Tickled ink: Virgin Atlantic allows cabin crew to display tattoos

Exclusive: Airline becomes first in UK, and first big global carrier, to allow visible body art

Virgin Atlantic is to allow its cabin crew to display tattoos, the first UK airline – and leading carrier worldwide – to do so.

The airline is to announce the change in policy to its staff, a month after it launched a branding campaign “championing individuality” – and as the aviation industry scrambles to recruit more people in key roles as demand bounces back after the pandemic.

Sir Richard Branson’s airline, in common with most carriers, has until now banned visible tattoos, only hiring staff who could conceal any ink work under their uniform.

Estelle Hollingsworth, Virgin Atlantic’s chief people officer, said restrictions were being relaxed “in line with our focus on inclusion and championing individuality”.

She said: “At Virgin Atlantic, we want everyone to be themselves and know that they belong. Many people use tattoos to express their unique identities and our customer-facing and uniformed colleagues should not be excluded from doing so if they choose.”

Facial and neck tattoos will remain banned for flight attendants – for now, although the airline is considering relaxing the rules at a later date. Tattoos with swearing, or deemed culturally inappropriate, or those that refer to nudity, violence, drugs or alcohol are off limits. Prison-style love/hate knuckle tattoos will also remain proscribed.

Virgin Atlantic said crew who would benefit included those with full-arm tattoos who previously had to wear long-sleeved shirts instead of the standard short-sleeved version while on duty. Others have concealed smaller tattoos with makeup. Aeroplane tattoos are popular among crew, the airline added.

Josie Hopkins has just completed her training as cabin crew and will be allowed to have her tattoos on show when she makes her first flight next month. “Having worked for another airline previously and other jobs where my tattoos have to be covered, it felt like I wasn’t allowed to be myself,” she said.

Terry Nunn said his tattoos were of London landmarks. “When we have customers onboard and are visiting London for the first time, I like to share with them any tips/secrets on the best places to eat/see in the capital. Now I can show them my tattoos too.

“I’m so pleased we have changed the policy to allow us cabin crew to express our individuality.”

Virgin Atlantic was one of the first airlines to relax strict makeup rules for cabin crew. Female crew were forced to wear makeup on duty until 2019, when it scrapped the rule and allowed them to wear trousers instead of a skirt if they chose. The move was viewed as a significant change in an industry where female crew, particularly on the full-service international airlines, are still often trained in applying makeup to airline regulations.

The embracing of body art reflects Virgin’s latest branding campaign, with adverts showing diverse passengers and crew to the soundtrack of “I am what I am” – including one with multiple tongue piercings, triggering the airport security. However, Virgin said such piercings would still not be allowed for crew.

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The change also comes as the aviation industry struggles to find enough staff to fill its posts, including cabin crew, thousands of whom were laid off during the pandemic. Virgin Atlantic hired 500 additional crew in January, and is now expecting to recruit another 300 as demand for air travel returns.

Staff shortages have led its rival British Airways to cancel hundreds of flights this summer, while easyJet has taken rows of seats out of some of its planes to allow them to be flown with fewer cabin crew under aviation industry regulations.

Very strict rules on tattoos still exist in much of aviation worldwide, with some airlines having refused to hire – or even sacked – crew with even discreet tattoos that would be hidden under uniform.


Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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