Flight attendant uniforms are about more than just style

get-attachment.aspx“Have you seen what I have to wear?” a first officer said when she overheard me talking about American Airlines‘ new uniforms. “A scarf,” she hissed. She may have used the f-word.

“Pilots don’t wear scarves, we wear ties. TIES!”

Got it? They wear ties.

Not long ago I wrote about how all anyone really needs is a scarf to look like a flight attendant. A scarf — and gold wings and stripes.

When it comes to stripes, flight attendants have two, first officers wear three, and the captain gets four. That’s one way we can tell each other apart, though it doesn’t mean passengers recognize the difference.

Once a celebrity asked the pilot on my flight for a cup of coffee after he stepped out of the cockpit during boarding. He wasn’t wearing his hat or blazer — but his stripes were visible. Still, he’d been mistaken for a flight attendant. You should have seen his face.

“As soon as we ditch pilot hats in the terminal, we look like ticket agents,” said Chris Manno, a pilot with a major airline.

So do I, and it’s why I don’t stand near the ticket counter. Except for the wings and two gold stripes around my wrist, I look just like an agent — except I don’t have the codes to look up the answers to questions about connecting gates and departure times. Passengers get mad when I don’t have an answer. I don’t know if they don’t see my wings or stripes — or they just don’t care.

But as much as I don’t like being mistaken for a gate agent, I need passengers to recognize I work for the airline. I need passengers to recognize I work for the airline.

I was interviewed recently by the  New York Times about flight attendant uniforms, after American revealed their new ones. The reporter wanted to know if it was possible to feel stylish as a flight attendant, or if it is just a uniform, like a mail carrier or a mechanic.

My first thought was: Just a uniform? JUST A UNIFORM?

I’ve never noticed anyone checking out a mailman or mechanic when he walked by, like the way people look at flight attendants when they walk through the terminal. Even I stare at attendants from other carriers, particularly the foreign ones. They look so great.

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One Reply to “Flight attendant uniforms are about more than just style”

  1. Awesome article, especially the last paragraph. You’re right … the Asian airline uniforms (and decor) are stunning. One thing, though … uniform or no uniform, if the flight attendant doesn’t welcome passengers aboard, and hides in the back of the plane, his/her relationship with the passenger is already compromised. I can’t tell you how many flight attendants seem to be ignoring passengers both during the boarding process and throughout the flight. Snappy uniforms make up a little … but attitude counts for a lot. Authority comes from more from presence, less from wrapper.

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