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What’s with All the New Airline Uniforms?


Don’t look now, but a bunch of airlines are changing their uniforms. You almost need a program to keep up with it all. Delta Airlines is rolling out new uniforms at the end of May, Alaska Airlines rolled out their new uniforms this past January, and American Airlines announced at the end of April that their new uniform project is right on schedule. They hope to be ready to go by the end of next year.

So what’s the deal? Why are the airlines suddenly embracing new uniforms all at the same time? In a word, competition. The airline industry is somewhat unique in that there is very little room to differentiate one carrier from the next. Airfares have to be kept as low as possible to appease finicky customers. Meanwhile, airlines have to constantly deal with federal regulations, weather delays, and a whole host of other circumstances that routinely affect service.

So much of what contributes to the public perception of airlines is actually not within the airlines’ control. One thing they can control is the public image presented by pilots, crew members, and airport customer service agents. Uniforms are a big part of that.

Keeping Up with the Times

One thing that is very important to the airlines is presenting an image of keeping up with the times. The last thing they want in the highly competitive market of air travel is being viewed as an old-fashioned company. People are not comfortable flying with an airline they perceive to be stuck back in the 1980s.

Presenting a modern image is the main impetus behind all these uniform redesigns. Airlines want their customer-facing staff to reflect the present and the future; they do not want to be perceived as being behind everyone else.

With that in mind, it’s interesting to see what Delta has come up with. Their new uniforms look like a cross between classic airline and future space travel. And speaking of future space travel, a subsidiary of Air France known as Joon outfits its staff in casual-looking uniforms made partially of recycled plastic.

Alaska Airlines’ new uniforms have a more classic look to them. You might even say the company is looking toward the future by tapping into the retro. This is a tough look to pull off, but Alaska Airlines seems to have it under control.

No Minor Undertaking

Even more fascinating about all the new airline uniforms is how long it takes to come up with them. The announcement from American Airlines earlier this year says that the airline hopes to have their new uniforms ready by the end of next year. Assuming they began working on them in April, you are talking anywhere between 20 and 21 months from start to finish.

In Delta’s case, their new uniforms were years in the making. The design process was so extensive that the company has produced a series of YouTube videos that will be released on a weekly basis for the foreseeable future. There is apparently a lot of material Delta wants its customers to see.

Alsco, a Utah-based linen and uniform services provider, says that uniform design takes years because of all that is involved. It is more than just design; it’s also market testing and evaluation. A good uniform can go through multiple iterations before a company decides on a final design.

Three major airlines have recently announced big changes to their uniforms. Will others follow suit, so to speak? Probably. In the airline industry, what you look like is important. Expect more uniform announcements in the coming months.