December 11, 2008

Bringing Style to the Skies

A few days ago, Heather made a post about flight attendant scarves. I made the comment that the Asian girls flying the skies seem to have a 'something' which makes them seem so much more stylish than their Western counterparts- who, admittedly, have their own kind of style.

Scarves, as well as hats, play a big part in the crew uniforms of the major Asian airlines. It's very unusual to find an Asian airline which does not. (with the exclusion of the southern asian airlines such as Phillipines, Garuda and so forth) The only example which comes to mind aside from Singair at the moment is Cathay Pacific, who had hats up until 1983 but not since. I can only guess this was an attempt to 'modernise' the look.


I think it's quite stylish and I've always liked the device of using colour to signify the rank of a particular crew member.

This one, of course, is probably the most-recognised crew uniform in the world, the iconic Singapore Girl!


This uniform is so stylish and timeless, I don't think it will ever go out of style, despite claims that it is sexist and outdated.

Another cute outfit is this one from Korean Air, though hardly practical with all that white! (I hope they carry ScotchGuard with them!)

China Air attendants, obviously in a bit of a hurry

Reportedly, China Southern even holds a beauty pageant to find potential candidates to work as flight attendants for them.

The job of a flight attendant has attained cult status in Japan. Unlike in other countries, the job is well-respected and parents would not be unhappy if their daughters (or increasingly, their sons) were to pursue such a career.

Classes are intense, with focus not only on safety, but also on appearance, attitude, manner of service and even the ways in which the girls move and tie their apron bows!

Japanese people are well known for their love of uniforms, which I think is so cute. Even bus conductors and train attendants have uniforms reminiscent of airline uniforms.

If you'd like to see more about the Japanese culture of the flight attendant, you can try to view this DVD from Fuji TV. It's a show called 'Attention, Please' (Atenshon puriizu, in Japanese). It follows a wannabe, then novice 'cabin attendantu' through her journey from selection process and interview, to training and eventually flight. Two specials aired taking the heroine to Hawaii and then Sydney, Australia!

It's a very fascinating insight into how an 'ordinary' job in the Western world is perceived elsewhere.

One of the most endearing scenes in the pilot episode though, is when the aspirants finally pass their initial phase training and are awarded their official JAL cabin crew uniforms -- replete with name tags, JAL-emblazoned silk scarves, and shrink wrapped in protective cellophane to boot -- thus allowing them to continue the rest of the cabin-crew flight training.

It's witnessing scenes like this when one realizes how much being a part of a recognized group means to the Japanese, and how negotiating such compulsions are oftentimes an "all-or-nothihg" affair for many in Japanese society.


You can watch the first part of the show below (with subtitles)


  1. You're right about the Asian airlines being stylish and impeccable! With a cousin who flies for Singapore Airlines, I know what they go through and its long and rigid! Even downroute when out of uniform they can only wear certain types of clothing!
    We're a bit more relaxed here I guess but like it or not if we're not impeccably groomed to begin with, we probably wouldn't have made it past recruitment day!
    But anyway back to the uniforms, I absolutely love the Korean Air ones! It matches their First Class cabin!...but now that you mentioned it, it will be hard to keep it that white with all the grease that seems to be all over the carts!

  2. Here's my two cents worth.
    I recently flew with both JAL and then Qantas, and found the difference in the staff marked. The JAL staff were impeccable. Beautifully spoken and perfectly groomed. When I boarded the Qantas flight it was such a let down in comparison. Even traveling economy with JAL seemed a much more classy experience, but economy with Qantas was awful. Leaving aside all the food and other elements, the Qantas staff just didn't have an ounce of the class of the JAL staff.

    It seems to me that the Asian airlines staff place much more importance and effort on their personal grooming, turning out a very polished and first class look. Their is a uniformity to their look as well which also seems to create a standard that everyone adheres to. For example, hair style, make up and even manners. Qantas staff on the other hand, had poorly styled hair of all sorts, uniforms worn without uniformity, and some very bad manners. They could also do with some elocution lessons.

    Perhaps the difference in the grooming standards is a reflection of the general standards of grooming in their respective home countries. Australian standards have slipped so badly that we are now looking to footballers wives for fashion tips!

    I don't mean to sound too harsh, but these were the dramatic difference I noticed between the two, and it seems to me that presentation is about more than the way you dress, it is the impression of the overall package.

  3. Thanks for your comments. SKM, I noticed this as well. I think it as much a culture issue as a 'standards' one. Watching the Japanese tv show, you see just how exacting their standards are. From the apron bow to the angle at which the coffee cup is put down on the tray, they have a rule for everything.

    It's disappointing that the experience you had with our national airline was so varied. True, we flight attendants strive for uniformity, however I think the Australian culture celebrates individuality. While there is scope for that in the makeup shades and hairstyles chosen, it should never be messy.

    Sometimes I also think that crew need lessons on speaking to passengers, however again it may also be that airlines don't want to squash the 'Australian' out of their staff.

    Personally, I try to speak with a nice manner and tone to everyone on board, but there *is* a difference in the way we are allowed to speak to say, someone flying economy as opposed to first. You can be more informal and free with passengers travelling in economy, as usually they are looking for a level of interaction there.

    As for passengers in First, or flying in Japan or other countries, the importance is usually placed on the appearance and pleasantness of the person doing the serving, rather than whether they actually engage in small talk. I notice this small talk aspect is greatly diminshed in the Asian airlines aside from questions about what meal choice they would like, or how long their journey has been, for example.

  4. I really liked this post. I'm crew for JAL & i'm really pleased that you noticed some of the small things asian airlines do & little rules that we have that can go a long way to creating the overall appearance/standard of the airline.

    & yes, receiving our scarves in their cellophane wrapping after passing our safety exams & then receiving our name badge on the last day of classroom training is HUGE for us!

  5. Anonymous, thanks for your comments! I love that other crew read and take the time to comment on my blog. I've always thought of the JAL girls as a standard to look up to. When I'm having a bad day and am tempted to rudh through my service, I remind myself of how they serve the cabin and the pretty smiles and I think of how I would like to be served!

    I just love how the Japanese respect all jobs whether it is a cleaner, bus driver or 'cabin attendantu'

    Hope you stop by again to read =)

  6. I think you might actually like Korean Air's uniforms - up close you can see they are made of a very travel friendly material (a bit strechy to resist wrinkles) and has a sheen that make it even looks somewhat stain resistant. I don't care for the scarfs that are to be worn sticking straight out, but then I think, "they look like pretty tiffany packages" and I like the uniforms again.


Pick up the interphone, make your announcement!