Respect Diversity + Inclusion

Virgin Atlantic announces gender-inclusive uniform, ticketing policy

The British airline on Wednesday lifted a requirement that its employees wear gendered uniforms and updated its ticketing system to allow passengers to select a gender code consistent with their identity.
A Virgin Atlantic Airways plane taxis Friday, April 13, 2018, at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Story at a glance

  • Virgin Atlantic on Wednesday announced updates to its uniform policy and ticketing system in a company-wide effort to be more inclusive of all gender identities.

  • Under the new uniform policy, airline staff may select the uniform that “best represents them” and choose to wear a badge displaying their preferred pronouns.

  • Virgin Atlantic passengers are also able to select a gender-neutral gender code while booking with their airline.

Virgin Atlantic on Wednesday announced updates to its uniform policy and ticketing system, removing a requirement that staff wear gendered uniforms and allowing nonbinary and gender-nonconforming passengers to select a gender code and title consistent with their identities.

The British airline’s policy changes, which are effective immediately, allow flight and ground crew members to select whichever uniform best represents them, regardless of their gender, gender identity or expression, the company said Wednesday in a news release.

Staff members also now have the option to wear pronoun badges to ensure they are properly identified by their colleagues and travelers, to whom badges are also available.

“The updated gender identity policy is so important to me,” Jaime Forsstroem, one of Virgin Atlantic’s cabin crew members, said in Wednesday’s news release. “As a non-binary person, it allows me to be myself at work and have the choice in what uniform I wear.”

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In a poll conducted earlier this month on behalf of Virgin Atlantic, 65 percent of adults in the U..K, where the airline is based, said they believe enabling employees to express their “true selves” at work makes for a happier workforce. Another 49 percent said inclusive work spaces increase the mental well-being of employees and 24 percent said allowing workers to be their authentic selves provides a better experience for customers.

Employees according to the poll are more likely to feel accepted and comfortable at work when they are able to express themselves freely. They’re also more likely to feel an increased sense of loyalty to their employer.

Juha Jarvinen, Virgin Atlantic’s chief commercial officer, on Wednesday said the new policy reflects the company’s belief that people should “embrace their individuality and be their true selves at work.”

“It is for that reason that we want to allow our people to wear the uniform that best suits them and how they identify and ensure our customers are addressed by their preferred pronouns,” he said.

The airline on Wednesday also released an update to its ticketing system, which now allows passengers with gender-neutral passports to select either a “U” or “X” gender code on their Virgin Atlantic booking, as well as the gender-neutral title, “Mx.” The company added that a longer-term plan to amend communication preferences is in the works to include travelers that are not able to select a gender-neutral gender designation on their passports.

The State Department in October issued the first U.S. passport with an “X” gender designation, with the option becoming more widely available in April. A Williams Institute report issued the same month estimated that close to 17,000 nonbinary LGBTQ+ Americans will request U.S. passports with an “X” gender designation this year.

Virgin Atlantic’s policy update follows a 2019 decision that made wearing makeup, skirts and high-heeled shoes optional for female cabin crew members. In June, the company lifted a restriction on visible tattoos for crew members and front line staff.

Other airlines have taken similar steps to make their uniform policies more inclusive. Alaska Airlines in March relaxed restrictions on fingernail polish, tattoos and piercings and rebranded “male” and “female” uniform kits to “masculine” and “feminine” kits.

Earlier this month, however, the Human Rights Commission of Washington state, where Alaska Airlines is headquartered, found that the airline’s “binary uniform system” likely violated a state law prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity, appearance, behavior or expression.