Sexism in the sky

‘Open only to good looking girls aged 18-30, with height no less than 165cm and no more than 180cm.’

This is a job advertisement you might not believe could have been written in this century, let along in this decade. Now that we are in 2018, the only saving grace we have is that it was not written in this year. Believe it or not, this job advertisement was aired in November 2017, by Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL).

For female flight attendants, it is not uncommon for your uniform to enforce the wearing of high heels, lipstick, and tight-fitting suits. When it comes to job advertisements outside of the US and Europe, it is not even uncommon be excluded based on height and age. With the ‘#metoo’ movement tackling sexism in the entertainment industry head on, and Iceland having become the first country to enforce equal pay as of 1st January 2018, inequality in the workplace is under attack. The aviation industry, however, seems to have its head in the clouds, leaving this type of progression 40,000ft below.

Although such obvious discrimination might not be permissible by law in the UK and US, it does not mean that stereotypes around women in aviation are not alive and kicking. Virgin Airlines is well known not only for its brand personality, but also for the people connected to its brand – namely, the stewardesses. Winning accolades throughout the years of having the most attractive crew members, with some overtly sexy and glamorous ads to support this along the way, it’s no wonder that the aviation industry still invites sexist attitudes. One year ago, a Jet2 plane flying from Glasgow to Ibiza had to make an emergency landing as a drunken passenger harassed a stewardess asking her to ‘get your t*** out’. Airlines including Virgin, RyanAir and Avianova have had adverts banned this decade for being sexist and discriminatory.

What’s the big deal, you might ask – it’s all just advertisement. There’s something about the theatre of travel that makes it make sense – the heritage of the industry, the uniforms of the pilots… As long as the cabin crew are protected from harassment, there’s no harm done.

But the problem is far from skin deep. Aside from perpetuating perceptions of women that make drunken men on flights think the above behaviour is acceptable, there is a greater inequality in the industry (could say instead “…acceptable, gender inequality is rife throughout/across the industry”?). The International Society of Women Airline Pilots estimates that of 130,000 pilots worldwide, only about 4,000 of them are women (via Travel and Leisure News), as The Telegraph confirms.

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So used to seeing women wearing heels serving drinks in the passengers aisle, and yet so unaccustomed to hearing a female voice over the tannoy, Marnie Munns of EasyJet reported to the Telegraph that when asked where the captain of the aircraft is, she has to reassure passengers that ‘you’re looking at her’.

In October 2017, Southwest Airlines created headlines when it Tweeted about the first ‘unmanned’ Southwest flight on a Boeing airplane. While this is indeed something worth celebrating, as it realises this career for young girls with aspirations to fly planes and become airline captains, it’s a shame that an all-female flight crew is such a rarity, and indeed unfortunate that the central figure was clad in a baby pink tie (not making her any less of a brilliant pilot, of course, just a shame for the PR perhaps).


While some airlines have moved on from unbuttoned blouses and a Britney-Spears-in-Toxic style approach to female cabin crew, this industry certainly appears to be living in the past. Whether it be in the cabin where restrictive uniforms and questionable job adverts still prevail, or in the cockpit which may be all too apt a name as gender equality at less than 10%, let’s hope that 2018 sees more international airlines making efforts to be fairer and, frankly, making more efforts to step into the 21st century.

By: The Value Engineers

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