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Norwegian Air dress code orders female flight attendants to wear high heels

Time: 2019-05-01 17:31cheongsam dress Click:

Norwegian Air flight attendants will be required to wear heels at all times when not on board a plane as part of their ...

Norwegian Air flight attendants will be required to wear heels at all times when not on board a plane as part of their uniform. Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

"The year 1950 rang and it wants its rulebook back." This was the response of one Norwegian politician to the news that the nation's largest airline requires its female flight attendants to wear high heels as part of their dress code.

Norwegian Labour Party's Women's Federation spokesperson Anette Trettebergstuen released a statement branding Norwegian Air's rule "embarrassing", adding: "Uniform requirements are one thing, but to impose heels [...] is going too far."

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The low-cost, long-haul carrier, which serves 152 destinations worldwide and transports more than 33 million passengers per year, confirmed to: "Female cabin crew are expected to wear heels when not on board as part of their uniform unless there are medical reasons preventing them for doing so."

Norwegian Air cabin crew.

Norwegian Air cabin crew. Photo: Tony Pick

Indeed, a doctor's letter to be carried by staff at all times is currently the only way they can get away with flat shoes. Given how much walking is involved at airports, and how uncomfortable heels tend to be, some argue it's a draconian policy.  

A Norwegian spokesperson insists, however, that its policy is "the same as most other international airlines" included. They also stress that this rule only applies while flight attendants are not on-board, where flat shoes are always worn for safety reasons.

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That's the case for Virgin Australia, who confirmed that female flight attendants wear flats on planes but can only wear them on the ground "if they can support their need for doing so". If not, it's heels. Qantas confirmed heels were also a requirement for its flight attendants.

"Like all global airlines, Norwegian has a comprehensive set of uniform guidelines to ensure that our flying crew represent our brand in a smart and consistent manner," the spokesperson said.

"The guidelines were drafted with input from our pilot and cabin crew colleagues and have been well received, sharing many gender commonalities in addition to some specific male and female requirements."

These guidelines, part of a 22-page dress code document obtained by Norwegian newspaper VG, also reportedly state that female cabin crew must wear "eye make-up and light foundation or a tinted moisturiser or powder at work". Men, on the other hand, are not permitted to wear make-up unless it's to cover bruises and blemishes.

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British Airways, on the subject of footwear for female staff, says: "All shoes must be of the classic court style, which leaves the top and side of the foot exposed."

Bucking the status quo, Virgin Atlantic made headlines in March after it became the first premier airline to tell female flight attendants that they will no longer have to wear make-up in the air. It also now provides female crew with trousers as part of their standard uniform to wear instead of a skirt.

As for footwear? "We provide our cabin crew with three heights of heel, including a flat shoe," a spokesperson for the airline said. "Our crew have the option to wear any of these shoes on the ground." Following the move, Aer Lingus also announced it will no longer require female cabin crew to wear makeup or skirts.

Of the airlines contacted, Easyjet confirmed that heels were not mandatory as part of their uniform. 

Flight attendant requirements, a bizarre history

If you think Norwegian's guidelines are outdated, observe the standard requirements of yesteryear. A 1936 New York Times article described the ideal air hostess as "petite; weight 100 to 118 pounds; height 5 feet to 5 feet 4 inches; age 20 to 26 years. Add to that the rigid physical examination each must undergo four times every year, and you are assured of the bloom that goes with perfect health."

Three decades later, in 1966, a classified ad from the same paper seeking stewardesses at Eastern Airlines listed these requirements: "A high school graduate, single (widows and divorcees with no children considered), 20 years of age (girls 19 1/2 may apply for future consideration). 5'2" but no more than 5'9", weight 105 to 135 in proportion to height and have at least 20/40 vision without glasses."

These demands have been toned down substantially over time, but still remain out of sorts with the dress code demanded in most other sectors.

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