Virgin Atlantic follows Air New Zealand in allowing cabin crew to show off tattoos

Virgin Atlantic has become the first UK airline to allow its cabin crew to show off visible arm tattoos while in uniform.

The announcement follows a similar move from Air New Zealand in 2019, when Aotearoa's national carrier decided to allow tā moko and non-offensive tattoos to be visible on staff members.

Airlines have traditionally enforced stringent appearance rules for flight attendants and Virgin Atlantic's new policy has been described as "a significant shift in an industry that has long had strict criteria on who is suitable to be cabin crew and how they should look".

The British airline, founded by billionaire Richard Branson, is relaxing its body art rules as part of a fresh recruitment drive to ramp up its cabin crew numbers post-COVID-19 pandemic.

"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. That's why, in line with our focus on inclusion and championing individuality, we're relaxing our tattoo restrictions for all our people," said the airlines Chief People Officer Estelle Hollingsworth.

"We're committed to supporting diversity both on the ground and onboard, so are seeking people from all backgrounds who aspire to be the friendly, smiling and professional face that is the airline - with the iconic Virgin Atlantic style and flair. We champion difference and individuality, and it's by encouraging all of our people to truly be themselves at work that we uphold an inclusive environment where they each can thrive."

Virgin Atlantic's rules remain stricter than Air NZ's, however. The UK airline still requires all neck, face and head tattoos to be covered, although it was currently reviewing that policy. 

Both airlines continue to require "offensive" tattoos to be covered up and there appears to be a grey area in what exactly that means.

Virgin Atlantic doesn't define what it means by "offensive" in its announcement, but Air NZ's careers website states: "We ask employees to treat tattoos like they treat speech - you can't swear, make hateful comments or lewd jokes in the workplace, neither can your tattoos." 

It goes on to list obvious examples including racism and nudity, but also includes the more ambiguous example of: "inappropriate imagery, either as to content and/or magnitude, which would be considered inconsistent with Air NZ's brand values".

Air NZ made the tattoo policy change after coming under fire for denying Whangārei man Sydney Heremaia a job due to his visible tā moko.

Then-CEO Christopher Luxon said he was "extremely proud" to announce the resulting relaxation of the airline's tattoo rules.

"We want to liberate all our staff including uniform wearers such as cabin crew, pilots and airport customer service teams who will, for the first time, be able to have non-offensive tattoos visible when wearing their uniforms," Luxon said.

"There is an expectation that Air NZ will represent our country and our people authentically to the world and having a workforce who can bring their true selves to work is an important part of that."

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