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Up In The Air – Airlines Around the Planet are Rethinking Their Uniforms

By Peter Hildebrandt

Airline uniforms today are quite literally all over the globe, but they are also all over the map. Flight attendant uniforms have always commanded respect, even awe, through the decades. In the early days of public flight and into the ’60s and ’70s, they even evoked quite a bit of glamour as the public imagined the lifestyle and allure that the uniforms signified. More current designs are much more diverse in their styling. The various uniform programs are more tailored to the specific impression each airline is striving to convey to the customers.

Northern Exposure

Many airlines today are re-branding their outfits. Air North – Yukon Airlines, through Omega Uniform Systems, is among those trying to have its new uniforms show off a progressive image. The final product actually is modern, in fashion and classic. Flight and passenger attendants work in dark navy dress with the airline’s signature orange logo echoing that on the aircraft exterior. Employees opt for uniform pieces depending on the highly variable temperatures outside.

Flight attendant suits sport a poly/wool tropical blend with built-in stretch for easy movement while at the same time cutting a flattering body silhouette. All-female passenger service outfits pieces are washable poly/viscose/ Lycra stretch for comfort, ease of movement and simple laundering. Retail fashion trends have been incorporated into the garments while maintaining comfort, durability and no worries for those in this demanding work. Another plus, suits are made locally in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Trying to Satisfy those Beyond the Aircraft Cabin

State-owned Turkish Airlines, despite trying to join other airlines in updating its image and better showing the airline’s brand image, has been involved in a controversy. The airline has been accused of being too conservative in its designs. However the photos leaked on Twitter were actually only some designs under consideration.

Fashion designer Dilek Hanif expressed an interest in trying to design outfits including both ethnic influences and modern touches.

But among the leaked photos was one featuring a stewardess in an Ottoman-style long caftan, fez and thick socks.

Turkish Airlines, Best European Airline award winner, however, state d the selection of the uniforms had not been finalized. The company said there are many options and immediately released new photos showing other uniform designs. Many of the controversies involving Turkish Airlines, including one over the serving of alcohol, may be far more related to sensitivities involving the current political climate than problems in coming up with the perfect uniform for flight attendants.

Colors for a Huge Far East Carrier

The Hong Kong-based Dragonair has announced the introduction of its new uniform for more than 3,000 public-serving staff across its network. The airline is intensifying its products and services in order to meet new requirements of the industry and its customers’ demands.

Dragonair has seen just three uniform changes since its establishment in 1985, with the prior design being employed for more than 13 years. The airline felt it was clearly time for a makeover.

The new uniforms, designed by renowned Hong Kong designer Eddie Lau, reflects Dragonair’s professional and modern outlook, incorporating the latest fabric technology to ensure the uniform is comfortable and practical to wear on a daily basis.

Dragonair’s overall image attempts to reflect that of the Cathay Pacific Group. The red and black color tones of the female collection suggest Dragonair’s brand image, with red representing youth and vitality and black projecting a classy, elegant and professional corporate image. The olive color jackets and vests of the male uniforms freshen the outlook, and designs of the white shirts vary according to employee seniority.

Dragonair’s signature dragon logo is integrated into different parts of the new design’s logo in a wave movement. Lau and the uniform project team had to overcome the challenge of coming up with a uniform that would be suitable for more than 3,000 staff to wear, working in the air or on the ground, in different cities and cultures, and in a wide variety of climates. Among those wearing the uniforms will be cabin crew, airport staff and reservations staff working across the network.

Staff and passengers worked on the design during an 18-month uniform development process. Staff surveys, consultations, prototype presentations, a wearer trial and focus groups with Marco Polo Club members helped to bring the process to the point of new uniform design finalization.

Dragonair, part of the Cathay Pacific Group, operates a 39-passenger fleet serving 44 regional destinations including 22 cities in Mainland China. The carrier was named the Best Regional Airline at the TTG Travel Awards 2012 and was voted World’s Best Regional Airline in the annual World Airline Survey run by Skytrax in 2010 and 2011.

Uniform Style Projects Security Plus Cost Savings

Another Far East airline, JAL Group, unveiled the group’s new set of uniforms for 26,700 of its staff members, including flight crew, cabin attendants, various ground staff at the airport and city offices, as well as maintenance staff. Throughout much of 2013, the uniforms have been adopted.

The airline has stuck with the traditional in communicating both security and sophistication to its passengers. At the same time the uniform program has accomplished that goal, the JAL Group, by very carefully reviewing the selection and management of uniform materials, has also brought about substantial cost savings – no small feat in a time of tough management decisions for all airlines.

Subcontinental Style

Meanwhile, in central Asia, IndiGo airline has introduced a new retro-style uniform for its pilots designed by top fashion designer Rajesh Pratap Singh. The pilots are styled in a new classic look with a navy blue bomber jacket, dazzling white shirt and an easy-wear trouser.

The well-styled uniform drew its inspiration from the classic World War II bomber jacket. The uniform is made in wool-rich hopsack weave with a summer and a winter option for the trouser. The crisp white shirt has a high cotton component for better breathability and low maintenance and comes in long and short sleeves. Subtle style and graphic elements have been used.

Commenting on the final outcome, Singh explains, “This is a pioneering effort that has never been done before in keeping with the high standards that IndiGo has set since its inception six years ago. It has been a pleasure working with an organization such as IndiGo. We have tried to give our best, keeping the requirements and the spirit of the airline in mind.”

Native Influences

Fiji Airways’ new uniform goes well with the airline’s new name, new planes and new just-about-everything-else. Its old name was Air Pacific. Fijian attire in the uniforms mixes rich cocoa and vibrant aquamarine colors which are also delicately echoed in the cabin interior, dining services and linens.

Designs are built around three distinct masi motifs created by celebrated Fijian masi artist Makereta Matemosi: a Qalitoka to symbolize the unity of people to complete a task, a Tama conveying friendly service, and the Droe, which represents clear blue skies and cool breeze on beaches. Parisian fashion designer Alexandra Poenaru-Philp took her cue from the airline’s branding, which “is seeking modernity while keeping the traditions of Fiji alive.”

Runway Fashion Reaches Airport Runways

At the rate it’s moving, the trend of designer labels in airline uniforms may soon become commonplace. Japan’s Al Nippon Airways has fashion guru Prabal Gurung designing a new look for air service. If the air hostess seems better suited to a fashion runway than an airport runway, it may be because her uniform has a designer label.

Qantas has gotten on board the trend as well. Early on, airlines went to fashion designers for advice in engineering a certain look. Retro styles and the whole idea of dressing in a chic, elegant way to bring back a bygone era is a definite trend with airlines now. According to some, it could change the whole industry. With designers involved, or even airline historians studying the “looks” of nowdefunct airlines such as Braniff International Airways, the future in air travel may be anything but bland.

“Passengers and flight attendants alike say they miss the old-world glamor associated with flight,” says Australian designer Martin Grant. Grant has created outfits for Emma Stone and Heidi Klum as well as designed the latest uniforms for Qantas Airlines earlier this year. His uniforms actually have an ontrend retro feel to them, some ensembles including a trilbystyle hat made from recycled bottle tops and a trench coat. Grant says that security controls and low-cost carriers have taken some of the luxury out of the industry. “But I’ve loved the essence of flight since I was a child; I love the idea of groups of people looking smart, looking tailored and being part of a team.”

Keeping Things Simple

Air Canada’s subsidiary Rouge and United Airlines are also coming up with new outfits. They’re just not spending a lot to do it. For the Canadian carrier, basic burgundy knitwear tops and gray slacks will rule the skies for at least the next seven years. This fits with the carrier’s current heavy cost-cutting efforts.

United Airlines will spruce up its uniforms without the help of a designer. They will stick with traditional grays, navy blues to a royal blue dress with horizontal and vertical dark stripes and a black belt. Though the look won’t be likely to win any awards, the goal is to project professionalism. This shouldn’t be too much of a problem at all as the firm – in the wake of a merger with Continental – gets busy improving its service quality rankings, no doubt something of more importance to air travelers than what the flight crew in their midst is wearing.