Last week, American Airlines began the “Face of Your Base” contest, asking attendants to nominate male and female colleagues they think look most “superb” in the scarves, ties and striped shirts that make up their new uniforms.
But the union that represents the nearly 18,000 U.S. flight attendants employed by American has taken issue with the internal contest, calling it a demeaning beauty pageant. Laura Glading, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, blasted the contest in a letter to employees (an excerpt of which union rep Jeff Pharr sent us): “Seriously? This campaign just transported us back 50 years to the days of girdles, weight-checks and single, female-only stewardesses having to quit when they were married, pregnant, or reached the ripe old age of 30.” The contest, she said, undermines the important role flight attendants play in ensuring passenger safety and urged members to boycott the “insulting beauty contest.”
American Airlines spokesperson Missy Cousino told Bloomberg News that a team at the airline’s crew base in Chicago – including attendants and managers – created the campaign and that so far, a number of flight attendants have expressed “how flattered they were to be nominated to be featured in our internal company materials.”
So far, reactions to the campaign and the APFA’s dissatisfaction with it have been mixed. On the Today Show website, commenter “Pam” bemoaned, “When you travel Singapore or other Asian airlines you see beauty. Travel US airlines [and] you see seniority. What truly matters is service and the US does not get it.”
But I wonder how Pam would feel if she knew how some foreign airlines sought their beautiful flight attendants? (I’m also not so sure about equating beauty with service, though it’s hard to tell if that’s what she really meant to say.) When I lived in Kuwait only a couple of years ago, I would regularly read ads placed in local newspapers recruiting flight attendants that specified such criteria as height, age, body measurements and skin free of blemishes and scars. Those who didn’t fit the profile need not apply. (Note: I am not talking about the same airlines the reader mentioned, nor have I ever seen any recruiting material from Singapore Airlines.)
One reader accused the union of overreacting: “Who says we can’t have a friendly event where we congratulate good personal appearance?” And another said Glading’s letter is just an example of union muscle-flexing: “I’m sure they weren’t asked for their opinion so they naturally have to be against it. That’s the way of the union.”
But the real faces of American’s bases, contends Glading, are the flight attendants that “continue to show up in their tattered mismatched uniform…despite working almost a decade under a concessionary contract...some even losing their homes while the executives of this airline pocket millions.”
American and its attendants have been in talks on a new contract since June 2008, and have been in mediation on wages for 10 years. The union has failed to win clearance from the National Mediation Board to strike.
What do you think: demeaning “pageant” or harmless search for happy faces of real employees? Weigh in.