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Behind The Design

The Flight Side
Writer
Zurien Onn
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A look at how a flight attendant’s uniform represents the tradition and culture of an airlines’ home country.

The saying goes: “Getting there is half the fun,” and sometimes flying on the national carrier of your destination is like an introduction to the country. From the moment you check in, to when you board the plane and throughout the journey, friendly flight attendants are on hand to make your trip pleasant and comfortable. You will also most probably notice their uniforms, with some being more memorable than others with its unique designs based on the country’s identity and culture. Here, we share some of the best flight attendant uniforms that are reflective of the origin country of these national carriers.

Malaysia Airlines, Malaysia
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(Photo : FB @malaysiaairlines)
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(L-R) Malaysia Airlines uniform from 1972, 1978, 1986 and 1991. (Photo : Malaysia Airlines/Twitter)

The female flight attendants of Malaysia Airlines have always donned batik-print uniforms, starting from when Malaysian Airline System (MAS) was incorporated in 1972. Batik is a form of textile art created through the wax-resist dyeing technique, popular in Malaysia and Indonesia. In incorporating batik into MAS’s uniform, the batik drawings take on the shape of traditional floral motifs derived from Malaysian flowers such as the jasmine, cempaka flower and leaves of the hibiscus. Meanwhile, the lapels of the top, which is modelled after the nyonya kebaya - another Malaysian heritage - as well as the hems of the sleeves and maxi skirt, are adorned with a geometric motif influenced by tribal motifs from Sarawak, the West Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. The uniform was given a slight update in 1991 with different coloured floral motifs, but the essence is still the same as the company currently flies under the name Malaysia Airlines (also known as MAB).

Air New Zealand, New Zealand
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(Photo : FB @AirNewZealand)

New Zealanders are very proud of their Maori heritage, as can be seen in the female flight attendant uniforms for Air New Zealand. Created by designer Trelise Cooper, the uniforms feature tribal motifs inspired by the airline’s logo, which in turn is inspired by the Maori koru, a spiral motif based on the unfurling of a new fern - a plant that is synonymous with New Zealand and their sporting pride, Rugby World Cup champs, the All Blacks rugby team. Against the bright pink colour that surprised many when the uniforms were unveiled in 2010, the black koru motifs really pop and showcase the New Zealand icon splendidly.

Hainan Airlines, China
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(Photo : www.hainanairlines.com)

The beauty of China’s brocade is showcased wonderfully in the flight attendant uniform of Hainan Airlines. The “Rosy Clouds” uniform for female flight attendants is based on the traditional Chinese cheongsam, but altered to be more practical for onboard duty. Designed by haute couturier Laurence Xu, a printed version of his renowned “Gold Cloud Brocade” makes up the main pattern on the dresses, symbolically representing traditionally auspicious elements in the Chinese culture such as clouds and ocean waves.

Air India, India
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(Photo : FB @AirIndiaExpressOfficial)

It doesn’t get any more cultural than Air India’s saree uniform worn by their female flight attendants. The uniform is simply the traditional saree made of 100% silk in a resplendent yellow, orange and red colourway that brightens up the aisle of any aircraft. Other than the saree version, female attendants may also wear the kurti version - a long Indian blouse worn over slim pants, as well as a Western-style blouse and pants combo. Meanwhile, although the male flight attendants wear more conventional Western suits, it’s interesting to note that in following tradition, the male staff are allowed to have their uniforms stitched by the tailors of their choice.

Sri Lankan Airlines, Sri Lanka
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(Photo : FB @flysrilankan)

One glance at the Sri Lankan Airlines female flight attendant uniform, and you can guess that the peacock must play an important part in Sri Lankan culture. Said to be the sacred bird of the god Kataragama, the peacock is native to Sri Lanka and India, so it’s a geographical representation as well. The bright blue uniform is shaped like the country’s national costume, called an osariya, and is adorned with a peacock feather pattern.

Thai Airways, Thailand
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(Photo : FB @ThaiAirways)

You might never see flight attendants wearing the iconic Thai Airways traditional dress uniform strolling through any airport as they have a separate uniform to be worn out of the airplanes. Their female flight attendants will only change into the wellknown Thai Silk traditional top and skirt with sash - adorned with a Thai orchid pin - just before greeting passengers on the plane. As passengers board the plane, the smiling flight attendants in lively coloured silk provide a great introduction to the heritage and hospitality of the “Land of a Thousand Smiles.”

Fiji Airways, Fiji
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(Photo : FB @fijiairways)

Fiji Airways underwent a complete rebranding in 2013, and this included its uniform. The current iteration is modelled after the traditional Fijian attire of the Sulu Jaba for the ladies and the Bula shirts for men. The print is based on traditional masi (traditional barkcloth) motifs created by Fijian artists Makereta Matemosi, categorised into three types - the Qalitoka pattern represents unity and cooperation of its people; the Tama denotes friendy service; while the Droe hints at Fiji’s blue skies and cool breeze. For anyone visiting Fiji for the first time, their flight attendant uniform certainly gives a sneak peek into the nation’s culture and traditions.

 

A country’s national carrier is usually an extension of the image of the nation, thus it’s no wonder that a lot of thought is given into designing an airline’s flight attendant uniform. Evidently, it’s not just “fashion”, but can be an integral part of the identity of a country, its culture and its people.

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