By Jan Laird – My daughter is a flight attendant and is required to wear panty hose and it must be a specific shade, too. One reason is that it looks more professional, something the airlines like to encourage.
In addition, due to spending all their days up in the air and on their feet, it is suggested that they wear compression hose. Not the compression hose you find in a drugstore or department store. It is medical grade hosiery and when prescribed by their doctor, they receive reimbursement through their company’s insurance. I don’t know the compression ratings off the top of my head but each pair costs around $80.
Flight attendants are more prone to varicose veins due to the higher altitude and the constant changes in air pressure due to multiple take-offs and landings in a day (despite pressurized cabins). E.g., Four short haul flights in a day equals 4 take-offs and 4 landings every day. Over time, the strain on the vascular system can add up, especially if your family’s genes predispose you to varicose veins.
We wear pantyhoses/stockings because:
- Grooming guidelines. Proper grooming etiquette is part of the job. In my company at least, the grooming guide states that if toenails are not painted to match the fingernail colour, stockings have to be worn. Of course, standards and grooming guidelines differ across airlines.
- Compression! We’re on our feet a lot and prone to varicose veins, muscle fatigue, leg swelling. Compression stockings help relieve those symptoms to a degree. (And once we’re home/hotel, we have our legs up the wall – which btw helps tremendously)
- Body shaping. Lots more areas on the body that benefit from compression. Overall body shape enhancement (think Spanx body shaping pantyhose). It doesn’t just help the uniform sit better on the body, but also helps prevent flatulence / gas build up in the stomach. Which brings me to the next point…
- Cabin pressure. It’s something one can’t see nor necessarily feel the effects of. Other than the usual ear pressure, cabin pressure also affects the gas in your body. Just take a look at an empty water bottle after take off and after landing- it expands and is crushed. Imagine what that does to your body when you fly day in and out! I’d like to think some compression helps.
- Cold, dry cabin. This is pretty much self explanatory. Moisturise legs generously before putting on your stockings and you’re preventing scaly/dry/crackly skin.
- Modesty. Old fashioned but true. Stockings provide a degree modesty as a manner of dress. Uniforms that reveals legs + nature of job that requires us to bend/squat/sit etc in that = some girls just prefer to wear them just because!
Because female flight attendants often have to wear skirts as part of their uniforms.
Airlines spend a lot of effort on their uniforms as it is one of the most visible parts of their brand identity. As a result, the uniform and grooming standards are planned right down to the smallest of details, including acceptable shade and thickness of pantihose, shade of lipstick, manicure style, facial make-up, hair style, jewellery, watches, etc. There are also strict rules for how and when to wear the hat, cabin shoes, service uniform, name tag, ID tag and other miscellaneous items.
Most airline crew training programmes include at least one full day of training devoted to grooming and how to wear the uniform. In addition, many airlines employ grooming officers whose sole purpose is to check that the crew is in compliance with the company grooming standards at all times. They are known to do random spot checks both before and after flights, and anyone found to be in breach of the grooming standards will be called in for a “coffee” (read: disciplinary) with their line manager. Crew who continuously fail these spot checks will have their contracts terminated.
As the other answerers have pointed out, one of the reasons behind the rules regarding pantihose are that they cover up blemishes. Another reason is that by making all the crew wear similar pantihose you get a more uniform look where one crew member’s uniform doesn’t look different from that of her colleagues. At the end of the day it is all about consistency and attention to detail.