Virgin Atlantic is to allow its cabin crew to display tattoos, the first UK airline – and the first global carrier – to do so.
The airline is due to announce the policy change to its staff, a month after launching a brand campaign ‘defending individuality’ – and as the aviation industry scrambles to recruit more people into key roles as the demand rebounds after the pandemic.
Sir Richard Branson’s airline, like most carriers, has so far banned visible tattoos, only hiring staff capable of concealing all traces of ink under their uniforms.
Estelle Hollingsworth, Virgin Atlantic’s chief human resources officer, said the restrictions were being eased “in line with our goal of inclusion and upholding individuality”.
She said: “At Virgin Atlantic we want everyone to be themselves and know they belong. Many people use tattoos to express their unique identity and our customer-facing and uniformed colleagues should not be excluded from doing so if they choose.
Face and neck tattoos will remain banned for flight attendants – for now, although the airline plans to relax the rules at a later date. Tattoos with profanity or deemed culturally inappropriate, or those that reference nudity, violence, drugs or alcohol are prohibited. Love/hate tattoos on prison knuckles will also remain outlawed.
Virgin Atlantic said crew who would benefit included those with full arm tattoos who previously had to wear long-sleeved shirts instead of the standard short-sleeved version while on duty. Others hid smaller tattoos with makeup. Airplane tattoos are popular among crew, the airline added.
Josie Hopkins has just completed her cabin crew training and will be allowed to show off her tattoos on her first flight next month. “Having worked for another airline before and other jobs where my tattoos have to be covered, I felt like I had no right to be myself,” he said. she declared.
Terry Nunn said his tattoos depict London landmarks. “When we have clients on board and visit London for the first time, I like to share tips/secrets with them on the best places to eat/see in the capital. Now I can show them my tattoos too.
“I’m so glad we’ve changed the policy to allow us cabin crew to express our individuality.”
Virgin Atlantic was one of the first airlines to relax strict make-up rules for cabin crew. The female crew were forced to wear makeup while on duty until 2019 when they dropped the rule and allowed them to wear trousers instead of skirts if they wished. The move was seen as a significant shift in an industry where female crew, particularly on full-service international airlines, are still often trained in the application of airline regulations.
The adoption of body art mirrors Virgin’s latest branding campaign, with adverts featuring various passengers and crew on the ‘I Am That I Am’ soundtrack – including one with multiple tongue piercings , triggering airport security. However, Virgin said such piercings would still not be permitted for the crew.
The change also comes as the aviation industry struggles to find enough staff to fill its positions, including cabin crew, thousands of whom have been made redundant during the pandemic. Virgin Atlantic hired 500 additional crew members in January and now plans to hire another 300 as demand for air travel returns.
Staff shortages led rival British Airways to cancel hundreds of flights this summer, while easyJet removed rows of seats from some of its planes to allow them to fly with fewer cabin crew under regulations of the aeronautical industry.
Very strict rules on tattoos still exist in much of aviation around the world, with some airlines refusing to hire – or even fire – crew with even discreet tattoos that would be hidden under the uniform.