British Airways is reviewing its uniform policy after its rival Virgin Atlantic broke with tradition by allowing male pilots and cabin crew to wear skirts.
It comes after Sir Richard Branson’s airline last week dropped rules requiring staff to wear “gendered uniform options” so they can “express their true identity” at work.
A spokesman for BA said: “At British Airways we're committed to an inclusive working environment and as part of that, we're reviewing our uniform policy and will update our colleagues when the review is complete.”
Sources at BA cautioned that any potential uniform changes may not be as radical as those brought in by Virgin Atlantic, which earlier this year also became the first major global airline to allow on-board staff to display tattoos.
Nevertheless, any changes by BA would be a far cry from the strict rules imposed by airlines decades ago.
In 1965, BA predecessor BOAC required flight attendants to be single, aged between 21 and 27, with a "neatly proportioned figure", and "pleasing appearance".
A classified advertisement by US carrier Eastern Airlines in 1966 read: “A high school graduate, single (widows and divorcees with no children considered), 20 years of age (girls 19 1/2 may apply for future consideration). 5'2" but no more than 5'9", weight 105 to 135 in proportion to height.”
These days BA’s requirements are considerably different. The airline’s website lists “resilience, dedication and passion to deliver the very best in-flight customer service on both long-haul and short-haul routes” as necessary for cabin crew applicants.
Sir Richard launched Virgin Atlantic in June 1984 with a vow to shake up legacy carriers.
“I wanted to provide something different and better for customers, including myself,” he later said. “I thought if Virgin had an airline we could put the fun back into flying and bring glamour back to the skies.”
Martin Chalk, who flew jumbo jets for British Airways for more than three decades and is general secretary of pilots union Balpa, said: “Virgin Atlantic is just recognising the value of every professional pilot - and all the other professionals with whom they work- regardless of irrelevant issues like which uniform choice they make.
“Being a professional pilot is all about training, experience, safety, critical thinking and teamwork – it has nothing to do with gender, gender identity.
“Balpa is supportive of all those who challenge the industry to deliver to our passengers and customers the safest, most efficient service, combined with a secure, rewarding working environment. It is supportive of the widest, most inclusive access to those who demonstrate they have the aptitude and determination to succeed in our profession, regardless of background.”
The prospect of British Airways relaxing its uniform rules follows The Sunday Telegraph revealing last year that the airline had dropped “ladies and gentlemen” from its on-board announcements to celebrate the “diversity and inclusion” of its customers.