They recommend no panty hose. It seems, at the very least, women flight attendants should be offered the choice of whether or not to wear skirts and hose.

Additionally, with recorded incidents of disruptive passengers — and costly, inconvenient flight diversions to deal with them — on the rise, it’s baffling that any airline would choose to emphasise women cabin crews’ “femininity”.

Sexist airline trouser bans make it seem as if the carrier is prioritising service over safety while also suggesting it views its women employees as window-dressing — and wants its passengers to do so too.

Twelve-year-old Etihad has never yet had a fatal accident. It shouldn’t have to put the professionalism of its cabin crew to the ultimate test before affording them respect.


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  4. Jim

    I really don’t see the issue with making them wear skirts. Women can look professional in skirts, and it’s not like skirts are particularly sexual or provocative attire. The “safety” excuse is rather absurd as well. The odds of a fire breaking out on a plane are ridiculously low, so if you want to require them to dress for the possibility, then why not require all women to do so? A school, restaurant or office building can catch on fire too.

    This seems to be another manifestation of the “feminist” movement that is aiming to erase all gender differences and move toward a unisex society.

    • Manda

      The last thing the world needs is to erase gender difference, this would be a insult to all women in my opinion. I think it’s about not having a choice, could the male workers chose to wear skirts as well? Like the article said, most women choose to wear the skirts anyways before this rule.

      Those skirts in particular, although having a very modest cut, are very tight… difficult to bend, even breath in. I personally make the choice to torture myself and wear such skirts, but it’s my choice and I can only be mad at myself for the discomfort.

      You may not agree with the safety factor and you’re right, the probability of a fire are low but in the event of a fire ANYWHERE I would not want to be caught in a skirt (and neither would you I would guess). Not to mention every time I put on a pair of stocking they rip and are no good for the next day. This is just impractical for daily use, irritating as hell and a safety hazard for anyone in my immediate throwing distance.

      I see how you could see this as an idealistic “feminist” attacking the airline but I think unless you truly understand what we go through to be feminine, you won’t understand our want to make that choice. We start at least an hour before we have to be anywhere, find a skirt that fits a little tight, put on some stockings (without ripping them), and find heels that have just enough height that we can be comfortable but still accentuate our legs. The apply foundation, lashes, mascara, and lipstick while our hair irons heats up. Pick out matching earrings and a necklace. Now the fun part, wear it all day with no fuse or complaints.

      You see, even without the skirt looking professional is a process, wearing a skirt and stockings just makes it that much harder and that much more difficult to do simple tasks during the day… heaven forbid you have to pick something up!! Some days I just feel like wearing jean and no make up… lucky for me I don’t work for Etihad airlines 🙂

  5. Bret

    These are professional airlines, well run and they understand classiness helps pay the bills. I flew for Delta / Delta Connection and our flight attendants had a choice of either pants or skirt but at no point were they told they should wear pants because of safety. The truth is, attractive women and men dressed in traditional clothing make good business sense. It reminds passengers of a better time in air travel. Air travel was once a luxury, not a cattle car. I’ve watched US airlines with dismay. At many airlines pilots no longer wear hats or even wings on their uniforms, flight attendants dress for comfort. I’m glad to see Delta Pilots still wearing a professional uniform and I’m thrilled when I see flight attendants of any sex dressed professionally. The difference in slacks and dress shoes vs. skirt and dress shoes is marginal.

  6. Gloria

    Jim, Brett and katrinakapoor, you sadden me. Women should not be “forced” to be sex objects.

    Skirts are restrictive to movement; I suggest you wear a skirt & heels for a day to discover this for yourselves. “katrinakapoor”, your name leads me to believe that you are female, and one who has been brainwashed to believe what your male overlords have told you.

    Men insist on skirts and heels for women for the same reason that the Chinese used to bind girl’s feet; to restrict freedom of movement.

    I applaud the male writer for expressing these views on discrimination towards women, and saddened that the commenters think that this is okay.

    • no history girl

      i think skirts are ok for these girls, you have options and airline wants to show them anyway, i may not suggest heel, sometimes easy to fall down. And I was wondering how many chinese history you read, That Chinese used to bind girl’s feet has been discraded more than 100 years.

  7. heatley

    At my request my wife restricts her wardrobe to skirts and dresses. I feel they looks smarter and more feminine than trousers. I am sure she would decline to do so if skirts and dresses were a problem for her in any way

  8. Ray De La Maza

    I will add this to the fray on the uniform debate. With their expensive Italian designed uniform, what is Etihad going to
    require their(hopefully eventual) female Pilots to wear? Are they really going to mandate wearing a skirt to negotiate getting in and out of a cockpit pilot’s seat? Don’t be ridiculous. Once again, Third world management masquerading as first class “executives” making cheap polyester decisions.

  9. Emma

    Etihad is far from being the only airline that insists women wear skirts. Here in the UK, BA Mixed Fleet, Ryanair, Monarch, Virgin, Thomas Cook and Flybe all do, and I’m sure there are others I can’t think of right now. Some give girls the choice of skirts or trousers, but hardly any wear trousers and a lot that do are either overweight or lesbians or both.

    IMO a smart uniform with a skirt makes us look smarter and more professional and this means we command more respect from the Pax. So I don’t think it’s unfair, in fact I prefer working for an airline that doesn’t allow the trousers as I don’t want to work alongside girls who wear them.

  10. Norman

    I flew with Etihad a few months ago and one of the female crew wore trousers. I would question how factual this article is.

    My wife is friends with two of their crew, we seem them regularly and the reaction to the new uniforms has been the skirts are not as easy to walk in as the old uniforms. There is no complaint that they have to wear skirts – just they they are not the best kind of skirts for the job. They hire from all over the world and give reasonable benefits and pay given the region and business culture. Etihad have lost their reputation for being good to work in recent months due mostly to middle management shifts and some rather silly rules – skirts are not high up on the list for their crew. No one is forcing them to go to the UAE and work anyway. There are many airlines ranging from the frumpy and egalitarian to the downright titillating. The easy response to those who think skirts are a sign of oppression of their gender is to not work for these companies.

    The safety argument about skirts and hosiery is rather dumb. I’ve trained people in Health and Safety. If there’s a fire on a plane hot enough to burn skin there would be so much smoke most of the people would be dead from the fumes long before the fire got to them. Aircraft are full of things that burn deadly gases when on fire. From a Safety perspective as long as someone can walk at a brisk pace in their uniform they have as much chance as anyone else. The survival rate for air crashes and fires isn’t not very good and won’t be improved by wearing trousers. They also only wear high heels to and from the craft – and change to a very low heel when actually working. In reality as long as it has reasonable give in movement a skirt is fine from a safety view point. Women have worn skirts for literally centuries and somehow managed with less technology and comforts than we have today.

    I’ve ask my wife (a tri-lingual university educated professional who earns more money than me, and I am not poor) what she thinks of this and she said what’s the big deal. If a woman doesn’t want to wear a skirt to work she can find another job. These are Cabin Crew not people with doctorates or Masters and years of experience who can dictate their terms of their own employment. My wife wears skirts, heels and hosiery almost every day because it simply looks better, and being an empowered woman who runs a team of men and women doesn’t mean she wants to look like an egalitarian nightmare…she’s still a woman and won’t be changing that to suit the feminist narrative. No wonder Thatcher said she owed nothing to feminism(we hardly saw her in trousers) and Meryl Streep came out in attacking it recently as well.

    • Mary Kirby

      This article was written several months ago. It sounds very much like the carrier has altered its policy (post publication).

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