United Airlines announced that it will conduct random flight attendant uniform inspections to promote compliance and the professional image of the company. But the union representing flight attendants is pushing back, arguing United should get its operational house in order before probing the dress and appearance of its members.
United Airlines Will Resume Flight Attendant Uniform Inspections
A memo recently went to flight attendants from John Slater, Senior Vice President of Inflight Services at United Airlines, entitled, “Taking pride in our appearance standards.” The memo begins with a carrot approach:
Because of your dedication, our leaders at our U.S. domestic base locations will be offering commendations to those in full uniform compliance.
Employees who are judged to be in full uniform compliance will receive a “commendation” and be entered in a drawing to win prizes.
But there’s also a stick component:
For those who are not in compliance, base leadership will ask you to address the concern and provide a reference to our uniform standards as a resource. For the first 30 days, our leaders will not document the conversation as long as you can correct the non-compliance issue prior to your flight.
Why this and why now in the middle of a busy summer of air travel? Slater reasons, “Your professional appearance and friendly demeanor set you apart from others and demonstrate the important role you have in taking care of our customers.”
Flight Attendant Union Pushes Back
But the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) which represents United flight attendants is not happy about the new compliance check program. Its memo to flight attendant explains:
We were reminded of the fact we are the face of our airline for all things safety and service. Unfortunately, we’re also the face of missing catering items and waiting at the airport to find out where our missing hotel information is, among many other things.
But flight attendant grievances are not just about the catering and hotels, but about the uniforms themselves:
It’s no secret that Flight Attendants have experienced challenges obtaining uniform items. From a deficit in the availability of uniform items for current Flight Attendants to our new-hire Flight Attendants not being provided a full complement of uniform items at graduation and, in some cases, ended up having to borrow from closets in Inflight or obtain uniform items from other than the expected company supply chain.
On that basis and on the basis of the busy summer travel season, the AFA concludes, “Considering all of the other challenges we are facing on a daily basis in the height of one of the busiest periods of travel, the timing of this initiative is poor and suggests a management disconnect…”
Consequently, the union suggests that United’s base managers divert their attention to more pressing matters:
Might it not be put to better use having management help resolve real-time and immediate issues we’ve more than clearly identified. Just to name a few, have local base management:
- Help find hotels for crews stuck in an airport waiting for information
- Work with catering to be sure we have the supplies we need ahead of departure time
- Making real-time decisions in the moment to release Flight Attendants who have been on hold an excessive amount of time with the crew desk
First, the good news. I’ve flown quite a few United flights this year and cannot recall a single uniform violation. Indeed, flight attendants have generally appeared quite professional to me. I’m not sure how big a problem this is in the first place.
Second, I think the union does have a point if there are supply chain issues that are preventing flight attendants from obtaining all their necessary uniforms items. Furthermore, in the height of a busy summer travel season, the focus must always be on smooth operations first, including ensuring that flight attendant ground services are being properly handled (like crew shuttles and hotels).
Finally, though, I don’t think good operations and ensuring proper uniform standards are mutually exclusive. United has relaxed its uniform standards in a push toward more inclusivity, but that does not change the fact that the flight attendants, more so than even pilots, are truly the image of the airline. Ensuring that uniforms are worn properly, fit properly, and well-maintained are totally reasonable no matter the season.
United Airlines will begin conducting dress and appearance compliance checks, with rewards for flight attendants who meet requirements and correction for those who do not. The union representing United’s flight attendants believes the initiative is ill-timed. It isn’t clear if the union has made a formal complaint to management or will grudgingly abide by this new policy.