Virgin Atlantic Is the First Airline to Allow Punk-Rock Cabin Staff to Show Tattoos

The airline says the relaxed tattoo restrictions are about focusing on inclusion and championing individuality.

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Happy inked people enjoying employment - you love to see it.
Happy inked people enjoying employment - you love to see it.
Image: Virgin Atlantic

You don’t have to be punk rock to have tattoos, but tattoos are very punk rock. Virgin Atlantic airlines, therefore, is slightly more punk rock after announcing this week that cabin staff will finally be allowed to bare their tattoos while in uniform and on the job.

Virgin Airlines announced it would become the first airline in the UK to allow cabin staff to bare their tattoos via a press release.

Virgin Atlantic has always encouraged its people to bring their true selves to work and to the skies, and to take pride in what makes them special. Many people use tattoos to express their unique identities, and that includes customer-facing teams. That’s why Virgin Atlantic is proud to be the first UK airline to allow visible tattoos.

Until today, any uniformed Virgin Atlantic employee had to make sure that their tattoos were covered. But now, employees can show off their ink to the world, while still representing Virgin Atlantic in their uniform.

Estelle Hollingsworth, Chief People Officer at Virgin Atlantic, commented: “At Virgin Atlantic, we want everyone to be themselves and know that they belong. 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. That’s why, in line with our focus on inclusion and championing individuality, we’re relaxing our tattoo restrictions for all our people. We’re proud to be the airline that sees the world differently and allows our people to truly be themselves.”

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Virgin Atlantic uniforms were designed by modern punk and new wave designer Vivienne Westwood, so it does seemed fitting that the airline — founded by record label magnate and not-quite-spaceman Richard Branson — would allow its tatted-up employees to put their ink on display.

Not that tattoos are really very counterculture anymore. At least 30 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo, according to a 2019 Ipsos poll—a jump of 9 percent over a similar poll from 2012. When it comes to younger, working age people, the number goes up: 40 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds said they have at least one tattoo, and 36 percent of folk in the 35-to-54 age bracket had one.

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This kind of accepting attitude may be one reason why Virgin Atlantic is one of the few UK-based airlines to avoid staffing shortages post-COVID, in a time when air travel has become particularly hellish. According to Virgin, the airline recently received 5,000 applications during a 400-job hiring spree. From Travel Weekly:

The carrier has not appeared in the recent national headlines about delays and axed flights, which have been blamed on staff shortages, because it pays “fairly and competitively,” according to Shai Weiss.

He told the Sunday Telegraph that the airline has had 5,000 applicants for 400 jobs, adding: “When [people] want to work in aviation, we are top of the list.”

Weiss also told the newspaper that the airline will remain loss-making this year – but he wants to be back in black in 2023.

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Virgin Atlantic might be alone in saving passengers from long delays, at least for the time being. The UK’s largest airport, Heathrow, has been in complete chaos for months as airlines cancel flights due to staffing shortages. The chief executive of London’s Heathrow airport told the Financial Times that it could be another year or more before things move smoothly at the airport again.

If you do manage to catch your flight out of Heathrow, you just might have a tattooed person to thank.