Parading around in bikinis for job interviews, salaries lowered for gaining weight and outright employment rejection for being unattractive. No, these aren't snippets from the modelling industry, this is the reality for some flight attendants. Read on, as we share the strict physical requirements and cut-throat recruitment process that a select group of flight attendants must adhere to.
In South Korea, becoming a flight attendant is a highly coveted and elusive career path. Jihye Park, a South Korean native, explains: “They’re considered a cultural icon of beauty and intelligence.” Part of the reason is the legendary requirements demanded from many Korean airlines and the notoriously competitive acceptance rate. For example, on average, Korean Air annually accepts 150 flight attendants out of more than 20,000 applicants. And the requirements for Korean Air are stringent: they will only recruit stewardesses who hold a bachelor’s degree with strong academic performance. But there’s more: Pablo Lee, the director at a flight attendant training academy, told The Korea Herald, “They have to be physically perfect – weighing more than 132 pounds (59kgs) is kind of overweight,” he said.
The rite of passage towards securing a job in this lucrative industry, often includes enrollment in tutoring academies dedicated to teaching aspiring applicants key communication, styling, deportment and examination techniques. Park Min Hye, a flight attendant image consultant and former flight attendant emphasises that interviews are also composed of problem solving case studies, language exams to test proficiency in English and Korean, along with first aid knowledge. “You have to be well rounded to be a flight attendant,” she says.
Photos on resumes are mandatory
CV head shots are a key determinant in whether applicants are invited for an interview, so as a result ‘flight attendant photo shopping’ services have surged in popularity. Prior to getting CV headshots taken or attending an interview, many applicants get their hair and makeup professionally done. Capitalising on this demand, makeup and hair salons have introduced ‘stewardess hair and makeup’ services. “Increasing people’s chances of scoring a flight attendant job is a fully-fledged industry in Korea,” Jihye explains.
Plastic surgery clinics also provide tailored packages for aspiring stewardesses called “The Perfect Flight Attendant Face”, to shape facial features that align with the airline’s benchmark for attractiveness. “Maybe not all, but most people get a few tweaks to look more more attractive for their interview and many current flight attendants also get nips and tucks to maintain their looks,” said Park Min Hye.
In late 2016, Russian airline Aeroflot measured, weighed and photographed their flight attendants, in a bid to monitor their appearance. Those who were deemed unattractive were placed in the ‘old, ugly and fat’ categories. Anyone over 40 or larger than a size medium were taken off prestigious international flights. Their salaries were drastically lowered, and rightful employee bonuses were not paid.
Aeroflot flight attendant Yevgenia Magurina’s decade long dedication at the airline was deemed worthless, as soon as her weight increased. A few days after Yevgenia asked human resources for a larger uniform size, she discovered she had been demoted from senior stewardess to junior flight attendant. Aeroflot flight attendant Zhenya Magurina, told Russia’s Radio Liberty that she also faced weight based discrimination. She was informed by her boss: “You know your cheeks are too big for international flights.”
An Aeroflot representative said a passenger survey revealed that 92% of respondents prefer attractive flight attendants. The airline justifies their strict employee requirements as simply a strategic reflection of what consumers demand. “Aeroflot is a premium airline, and the staff’s looks are definitely one of the things the clients pay for,” Pavel Danilin, Aeroflot public council member, said at a press conference.
Bikini Contests to recruit flight attendants are common
In China, being a flight attendant is considered as glamorous as being a model and their recruitment process and requirements certainly reflect this mentality. It isn’t uncommon for airline recruiters to source talent from bikini competitions and beauty pageant contests. In fact, modelling agencies often host exclusive bikini parades for an audience of aviation executives. Kay Liu, a China Southern cabin crew manager, says often the first process of recruitment is “lining applicants up to inspect their physical features.”
“Airlines generally have a marking guideline for each applicant’s appearance,” Dalena Yu, a former flight attendant recruiter, explains. The marking criteria is categorised into certain ‘benchmark requirements’ for specific physical features. Individual features are awarded separate scores; your face, physique and overall grooming are thoroughly inspected. The categories for individual grading include: hair, skin, eyes, nose, legs, weight and height. Applicants with the highest cumulative mark across all categories generally proceed to the next round.
But like Korean aviation companies, Chinese airlines also demand academic excellence. China Eastern airlines require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree, and many airlines require additional tertiary study specialising in flight attendant studies. Additionally, there is a series of written and verbal entrance examinations that applicants must score highly in. Wendy, an international Chinese student tells us: “Even after the entrance exams, you have to pass airline training exams, like pharmacology and anatomy – so I think it’s more than just looks,” Wendy explains. However, she adds, “If you’re ugly you can’t be a flight attendant in China.”
Air France is hailed as one of the most elegant and sophisticated cabin crews in the world: their look is refined, a binary between the powerful corporate trailblazer and the polished aristocrat. So how do they do it? In pre-flight briefings, your cabin manager may conduct uniform and makeup screenings, to ensure your grooming aligns with Air France’s standards. Those who deviate from the grooming requirements may be told to “fix” their presentation. Additionally, according to former Air France flight attendant, Colinoue, a written report may be filed about you if your presentation isn’t on par. However, Colinoue states that presentation requirements are not stringent, “We have a list of approved hairstyles and makeup looks we can choose from. We are not restricted to one look and they are quite relaxed.”
Seasonal Air France flight attendant Mathilde, says Air France recruitment isn’t the equivalent of a beauty contest. She emphasises that Air France have never discriminated against people’s physical appearance during recruitment. “There are stewardesses of every shape and form in Air France, there’s so much diversity. You don’t have to be tall and beautiful. The most important part is our personality, kindness and customer service experiences.”
Despite this, presentation is still important and Mathilde says cabin crew can’t look tired because having a fresh face is a form of customer service. She explains, “We have to check our face pretty often in the restroom, to make sure everything is okay.”
Story by Kristina Zhou