By Benjamin Pham
The Importance Of Airline Uniforms
Fashion plays an integral role in the airline industry, as it is the foundation for creating the uniforms for each individual airline’s workforce. The frontline employees, who are the backbone of the airline industry’s operations, from ticketing and gate agents to flight attendants and pilots, don their uniforms every time they report to work and represent their respective carriers while interacting with passengers. They routinely display the airline’s identity through not only their actions but also by what they are accustomed to wearing while working to be recognizable.
Nevertheless, the consistent expression of the carrier’s distinctiveness begs the question of whether or not the airline’s image, the sense of elegance, professionalism, cultural attributes and functionality can continue to be upheld against societal trends and obstacles.
Early Beginnings of Airline Uniforms
In the early developments of the airline industry, the carriers each had their respective, colorful uniforms that followed the attitudes and cultures of the era. At first, air travel and flying in an aircraft were luxuries where the upper class and those who could afford it participated in what was considered the glamourous mode of transportation. The uniforms consisted of clothing that blended together to create a balance of fashionable and functionalism and the now-defunct carriers, Braniff International Airways, Pan American World Airways (Pan Am), and those who still operate today such as KLM, United and Delta among many others, were known to follow this trend.
During this era, the fashionable uniforms that were in style followed the trend for nurse-inspired attire, cosmopolitan glamor and the statures from the growing global fashion capitals, such as Paris and New York. Afterward, the identity of each airline shifted towards becoming more in favor of self-expression involving mix-and-match of clothing articles, boldness in leadership through apparel and casual elegance.
Challenges Arise In The Current Industry
This past summer’s travel season was not like last summer’s that was the height of the COVID-19 crisis, as several major airlines experienced a significant spike in passenger travel demand. In response, the carriers rapidly adjusted flight schedules, increased flight frequencies and inaugurated new flight routes for competition and to fill as many seats as possible. However, the sudden surge in passengers eager to travel brought attention to certain obstacles with flight operations as was the case with Spirit, American and Southwest, among many carriers.
According to Business Insider, Spirit was one of the major U.S. carriers that experienced a substantial operational disruption, involving a shortage of staff and weather, that forced hundreds of flights to cancel and left many passengers traveling on the ultra-low-cost carrier who is known for its focus on leisure travel. In addition, the airline’s airport employees in San Juan were asked to change our of their uniforms for their safety against the crowds of infuriated passengers.
“What started with weather and its associated delays led to more and more crew members getting dislocated and being unable to fly their assigned trips. Ultimately, the number of crews facing those issues outpaced the crew scheduling department’s capacity for getting them back in place. We’ve spent years investing in the reliable, on-time experience you’ve come to expect with Spirit, and this week we fell short. We’re going to do everything we can to earn back your loyalty,” Ted Christie, President and CEO, Spirit, said, in a statement regarding the travel disruptions, earlier in August.
Spirit’s recent operational disturbance was a prime example where the disarray impacted the airline’s image and the morale of its employees, who are recognizable by the airline’s signature black uniforms with a hint of yellow. There is no question that the lengthy, ongoing COVID-19 complication and its effects also caused turmoil with other major carriers and their workforce, especially given the unforeseen rise in unruly passengers.
However, during the entire ordeal, some of the major carriers such as Air Canada Rouge, American, Turkish Airlines and Delta unveiled and announced new uniforms for its employees. In spring 2020, American revealed its new uniforms where the airline plans to partner with Lands End and its clothing collection, while recently Air Canada Rouge revealed a new line of uniforms once the airline resumed flights.
Rise In Masks Requirements
One of the notable additions to each airline employee’s uniform is the facemask, especially in the U.S. where the federal mask mandate was recently extended to January 18, 2022. The mask requirements for airports and onboard aircraft went into effect earlier this year on Feb.1.
“Our mask requirement has been and will continue to be a critical component of our comprehensive effort to protect the health and well-being of our customers and team members during the pandemic,” David Seymour, Chief Operating Officer, American, said, in a press release earlier this year. “This federal mandate will provide additional support to our crew members who are working diligently to enforce our policy and further reinforce the safety of air travel during COVID-19.”
American would then go on to enforce the mask policy on its aircraft and at the airport while denying boarding to those who failed or refused to comply with the federal mask mandate. Passengers flying on the prominent Oneworld carrier who have disabilities that prevent them from wearing a mask are expected to notify the carrier’s Special Assistance department to receive exemption prior to travel.
Masks are one of the most recent insertions into the everyday uniform for the frontline employees who are also required to ensure each passenger is wearing one as well. They have grown in importance during this predicament and are the new, consistent standard or norm that every airline shares.
There is no doubt that airline uniforms and attire are a crucial piece of the industry, and they play a significant role in shaping the airlines themselves, along with flight operations, route networks and onboard products and services. However, the question still remains whether or not the new additions and uniforms created during this time period will be carried onward into the post-COVID-19 world, and if so, how will they impact the individual carrier’s reputation and identity.