Virgin Atlantic Is Dropping Its Gendered Uniform Policy

The change is part of a growing movement to make travel more inclusive

Virgin Atlantic's uniforms
Virgin Atlantic’s uniforms Courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

Flight attendants, pilots and other crewmembers will no longer be required to dress in traditionally gendered uniforms when they get ready for work at Virgin Atlantic each day. The airline is now allowing employees to choose whichever of the company’s uniform options they would like. 

The 38-year-old British airline revealed its updated gender identity policy late last week. The company is also rolling out optional pronoun badges that will allow both staffers and travelers to “clearly communicate and be addressed by their pronouns,” per a statement. Passengers with gender-neutral passports will now be able to use the title “Mx.” for flight booking.

Airplane flying at sunset
In recent years, airlines have been taking steps to make traveling more inclusive for passengers and employees.   Pixabay

At present, travelers in only a handful of countries—including the United States and Canada—can get gender-neutral passports. For travelers outside those countries, Virgin Atlantic is working on a longer-term plan “to ensure customers are addressed by their preferred pronouns across all touchpoints.” 

Earlier this year, Virgin Atlantic also began allowing crewmembers to show off their tattoos, which had previously been prohibited. In 2019, the airline stopped requiring its women flight attendants to wear makeup and skirts while on the job.

“We believe that everyone can take on the world, no matter who they are,” says Juha Jarvinen, the airline’s chief commercial officer, in the statement. “That’s why it’s so important that we enable our people to embrace their individuality and be their true selves at work.”

Historically, airlines have maintained strict uniform policies: skirts and heels for women, slacks and jackets for men. But that’s starting to change—and Virgin Atlantic isn’t the first to make such reforms.

In 2019, Norwegian Air dropped its requirement that female flight attendants wear heels when outside the aircraft and ended its mandatory makeup policy. In March 2020, Japan Airlines stopped requiring heels and skirts. Last year, the Ukrainian low-cost carrier SkyUp started allowing female staffers to wear flat shoes and pants, rather than heels and pencil skirts. And this spring, Alaska Airlines began developing gender-neutral apparel for employees and loosened its uniform and grooming policies.

Airlines are also starting to use more inclusive language: In July 2021, Lufthansa did away with phrases like “ladies and gentlemen” while welcoming passengers on board.

Woman sitting in airport wearing a mask
When applying for passports or TSA PreCheck, some travelers are now able to select a gender from a more inclusive list of options. Pexels

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) also began allowing travelers to select “another gender” when applying for TSA PreCheck starting this summer.

Will Virgin Atlantic’s employees who wear pronoun badges or nontraditional uniforms face any backlash? Chris King, a non-binary travel and lifestyle consultant, writes in Conde Nast Traveller that he suspects the answer is yes—but in the meantime, the airline’s latest move is “incredibly empowering.”

“Seeing an organization take steps to recognize your needs and embrace your individuality so openly is incredibly affirming,” adds King. “[S]eeing them take those changes and bake them into their policies is true inclusivity.”