The aviation industry is one of the most competitive in the world. Airfares are plummeting to beat competition as airlines strip back services previously included to offer rock-bottom prices. Air travel is consistently changing, and it’s not quite the luxury it once was. Fleets are reduced, flight delays and cancellations are increased, and claims are multiplying.
But there’s one thing that will never change: the importance of a polished uniform. A competent and stylish crew is sure to be remembered, and what better way to surpass competition than to look flawless? As a frequent flyer, I’ve seen my fair share of uniforms, and I’d like to award a few specific airlines with some personalised Fashion Medals of Achievement.
Emirates: The Medal of Elegance
Relatively unchanged since 1997 (bar a slight re-tweaking by UK manufacturer Simon Jersey in 2008), this is easily one of the most recognisable uniforms in the air. Colours of cream, chocolate brown and red enhance unified brand recognition.
Strict uniform regulations are in place to ensure Emirates crewmembers are wearing their signature headpieces correctly (specifically, two fingers width above the eyebrows), and their scarfs tucked in a very precise way.
S7 Airlines (Siberia): The Medal of Individuality
Unlike most other airlines, this Russian carrier reinvented their style at the end of 2012 with a capsule wardrobe created by the Russian company Rusmoda, allowing crewmembers to choose what they wish to wear. For the ladies, 14 pieces can be combined in any different way, including a dress, jacket, skirt or pants, all in the S7 signature crimson colour. The men have 8 different items to choose from, including a three-piece suit, shirt, tie, and even an apron.
Thai Airways: The Cultural Significance Medal
Thai Airways is one of the most luxurious-feeling airlines I’ve ever flown with. It truly feels as though your holiday begins the moment you step onto the aircraft, which is a uniquely refreshing feeling. This is largely due to the beautifully designed interior of the fleets, matched with the crews’ purple-shaded uniforms and lapel flowers.
The airline’s motto “smooth as silk” is evident in the traditional Thai dresses. Silk holds great cultural significance in Thailand; produced from Thai silkworms raised by weavers from Khorat Pleateau, the northeast region of Thailand, the fabric has long been exported primarily to the US and other Western countries. Silk shops spread across Bangkok during the 1950’s, mostly facilitating the tourist trade – just as the airline connects Thailand to Western countries and promotes tourism, one of the countries most prosperous and important industries.
Interestingly, female flight attendants are only allowed to wear the traditional dress inside the plane; outside, they must change into a corporate suit.
Alitalia: The Retro Medal
After 20 years, this airline completely reimagined their uniform in May 2016. Created by haute couturier Ettore Bilotta in Milan, the collection was even modelled at a catwalk in Rome. Suitably dubbed the “Alitalia Collection”, it features leather gloves from Naples and tailored uniforms made in Puglia, among many other luxurious pieces of silk.
The collection was ostensibly inspired by Italian fashion in the 1950’s and 60’s. It primarily consists of olive green, ruby red and burgundy; inspirited by the landscapes of Italy. Double-breasted waistcoats and suits for the men; a dress or jacket and skirt/trouser combination for the women.
Air France: The Medal of Chic Simplicity
It comes as no surprise that such a country’s national airline should be suitably elegant and simple, with a well-dressed crew to match. The uniform was re-designed by French fashion designer Christian Lacroix in 2005, succeeding previous designers Nina Ricci, Carven and Louis Féraud.
In true patriotic style, the striking uniforms consist of deep navy blue, clean white and bright red. Being an international carrier flying to countries across the globe, Lacroix had to ensure the functionality of the outfits; from freezing winters to balmy tropical climates.
Air New Zealand: The Wallpaper Medal
Now we have an airline that’s uniform is, well, not quite as “chic”, to say the least. Despite being awarded the best airline in the world for the fourth year in a row, internationally renowned fashion designer Trelise Cooper’s recent reinvention didn’t go down so well with the public, or the flight attendants.
Described as “contemporary” by Airline spokesman Ed Sims, the somewhat shapeless dresses feature black and pink swirls and shapes in a design that “appears to have been inspired by Barbie’s flock wallpaper” (as quoted by The Daily Mail). “One flight attendant who spoke to New Zealand’s The Dominion Post said the uniform resembled the look sported on the airline’s annual themed flight to Sydney’s Mardi Gras festival”. Well, is that such a bad thing?
Skymark Airlines: The Medal of Scandal
A temporary uniform released in 2014 had this Tokyo-based airline’s female flight attendants wearing extremely questionable short dresses. Understandably, the rest of the world was not too happy about this. The high hells included as part of the uniform also posed as a safety risk during emergency situations.
The full outfit was composed of royal blue and yellow, even including what appears to be a miniature clip-on fedora-type hat. The six-month trial didn’t go so well, after the Japan Federation of Cabin Attendants reprimanded the outfit as unsuitable for working conditions.
Lufthansa: The Humour Medal
And finally, keeping in the spirit of temporary uniforms, I’d like to award Lufthansa for their good humour. Ever since 2005, the entire cabin crew wear Bavarian dirndl during Oktoberfest in Munich. The yellow, blue and white (Lufthansa’s signature colours) traditional folk costumes were made by Angermaier Trachten fashion house in Munich.
Female flight attendants wear the traditional bodice, skirt and apron; while the male’s port leather trousers and jacket, waistcoat, and tie.
Hopefully, these awards have highlighted the importance of looking fly in the sky, and the crucial need for a balance of style and professionalism. It’s always the service and the quality of the crew that’s remembered, so an eye-catching (and appropriate) uniform is sure to play in favour of an airline’s reputation.
Air New Zealand may, in fact, be onto something – despite being criticised for their not-so-appealing uniform, they still hold the prestigious title of best airline in the world. Perhaps the saying holds true: “no publicity is bad publicity”. But take that with a grain of salt.