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Female flight attendants on Cathay Pacific recently won the right to wear pants on the job. But where do the airlines of India stand in this regard?
As we celebrate the victory of the female flight attendants on Cathay Pacific, let’s take a moment to think about our own country’s situation.
In 2015, India’s most reputed government airline, Air India, introduced a change in their uniform to allow western formals for women and more contemporary designs for men. The women now had three different uniforms to choose from – traditional bright yellow sari with a red border, a long black jacket with trousers, and a yellow kurta with black trousers. At first glance, this may seem like a great move, after all, saris, like skirts are not comfortable for everyone (or safe – they are hard to move in, in the event of an emergency landing), and forcing female attendants to wear them is unfair.
Interestingly though, the female flight attendants themselves protested against the change saying that it was a waste of time and money. Especially because it came at a time when Air India didn’t have much money and the attendants’ jobs were under threat. What was the real reason for this change in their uniform? Air India simply wanted to increase its profits and changing its uniforms was a step in that direction, because western outfits are perceived as more ‘modern’ and having a wider appeal. As a result, the change was yet another way of using people as tools to promote a particular image and wasn’t empowering to women at all.
On the 6th of February, 2017, SpiceJet – another popular Indian airline – brought about a change in their staff’s uniforms to make them, “Redder, Hotter and Spicier.” They were thinking along the same lines as Air India did in 2015, i.e., they were trying to give themselves an image makeover. And the female staff were the ones who they concentrated on making ‘sexier’. Here is a description of the uniform of the female flight attendants:
“For instance, the summer wear for the female cabin crew will include a one-piece dress. They will be attired in a short shift dress, cut and sewn and detailed with accessory elements like a sling bag and box heels; for service, besides a pinafore inspired apron.”
SpiceJet’s idea was to sell their brand by selling women’s ‘sexiness’. You can see this in the image below, note the sharp contrast between the ‘sexiness’ of the male and female uniforms, which I sourced from the article cited immediately above.
These are not the only two cases of Indian airlines trying to use their female flight attendants (by giving them a particular dress code) as selling points. Fashion has often been given importance over function, especially when it comes to women. Whether a uniform is comfortable and safe for the female flight attendants is often overlooked in favour of making them look good for the passengers.
Advertising a woman’s sexuality in places where such an advertisement is not necessary, is not a new method. And it is used by airlines too, to attract potential passengers. But isn’t it high time we changed that?