Tattoos cleared for takeoff for Virgin Atlantic cabin crew—but not all body art will be allowed

Ink sleeves, fly free.

Virgin Atlantic has become one of the few global air carriers to allow its cabin crew to display their tattoos, in a move the company says will allow workers to “express their unique identities.”

From Tuesday, the airline’s cabin crew will be permitted to display tattoos that they have below their necks.

Before the rule change, any uniformed employee had to cover up all visible tattoos with a long-sleeve shirt, Band-Aids, or makeup.

Virgin Atlantic told Fortune on Tuesday that short-sleeve shirts are standard uniform for its employees, so workers with tattooed arms had to request a special long-sleeve shirt before the company overhauled its policy.

“At Virgin Atlantic, we want everyone to be themselves and know that they belong,” Estelle Hollingsworth, chief people officer at Virgin Atlantic, said in a statement.

“Many people use tattoos to express their unique identities, and our customer-facing and uniformed colleagues should not be excluded from doing so if they choose.”

Two uniformed Virgin Atlantic cabin crew members are pictured with their arm tattoos on display.
Virgin Atlantic employees Terry Nunn and Josie Hopkins. The airline has relaxed tattoo restrictions for its cabin crew and uniformed workers.
Virgin Atlantic

Tattoos that are deemed offensive—for example, if they depict nudity or profanities—must still be covered up. Prison-style knuckle tattoos (think love/hate) cannot be shown either, the Guardian reports.

Neck and head tattoos must also be covered, but Virgin Atlantic said this was currently under review and the company was hoping to change this policy soon.

Tough industry for ‘tats’

The vast majority of airlines require cabin crew and uniformed staff to cover any visible tattoos while on duty, with the industry notorious for having strict requirements when it comes to how cabin crew should—and should not—look.  

Last year, United Airlines updated its policy to allow flight attendants to have visible tattoos, as long as they are no bigger than the employee’s work badge.

Air New Zealand has been permitting its employees to display “non-offensive tattoos” while in uniform since 2019.

Virgin Atlantic’s policy relaxation comes as the airline sector faces a talent crunch that has seen some companies offering $1,000 onboarding bonuses to new cabin crew members.

Virgin Atlantic said Tuesday that it will reopen its cabin crew recruitment process later this week. In January, the company received 5,000 applications for 400 roles.

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