I feel as though I need to begin with a disclaimer of sorts. I am not perfect. Sometimes I hold opposing ideas and views in my mind at the same time, perhaps prompting some to call me a hypocrite. I prefer to quote Walt Whitman, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” Whatever you call it, it’s what makes me condemn misogyny & violence yet sweat it out to raunchy hip hop music. It’s what makes me speak of feminism and support positive images of women while thinking I like my flight attendants svelte and pretty. Huh? Yeah…
In 2005, Delta Airlines decided to go upscale and hire designer Richard Tyler to create a signature piece to add to their flight attendant [FA] uniform choices. Now, in addition to the slacks, blouses, skirts and blue dresses, female FAs can don a fierce red dress that almost looks too fab for the aisles of a 747. The dress makes a bit more sense when you hear the inspiration behind the design was a time when air travel was a classy affair, not a tiring inconvenience that we show up for in our pajama pants & hoodies (I see yall).
Not everyone was pleased with the new, attention-grabbing red dresses. Recently, the Association of Flight Attendants at Northwest (which includes Delta employees after the merger) filed a compkaint requesting that the red dress be made available in sizes larger than the current max, which is 18, up to a size 28. According to Patricia Reller, vice chairwoman of the grievance committee, “Red is a color that attracts attention and someone, somewhere has made a decision that they don’t want to attract attention to someone in a dress that’s larger than a size 18 … I’m very offended by it.” Reller and crew also have beef with the requirement that FAs who want to wear orthopedic shoes aren’t allowed to wear the skirt or dress uniform of any kind but must wear pants.
Here’s where my opposing thoughts come in. In defense of Reller and the union, the airline is improperly making a judgment call on what’s attractive and/or appropriate without regard to what it actually takes to perform the job. Under the law, there’s the term “bonafide occupational qualification” or BFOQ. A BFOQ basically refers to an employer’s right to discriminate if the criteria upon which the discrimination is based is directly related to the performance of the job. For instance, airlines may institute height requirements for the comfort and safety of the cabin crew and passengers. FAs must be able to reach certain above-head compartments or function appropriately in a small, low-clearance cabin. A size 28 woman in a red dress, however, is no different from a size 28 woman in a blue dress when it comes to pouring Sprite and demonstrating how a seatbelt works.
Could this be another message from society that only “beautiful” women should be seen (and by beautiful we mean size 18 or less)? Is Delta saying that women in skirts/dresses belong in heels because we want to see those shapely calves? God forbid that they’d rather be comfortable on a 6 hour flight and skip the pumps.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been innvaluable in employment discrimination cases of this nature. In the 1980s, FA unions were able to eliminate the “no-marriage” rule that forced women to forfeit their jobs if they got hitched. Shortly thereafter in the 90s, weight restrictions were kicked as well. While weight is still a consideration, there are no specific height/weight numbers. When hiring, airlines only look that your height and weight are in proportion. It’s likely that the Delta FAs will look to Title VII for a remedy on this issue as well.
As for the other side of my mind, well I can’t recall even seeing a size 28 FA before. Ever. Then again, I haven’t flown Delta in ages and they ARE based in Atlanta so maybe they have a monopoly on Southern-fed FAs (womp womp). Really though, did you look at those dresses? I can barely imagine them in an 18, let alone 28. How many times have you heard (or said yourself) “just because they make it in your size doesn’t mean you should wear it,”? Well, I bet that’s what somebody up in Delta’s uniform department (or wherever they make those decisions) was thinking when they capped the size at 18. Sometimes you have to save people from themselves. Though flimsy, Delta might have an argument to defend themselves. They already provide a variety of approved outfits that are interchangeable, flatter different shapes and cater to different styles. The Tyler dress, however, is a designer garment, a special edition of sorts. A designer dress larger than an 8 is hard to come by. Delta went up to 18! Most mall boutiques set the ceiling at 14, maybe 16 (excluding full-figure stores such as Lane Bryant and Ashely Stewart).
Also, we do not have the right to look however we want in the workplace. Wearing a suit everyday may not make sense to you but it might to your boss. You better wait for Casual Friday before skipping the tie. A nurse might want to think twice about leaving the scrubs at home in favor of his/her broken in jeans. Airlines, the military, banks and other institutions have rules on everything from hairstyles to jewelry to the socks you wear and they’re completely legal. If Delta doesn’t want big girls in red dresses, they may be able to talk their way aound the union’s grievances.
Now think about it, have you seen a woman, regardless of her size, in a skirt and cross-trainers lately? Sure, she may be sensibly comfy on her morning commute or trying to fit in a little exercise on her lunch break but she looks ridiculous. Who ever came up with the no orthos +skirt rule is no different from those fashion police critics… except they have to deal with human resources.
While I see the trouble with set height/weight requirements (inaccurate, not 1 size fits all), I do support using height/weight consierations in the hiring process. According to Cabin Crew Jobs, airline crews must be strong (able to lift emergency doors and baggage), agile (to attend to passengers and navigate cramped spaces) and have stamina (to withstand long flights and time on their feet).
I remember traveling on two international airlines, Singapore Air and ANA. The flight crew (men AND women) were impeccably dressed in suits and dresses. The ANA ladies wore bright, pretty scarves around their necks which they tied differently and individually. Makeup seemed mandatory as everyone wore some. Neat up-dos were the hairstyle of choice. The service and experience on those flights were incomparable and made the polo shirt-wearing schmoes on Southwest look like they ought to be sweeping up the cargo area. I don’t know, something about those well-groomed, uniformly attractive FAs (who were also GREAT at their jobs) made the entire experience more enjoyable.
So while I don’t completely support Delta trying to do a throwback to a Mad Men-type era when “stewardesses” were glorified cocktail waitresses and eye candy for traveling businessmen, I do appreciate a certain standard of appearance for the cabin crew that does not include a size 28 red dress and orthopedic shoes. Sue me.