Virgin Australia flight attendants ordered to fight the sexy

Jordana Divon
Shine OnJuly 23, 2012

When you have a company name like Virgin, the jokes pile up naturally.

And for a while, Richard Branson's 12-year-old airline, Virgin Australia, seemed to be in on them. Staff displayed a sort of cheeky, fun attitude that has made tooling around the world with them such a pleasant ride.

But in a bid to compete with rival Qantas for the business class market, all Australian cabin crews have been ordered to tone down the sexy. In fact, staff will undergo a complete re-education program to smooth down any less-than-business-class edges.

"They want us to get away from that 'sex' look that's been attached to the company," a flight attendant tells Australia's Daily Telegraph.

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That means mandatory etiquette, language and posture classes, grooming and body language workshops (crossing your arms is a no-no as it denotes defensiveness) and food and wine appreciation to best serve up those gourmet airplane meals.

Most surprisingly? Staff will no longer be able to address customers as "mate" — the popular Australian term for friend or buddy — unless said customer is a Frequent Flyer and has filed a special request to be addressed as such.

The changes have been spearheaded by Virgin Australia CEO, John Borghetti. In the two years since the popular airline visionary hopped on board, business class numbers have skyrocketed from 10 per cent to 18 per cent.

Across the pond, Virgin America flight attendants are also getting a wardrobe makeover with sharp new uniforms designed by Banana Republic.

While these changes may seem stringent to some, Edmonton-based business etiquette consultant Terry Pithers sees the move as a smart one.

"This is a trend that we're starting to see all over. We find that during tough business times, the look becomes more conservative. It's a signal that they still make a profit in the business world and to instill confidence in the customer," he says.

Pithers adds that we subconsciously elevate the status of professionals who treat us with courtesy and respect — so by addressing customers a little less informally, that small change could go a long way toward our overall perception of the entire flight experience.

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Plus, the overhaul is still nothing compared to flying's Mad Men-era rulebook.

NBC writes that during the 1960s, female flight attendants were subject to much tougher guidelines.

Stewardesses had to be single with no children, have hair no longer than shoulder length, measure over 5'2" and weigh no more than 135 pounds.

Just to drive that point home, they were subjected to "weigh-ins" before each flight and would be roundly criticized for failing to conform.

"When you checked in for a flight, you'd go into the office and there'd be a grooming supervisor on duty all the time," says retired flight attendant Bronwen Roberts. "She could say, 'Your hair is too long' or 'You are overweight' and send you home until you fixed it."

When you think about it like that, going "mate"-less seems positively progressive by comparison.

Watch the video below about what a woman's wardrobe communicates to a potential date. Booty call? Bride? Best friend?

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