United Airlines wants some flight attendants to take their wardrobes and “personal grooming” more seriously, saying crew members who wear “skirt lengths that don’t conform to the standard,” wrinkled or stained shirts, or worn-out shoes may be hurting its brand, according to two new internal memos.

“Perhaps because of the distractions of our industry or the merger of our
airlines, over time, we became too relaxed in compliance with established
standards,” John Slater, United’s vice president for in-flight operations, said in one of the notes. “We lost our focus on the value uniform standards have on our customers’ perception of our company.”

Decades ago, wardrobe and personal grooming was a major priority for U.S. airlines. But as cultural norms changed, U.S. carriers have become less concerned with how flight attendants dress and groom themselves. Mostly, they only expect cabin crew to wear the company’s uniforms in a neat, clean manner. Other airlines, particularly outside of the United States, still retain more exacting standards. Perhaps none is more famous for its stringent requirements than Singapore Airlines, which still calls its impeccably dressed flight attendants, “Singapore Girls,” though it now has male flight attendants, too.

United said it sent the first of the two notes in error. Slater’s said his first effort was a “preliminary version” and it lacked some of the flowery language of version two. The second one, he said, was created in “close collaboration” with the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents United’s cabin crew. Both notes focused on the same issue — that some flight attendants are sloppier than United wants.

Slater asked for flight attendants to help improve the company’s image, noting no group spends more time with customers. He told them that some flight attendants had reached out to him to “share concerns” about colleagues who do not take uniform standards so seriously.

Taylor Garland, a spokeswoman for flight attendant union, downplayed the memos, saying they likely were no different than what any airline sends its employees. But she said the union supports United’s efforts.

“Flight attendants take pride in presenting a professional image,” Garland said. “Uniform standards help to ensure crew members are easily identified and respected as they perform their role as aviation’s first responders. That’s why our flight attendant union works with United to reinforce uniform standards in a way that promotes our professional role in maintaining safety, health and security.”

In an email, United spokeswoman Erin Benson Scharra said the two memos received “overwhelmingly positive reaction” from flight attendants. She added that more stringent standards should benefit the carrier’s customers.

“When our employees feel and look their best, it makes it easier for them to deliver the top-notch service our customers deserve,” she said.

As part of an effort to ensure “uniform” compliance, Slater said United is holding “image fairs” at each of its flight attendant bases, where they’re learning what — and what not – to wear.

Photo Credit: United Airlines said it has let its grooming standards slip. Pictured is a flight attendant on a United Boeing 757. United Airlines