Kuwait Airways is under fire after women applying to become flight attendants report being required to strip down to their underwear as part of the interview process.
The interviews, which occurred in Madrid, are under investigation by Spain’s Ministry of Labor, after a contractor conducting the interviews at the Meliá Barajas hotel was said to require these women to bare themselves in order to check for tattoos, scars, and other marks.
[S]hortlisted candidates had been called into a room one by one, where they were told to strip down to their underwear so that recruiters could examine their bodies.
…[C]andidates who made it through the initial cull were then called into a room one by one where a female recruiter looked over them. The recruiter asked Bianca to raise her dress further up her legs but when she only lifted it to knee level, the recruiter lifted it all the way to her panties.
“The dress had a zipper on the back and she asked me to lower it to my waist,” Bianca continued.
Perhaps the contractor was just confused, it’s only men you can tell are Jewish when they disrobe?
Regardless there’s a long history of sexualizing flight attendants. It remains a part of the culture in the U.S. but isn’t nearly as overt as it once was. In part that’s because travel is no longer nearly as glamorous, and airlines in the U.S. rarely promote the glamour of most of their travel experience (and when they do it now focuses on product). U.S. culture would no longer be as welcoming of this as it once was either.
In the U.S. National Airlines flight attendants used to ask customers to “fly me.”
Since Southwest Airlines was based at Love Field in Dallas, they began promoting the ‘love’ theme. LUV is their ticker symbol. In the 1970s flight attendants wore hot pants and gogo boots in a uniform designed by Juanice Muse, the wife of the airline’s first President.
In fact a Southwest Airlines legal case is the basis for a fundamental precept of employment discrimination law. In the “Love Airlines” case Southwest claimed the right to hire only attractive young women as flight attendants in order to appeal to what was then mostly male business travelers. A federal court determined that the essence of the Southwest Airlines business was transportation not sexual allurement, so their employment policy was illegal sex discrimination. (On the other hand a business that was explicitly sexual in nature could discriminate in this way.)
Selling sex is far more common in Southeast Asia – even in predominantly Muslim regions. Malaysian airline Malindo Air has required potential flight attendants to disrobe in their interviews.
The airline’s director of public relations said, “It is the right of the employer to request potential flight attendants to expose their chests to interviewers.” He also suggested that “most airlines do the same” because “cabin crew needed to be presentable.”
- They were required to remove their tops (but may leave their bra on) “to see if applicants had visible marks” and if they do, where those marks are on the body. The airline’s uniform is “partially see-throughs” however it includes “a corset inside and if it is covered by the corset, it is okay.”
- They also had to “bare their legs thigh-high” because female uniforms have long slits so “[w]e need to know if there are scars or any marks as you can see their legs when they walk.” But don’t worry,
“The slit is also tailored in such a manner where it will enable flight attendants to move around easily, especially during an emergency.”
AirAsia responded to this story, by the way, trying to recruit women as flight attendants promising not to make them take off their clothes.
Perhaps ironically, Pakistan International Airlines has started demanding that flight attendants wear underwear.
Explicit sexualization alone doesn’t drive airline success. Hooters Air went out of business. Something about hubbing in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Nonetheless a glamorous image can project quality and attention to detail, not something US airlines are known for. There’s a line and a balance, I think, that I’m not qualified to draw beyond Potter Stewarts admonition that one knows it when they see it.