For all the chat about diversity and gender equality among airlines over the past year, there are still some pretty outdated practices on display in the industry.
One trend that especially jars is how airlines typically use women dressed up as cabin crew for photo opportunities. This can be prevalent at air shows, when orders are signed, or at aircraft delivery ceremonies. The usually middle-aged, male executives sign the contract and then pose proudly with a model aircraft, or the real thing in the case of a delivery, and some beaming ladies in their cabin crew uniforms.
This year’s Paris air show saw fewer examples of this, admittedly, which can only be encouraged. It remains to be seen, however, whether that was because there were simply fewer order unveilings with a full array of managers present, or because there is a general shift in the industry’s approach.
Some efforts to jazz up proceedings at Paris definitely came across as awkward. Russian Helicopters brought the Tatarstan rhythmic gymnastics team “to emphasise the grace” of the Anstat helicopters at its static display.
Elsewhere on the show site, the Skytrax awards began with a group of Hainan Airlines cabin crew performing a dance in front of a baffled audience. Later on, several of the winners posed for photos with female-only cabin crew flanking senior executives.
On the more progressive side, Virgin Atlantic and AirAsia X had both male and female flight attendants in their photo calls for, respectively, an order for 14 Airbus A330-900s and the unveiling of their first A330neo.
While these nods to gender equality are to be applauded, surely it is time the industry got rid of this slightly seedy practice altogether? Let’s have photos of the aircraft themselves if you want some glamour. Airlines and manufacturers have plenty of pictures lying around.
After all, if Formula One can get rid of the grid girls, then surely the aviation industry can stop using flight attendants as photo enhancers?
Some airlines are definitely taking more care on how they present themselves at photo opportunities. EasyJet is one prominent example in Europe that makes pilots available for photo calls, and they are often women. That is part of EasyJet’s drive to encourage more women into aviation by making female pilots more visible as role models to inspire young girls.
It is not just from a gender point of view that the practice grates though. Flight attendants are an essential part of the operation of an aircraft, ensuring airlines get their passengers from A to B safely. Unlike the images of old, they are not just there to look nice and serve drinks.
Like pilots, cabin crew also need to meet medical requirements and have completed training programmes. These days they are more than ever on the front line, dealing with sick and complaining passengers, while often being subject to physical violence from disruptive travellers, a trend that sadly shows no sign of abating.
According to IATA, the rate of unruly passenger incidents rose to one incident for every 1,053 flights in 2017, compared with one incident for every 1,424 flights in 2016. It cautions that its estimates do not cover all airlines around the world, so are likely to underestimate the problem.
There have been too many instances of cabin crew being attacked by passengers, whether sexually harassed, physically abused, or criticised over the way they serve peanuts. Back in July, for example, UK-based leisure airline Jet2 said it was charging a passenger more than $100,000 for her disruptive behaviour, which saw her try to open the aircraft doors mid-flight. The incident ended with the passenger being restrained by the crew and RAF fighters scrambled to escort the jet back to London Stansted.
It is the flight attendants who have to deal with such abuse. Let’s give them a bit more respect.