Airline Outfits – Whats the game?

On a trip to Kolkata last week, I travelled Air Deccan, which set me thinking about air hostesses on all the major airlines in India. Air Deccan has fairly neatly turned out air hostesses, even if they don’t have the ‘glamour’ of the Kingfisher women, and they wear long ankle length skirts showing very little skin.

Now, I have nothing at all against women wearing western clothing, I don’t believe in this “we-need-to-promote-Indian-culture” bit, atleast not through wearing Indian clothing. And. Politically, I do believe in free markets and minimal (not nil) government regulation and interference. So employers do have the right I think, to have certain conditions at work, including a uniform. But. That doesn’t mean ofcourse, that employees can’t crib.

Which brings me to my point. What do the employees of airlines like Kingfisher really think about the short, tight skirts that they are required to wear to work? Do they all really like it? Or given a choice would they prefer to wear something a little less revealing? I am asking, not because I think Indian women shouldn’t wear revealing outfits. I do believe that any woman is free to choose her style, without being told that it means she is “asking for something” etc. But, if you were to look at any of our roads, or even an avenue in a fairly posh colony, a short skirt is not the most common, or even a fairly common outfit. By which, I can only infer that its not an outfit that most Indian women, at this point of time, want to wear. The reasons could be personal preferences, family pressure to dress in a certain way, or the nature of the street which punishes certain kinds of clothing.

So. How do they really feel about a uniform that reveals considerably more than what regular wear does? (I am not talking Bollywood or clubwear here). Do they have the option of wearing a longer/fuller/less revealing skirt? Personally, I think they should. Its very well to say that employers are allowed to prescribe a uniform, but surely a workplace should allow its employees to negotiate on issue like these.

I have another beef with these uniforms. They seem to be relics of another era when almost all airline passengers were male. It says a great deal about how you define the function of an airhostess (or stewardess, or whatever fancy word they use now.) If airhostesses are meant to make passengers comfortable, attend to refreshment, and aid them in the event of an emergency, then the key criteria for airhostesses should be quick thinking, fitness, alertness and agility. Ofcourse they also need to be neatly turned out – can imagine how customers would feel being served food by a sloppily dressed, untidy person. But. These uniforms show that another function has been tacked on to these ladies. To appear attractive. To be eye candy. To be entertainment, in a sense, so that male passengers can spend time discussing the merits of rival airlines and hostesses. Kingfisher infact had at one time announced that its hostesses were like, models. With the number of female passengers increasing, does it even make sense from a market perspective? Whom is this glamour being marketed to?

You might say, whats the harm. Well, no harm in someone being glamorous, but why is glamour becoming a criteria for jobs where it doesn’t play any role? This is not a Bollywood screen test, surely. Apart from the comfort aspect. Are short, tight skirts, with pointy high heels really the most comfortable thing to wear when walking up and down a aisle a hundred times a day? I wonder we don’t hear more protests from air hostesses. Increasingly, it looks as if we are buying into myth that we need to be attractive, first and foremost. Don’t be surprised if we soon start awarding beauty points to female politicians, like the West already does!



  1. The airlines I travel most are Delta and Air France. And the outfits aren’t too revealing, and there are male hosts, too. But I have to wonder about the airlines who require short skirts, because if you think about it, the woman are standing up next to seated people all day, so the seated people are right there at thigh height. And I would not want my thighs exposed so close to strangers’ faces!

  2. I think the horrors of being a female air steward go beyond the clothing to the horrendous amounts of make up they are clearly “encouraged” to wear – a) it’s terrible for your skin and b) to what purpose – for titillation for passengers? Because it makes them look more “professional?” Or because they are still viewed as doll-like women who need to be painted?

    Plus many airlines also have a maximum weight requirement, which is abominable in the extreme.

  3. ask someone how was their flight, if they have travelled on Indian, the answer is almost always “horrible looking airhostesses. atleast the exec class had slightly better looking aunties”. since hwen did the standard of airline and its services started getting judged by the age & looks of the steward

    btw ask any girl how the flight was – if they are travelling by Jet the answer may be “good looking stewards!!”

  4. Dew – yes, thats another uncomfortable thing.

    Pumpkin – true, some of the airlines do seem to encourage an amount of make-up that seems a lot for daily wear on your skin…

    Itchy – well Indian, although the hostesses are sometimes rude (public sector mentality), one does have to commend them for being less age-ist and sexist, though even they seem to be changing now.

    As for the men on Jet, notice how they never have any other than fair skinned ones?

  5. Great post…. you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head

  6. I have got no idea about comfort but the people i see around me wear much smaller skirts in normal day life so i would presume that its not that uncomfortable !!!

    I agree these short skirts are very revealing in the indian social structure but compared to global dressing, its not much.

    About weight restriction … two points (might not be the exact reason) 1) Less weight would mean more physical agility and ability to move around easily. 2) there is weight limit a plane can carry.

  7. Aditya – thank you!

    Amit – I agree with you reg the short skirts in the sense that per se, they need not be uncomfortable. But, when you’re doing what? Just chilling? I am not sure about walking down the aisle so many times a day, esp. in tight ones…

    And yes, in a culture where everyone wears these things, they wouldn’t stand out. But the point is not so much whether people “can” wear these, as the fact that they are not really a norm in most of India, so when something like that becomes a uniform, how comfortable is it for the people wearing them?

    Weight restriction – yes, obesity may prevent people from agile movement, but one gets the feeling that its not so much health as the “right” figure that some airlines are looking at…

  8. Very well true. But every one those air hostesses on board the KF flight had a choice. If it was the profession they liked, they could have joined Air Deccan and worn long-ish uniforms. They are there because they made a choice and they had a priority. Salary, brand, comfort, etc etc., in any which order.
    I’m not saying the corporations are right in their intention and manner of enforcement, but they’re trying to drive their business by exploiting the common man’s attractions.
    The air hostess is on board that flight because she made a choice. She doesn’t need to be there. So we really can’t sympathize either

    The airline outfit game is really, one of free will. As for the marketing perspective, probably, it’s because women are not particularly on whether they’re served by men or women as long as they’re well groomed unlike men who, by and large, have a strong preference for women.. And pretty women.. Might as well capitalize on every opportunity, right..

  9. anonymous – yes, everyone has a choice, but that doesn’t mean when you join a company you should never protest against anything, does it? I mean, assume you work for company X, which perhaps introduces a new rule which you don’t like – would you (assuming you like everything else), voice your opinion on this, or just say the company is entitled to do anything, hence I either shut up or walk out? Its not a question of sympathy, really.

    And no, I wouldn’t assume that women wouldn’t like nicely groomed men serving them, its just that men have come to expect the reverse as a perk…

  10. Like in modelling and acting , an air host or hostess is expected to look presentable- that is part of the job- i think they take pride in it themselves- so weight limits and height requirements are all okay

    On Kingfisher- the Rakhee Sawant of the Indian Skies

    as for the air hostesses they knew what they were in for all along- so i guess it has been a conscious decision for them
    if the uniform changed once they joined- then they need to have a say

    i have no problem with the length of the skirt but the fit is tooo tight for comfort

    And i cannot help but wonder if the colour and the make up are so loud that it cues call girls to Europeans/ foreigners who travel by kingfisher?

  11. Art – presentable yes…but, I really don’t think height adds to presentability – unless the person is too short to reach up for equipment etc…and weight – dont you think the way they all look shows its more about looking a certain “ideal” way than presentable?

    But describing it as the Rakhee Sawant sounds good, though your last comment was a little harsh, I felt…

    And – I am beginning to think its not so much about whether the air hostess has a choice etc.. its more about what a company “should” think about, not whether it can/cannot do a certain thing…

  12. been an airhostess. hated it. took two flights and quit. but having been there – let me tell u that the short skirts were part of the allure for most of the women. alot of them came from conservative backgrounds and this was the only way they could wear short skirts. they loved the way they looked in the mirror. it was license to dress in short skirts and wear make up. ask the young girls and they will tell you they love walking out in a row dragging their strolleys and watching heads turn in the airports. funny but honest!

    again – its a uniform. you need to see if u are comfortable wearing it before you apply for the job. sure you have a right to crib.. but its silly to crib when you applied knowing fully well.. right? like cribbing about night shifts if you’ve applied to a call centre…

    the job is a tiring, punishing one.. long backbreaking hours. odd timings and erratic meal timings. so its marketed merely for its glamour.. after all you are just a glorified maid up in the skies. i thikn the whole looking good thing ensures that ppl treat you a little better… things have changed and many men have joined the line and they are expected to look good too. they have to take permission before shaving off a beard they were hired with or adding one. if they sprout pimples they have to take leave on cosmetic grounds. so its not a woman specific thing.

    weight and height are important i learned in my training because short women cant reach the higher shelves for food and equipment… and since the aisles are narrow as is the service area, thinner women are preferable.

    of course it is about the ideal figure… but its not something i would complain abt. its a glamour job like the films and its like an actress complaining abt not getting offers because she is fat. you know the rules of the game honey.. now dont crib if you want to play….

    having said all that.. i can see where you are coming from … and i am sure you are right in your objections in a very theoretical way…

    got here via indiequill…

  13. wow. the mad momma – i think thats one of the most well thought out comments i’ve ever received. you do bring a completely different perspective – that by wearing something not in sync with the norm, infact the uniform is sort of empowering. looking at it like that, yes, it sounds completely different. i still have an issue ofcourse for “marketing” these women as part of the package. i really don’t think it is the same with the men – in the sense, it is still primarily women who are hired to serve, and their glamorisation is on a whole different level. and i dont quite agree that the job is quite the same as a model/film star. but yes, most of your other points bring a different dimension to it.

  14. Hmm, have you noticed that most of the men who do this sort of work are er, *koff* gay? Or is it just the ones I got?

  15. DG, highly politically incorrect? how do u think of such things…

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