Nico made me aware of the new airline Aero K from South Korea. At its launch, this low cost carrier present gender neutral uniforms for its employees. It also collaborates with LAKA, a gender neutral make-up brand.
Aero K calls its uniforms genderless, 젠더리스 in Korean. The uniforms are also designed to be practical and comfortable.
“Moving away from tight-fitting uniforms typical of other airlines, Aero K’s uniforms for the flight crew, cabin crew, and mechanic team, are meant to be inclusive of everyone regardless of gender or age. In an interview, CEO Mike Kang mentioned that he intends to change several staff guidelines so that his employees can feel more comfortable and true to themselves. This includes allowing tattoos, dyed hair, and spectacles, which are usually not allowed by other airlines”, The Smart Local reports.
Korean pop and youth culture is very open-minded on the subject of expression, fashion, cuteness, crazy hair colours, make-up for men etcetera. I remember my airbnb host in Seoul having a Winnie The Pooh cover on the steering wheel of his car. That was back in 2014.
We tend to link this to being gay. That’s not ‘a given’ in Korea. Was he gay though? I don’t know. We didn’t come out to each other. I was very aware Korean society is conservative and religious. Youngsters are expected to excel at school so they can mary well, have children and care for their aging parents.
That’s heteronormativity for you. So under this layer of free expression, nudity in jjimjilbang (bathhouses), there is a major layer of expectations to fit in and do as prescribed.
So more than the gender neutral outfits, allowing tattoos, dyed hair and glasses is quite ground-breaking. So teaming up wit a gender-neutral make-up brand rhymes well with that idea. Make-up for young men is not unusual in South Korea. Actively marketing it towards all genders, lowers the threshold to cross.
Korean media report airlines such as Korean Air and Asiana remain reluctant to hire crew above the age of 30. An insider compared the recruitment process to a beauty contest. Some candidates turn to plastic surgery to adhere to the strict norms and expectations.
“First of all, they have to be physically perfect… over 60 kg is kind of overweight, but rarely some people get hired even if they weigh more than that because they are tall”, Pablo Lee from the Airline News Center is quoted in The Korean Herald. Harsh.
“Aero K’s practical uniforms are made with consideration and respect to better perform a variety of duties across age and gender. After all, all of these concerns are aimed at fulfilling the most important mission of passenger safety. Discover Aero K’s special uniforms modeled after real mechanics, flight attendants and cabin crew members”, the company says on social media.
The translation was done by Google Translate. Sorry.
As with every story on gender expression freedom, the news received mixed responses. But it did get our attention.
“We wanted to create more of a genderless uniform that shows we are not discriminating. There are the safety aspects of it as well. Normally, female cabin crew would wear skirts. In reality, that doesn’t really help with safety”, CEO Kang is quoted in The Korean Herald.
“A lot of the feedback has been positive. And I also see it as maybe the way that Korea is changing and becoming more open to these things.”
Change to corporate culture
It’s not just the uniforms that Kang wants to change, however. He also wants to offer an alternative to the current corporate culture in Korea’s aviation industry, which he says needs reforming.
Kang cited past cases of power abuses at traditional airlines as well as the rigid seniority culture that may hamper swift actions for safety.
“Culture is important also for safety. And I think in this industry, you talk about crew resource management, which is the culture between the cockpit and cabin crews and how people communicate.”
In Europe, low-cost airlines have another image regarding respect for the employees. Now less in the news because of COVID-19, but the daddy airline of low-cost in Europe, Ryanair, has image of bad employee conditions.
Aero K focusses on domestic flights in Korea, flying from home base Cheonju to Jeju. It also wants to fly to Japan, China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
More (or less) on this subject
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- Gay Taipei with misterb&b.
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- To be or not to be out and proud LGBTQ when travelling?.
Sources: The Smart Local, Paddle Your Own Kanoo, The Korea Herald
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