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Top Asian Airlines Flight Attendant Uniforms: Glamorous or Functional?

Born and raised in Malaysia, Mazlan is proud of his Malaysian and Asian heritage. He likes to write about its culture and current issues.

Top Asian Airlines Flight Attendant Uniforms

Top Asian Airlines Flight Attendant Uniforms

Flight Attendant Outfits

Have you noticed when airline crews walk through the airport terminal building almost everyone stops and stares at them? You wonder why they never fail to catch our attention. Is it because of the color-coordinated uniforms; their hats, scarves, and shoes; or their perfect hair and make-up?

Asian airline crews are no different. They stand out from other airlines because their flight attendant uniforms retain certain elements of traditional Asian dress. This represents Asian ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity. But there are also other Asian airlines that opted for modern design. Irrespective of the choices, the uniforms must comply with occupational health and safety requirements and the varied climates in which they fly.

Let's take a look at some of the more successful Asian airline flight attendant uniforms. Do they measure up to the above requirements, is it functional, will it be a timeless design or is it just a glamorous design?

Note: Listed in this article are Asian airlines that either won the Best Airline in the World award or rated in Skytrax's Top 10 Best Airlines in the World list. I have excluded other Asian airlines that are not on that list.

Update 2021: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, border closures, and travel restrictions, Skytrax canceled the 2020 World Airline Awards. For 2019, Skytrax's Top 10 Best Airlines in the World were Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, ANA All Nippon Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, Emirates, EVA Air, Hainan Airlines, Qantas Airways, Lufthansa, and Thai Airways. Hence, some of the airlines listed below are no longer in the top 10 list. However, AirAsia still retains its title as #1 World’s Best Low-Cost Airlines for 2019.

What Is Skytrax?

Skytrax is a UK-based consultancy that does research for commercial airlines and conducts an annual review and ranking for the best airport, airline, airline lounge, cabin crew, etc.

Its annual World Airline Awards is one of the most esteemed accolades in the aviation industry. It is conducted over a 10-month period covering more than 200 airlines from all over the world.

Air Asia flight attendants in their striking red colored uniforms

Air Asia flight attendants in their striking red colored uniforms

Air Asia Flight Attendant's Uniform

Air Asia, Malaysia's low-cost airline, had won Skytrax World Airline Award for "Best Low-Cost Airline in the World" for nine consecutive years. They strive to be different and have succeeded in many ways.

Being different includes having a modern design for the flight attendant's uniform in bright red, which is also their corporate color.

There are, however, detractors who think the design is 'too sexy' and does not reflect the country's national identity. Air Asia opted to go beyond the traditional design as they felt this design option had universal features. It will represent them better as they expand beyond the shores of their country.

Whether it is a traditional or modern design what is important is the functionality and practicality when it comes to an emergency. Will it hinder the flight attendants from doing their job at that critical hour?

Sir Richard Branson Dresses as Air Asia Flight Attendant After Losing Bet

Air Asia’s Cabin Crew With HPE Clothing

Besides being functional, comfort is also important. Air Asia worked with HPE (High-Performance Engineering) Clothing Company to create a special edition of high-performance uniforms for their cabin crew. HPE clothing is known for its cutting-edge fabric technology that helps the flight attendant overcome the physical demand and stress while flying. The uniform is designed to control body temperature, regulate blood flow, and diminish muscular fatigue. This allows the cabin crew to look elegant and stylish.

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Air Asia also opted for the "dress down" look for the weekend. If you travel on Saturday and Sunday, you will see Air Asia cabin crews in their casual wear of jeans or short-sleeve blouse.

Many people agreed that Air Asia had opted for a good design and a good choice of clothing material; both of which are practical and glamorous. What do you think?

Singapore Airline Flight Attendants in their figure hugging Sarong Kebaya

Singapore Airline Flight Attendants in their figure hugging Sarong Kebaya

Singapore Airlines Uniform

Singapore Airlines or SIA is another Asian airline that won several awards and has had marketing success with their iconic "Singapore Girl" tagline.

Clad in the figure-hugging sarong kebaya uniform, the Singapore Girl advertising campaign was often labeled as sexist. Sexist or otherwise, it worked and became an industry icon.

SIA's flight attendant uniforms were designed by the celebrated Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain. It was based on the traditional sarong kebaya, a traditional dress worn in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Burma, Southern Thailand, and the Southern Philippines.

There are four different colors for different rankings - the signature blue for flight stewardess, green for leading stewardess, red for chief stewardess and purple for flight supervisor.

Sarong kebaya is, without a doubt, one of our classic and sexy figure-hugging, traditional dresses. Pierre Balmain made it even sexier by choosing a low-cut, round neckline.

The uniform is made of batik motif material, and there have been few changes to the uniform design since its introduction in 1968.

The outfit is elegant and classic, yet functional and has remained timeless. In times of emergency, the skirt can be lifted up to waist level and tied together, for easier mobility.

SIA has been in the Skytrax Top 10 world's best airline for several years. For 2013 world's best cabin staff award, it came in fifth. However, they won the "Nicest Flight Attendant Uniform (2013)". In 2017, it came second under 'The World's Top Airline' category.

Malaysian Airline Flight Attendants in their Sarong Kebaya uniforms

Malaysian Airline Flight Attendants in their Sarong Kebaya uniforms

Malaysia Airlines Uniform

Malaysia Airlines or MAS, another winner and nominee for the Skytrax "World's Best Airline Award," also opted for the traditional sarong kebaya as their flight attendant's uniform. There is no alteration to this traditional design, unlike Singapore Airlines's uniform, except for the shortened sleeve, which is now almost three-quarter length.

The first set of MAS sarong kebaya designs was by Malaysian designer Andy Chiew. Then in 1986, MAS introduced a new range designed by Malaysia MARA Institute of Technology School of Fashion and Design.

The current design was introduced in 1991 with a slight variation to MARA's original design.

Although it is high time for MAS to re-launch a new set of uniforms and to re-brand its image, I doubt they will, especially in their current dire financial status.

MAS came in second for Skytrax's "Nicest Flight Attendant Uniform" in 2013. In the "World's Best Cabin Staff (2013)" category, Malaysia Airlines came third.

After the two air disasters, MAS suffers in terms of branding and is still in recovery mode. Currently, it is not listed on Skytrax.

Cathay Pacific Airways new outfit for its male and female flight attendants

Cathay Pacific Airways new outfit for its male and female flight attendants

Cathay Pacific Airways Uniform

British-owned, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways is probably one of the few Asian airlines that often launches new uniforms for its entire front-line staff, from the cabin crew right through to the cargo teams. In the last 60 years of its operation, they have done this nine times.

The current design, which is the tenth for Cathay Pacific, is by local designer Eddie Lau. In coming out with the new design, the team interviewed about a hundred of its frequent flyer members and 1,000 uniformed staff members.

The new uniform is a fresh interpretation of elegance and uniqueness. However, some had labeled the extreme-cut collars to be more suited for a Star Trek uniform!

This new uniform is indeed practical and functional for the cabin crew as it uses a new fabric with a mechanical stretch for better mobility.

In terms of aesthetic, the public did not seem to embrace it that well. This is reflected in Skytrax's 2013 "Nicest Flight Attendant Uniform" results, which Cathay Pacific took ninth place. Not too bad as this is ninth place in the world, with hundreds of airlines vying for this accolade!

Cathay did a lot better in the "Best Cabin Staff" category, as they won the award for "World's Best Cabin Staff" in 2013. In 2017, it came fifth under the Skytrax "Top Ten Airline' category.

UPDATE: March, 31st 2018: Cathay Pacific finally ends the 70-year-long skirts-only rule for female flight staff.

After a long intense union pressure, Cathay Pacific finally agreed to allow their female flight attendants to choose either to wear skirt or trousers. But this can only happen after the airline refreshes its staff uniforms, which may take at least three years. A typical example of management bowing to the union pressure but giving conditions.

Staff complained that the short skirts were too revealing and feel uncomfortable especially when stowing bags in the overhead compartment. Taking public transport to and from work can also be a hassle and may provoke sexual harassment.

What say you?

Asiana Airline male and female flight attendants

Asiana Airline male and female flight attendants

Asiana Airlines Uniform

Asiana Airlines flight attendant uniforms look more suited for a military plane rather than civilian plane and has been in the news for the wrong reasons.

The "skirts-only" dress code has been an issue for a long time, and only recently, the flight attendants were given the okay to either wear skirts or pants. This happened only after several appeals to the management, and after the union filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission.

Despite the change in dress code, many had yet to opt for the pants option fearing a negative evaluation on their internal performance record!

Wow, this sounds bad and is almost akin to management by fear and intimidation.

Skirts or pants, both will work well in the current uniform design, which is more functional and has no hints of glamor at all.

As would be expected, Asiana Airline's uniform was not in the top 10 "Nicest Uniforms (2013)"!

In the category of "Best Cabin Staff in the World," Asiana was 2013's runner-up, an impressive achievement. For 2017, it is ranked 20th in the Skytrax's Top 100 Airlines.

Thai Airways International Uniform

As part of the company policy, Thai Airways International flight attendants are required to wear their corporate purple outfit (above) for use outside the plane and are required to change into the traditional Thai dress (click on the thumbnail to see photo) prior to passengers boarding the plane. If the flight attendant is not a Thai national she will not be allowed to wear the traditional Thai uniform.

This in-flight uniform change procedure may sound strange to you but that is their corporate policy. So, is Thai Airways International trying to embrace both the traditional and modern design for their flight attendant's uniforms?

For this evaluation, the uniform worn during flight will be assessed as it is during a flight that one can determine if the outfit is functional and practical.

I have not flown on Thai Airways International for several years but based on feedback from my colleagues, their views on the uniforms were:

  • It is graceful and elegant.
  • It is timeless.
  • It does not matter if it is practical during an emergency or not, as the flight attendants look stunning!

By the way, these are feedbacks from my male colleagues.

When it comes to service quality, Thai Airways came in tenth for "World's Best Cabin Staff (2013)" and fourth for "Nicest Flight Attendant Uniform." In 2017, it bagged the 11th placing for the Top 100 Airlines.

Garuda Indonesia Flight Attendants in their Sarong Kebaya Uniform

Garuda Indonesia Flight Attendants in their Sarong Kebaya Uniform

Garuda Indonesia Uniform

Garuda Indonesia decided to go back to the sarong kebaya design for their flight attendants after almost six years since it suspended the earlier version in 2004.

The sarong kebaya design is not only popular with major airlines (such as Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines), but also with smaller airlines. Malindo Air being the latest to do this in 2013.

Garuda first introduced its kebaya design in 1989. In 2000, it redesigned and launched a new version that was simpler and without the kain panjang that was placed across the shoulder.

The current version was launched in 2010 and was designed by the well-known Indonesian designer Josephine Werratie Komara (also known as Obin). She opted to go for the plain colored top and batik motive material for the strong, with a large brooch pinned in the middle where the two lapels meet.

The uniform's three main colors follow the airline corporate colors - tosca green, orange and blue.

She also chose a polyester-cotton material that is easy to maintain and is fire-resistant.

This form-fitting kebaya has won praises and won sixth place in the "Nicest Flight Attendant Uniform (2013)" category. The airline came in seventh in "World's Best Cabin Staff (2013)." In 2017, Garuda won Skytrax's best cabin crew award.

ANA All Nippon Airways Uniform

To coincide with the airline's 60th anniversary, ANA All Nippon Airways introduced the new flight attendant new uniform on April 24th, 2014.

Designed by Prabal Gurung, a Nepalese-American fashion designer, the new uniform is not just for the cabin crews but also for the ground staff. The design is simple and clean with the minimalist look that reflects ANA's corporate culture.

This is the 10th generation of ANA uniforms and the first by a foreign designer. The earlier designs were the works of the Japanese international designer Atsuro Tayama.

The new uniform is a mishmash of a light gray jacket worn over a light blue or pink blouse and charcoal skirt. Different colored scarves and aprons featuring Japanese flower patterns differentiate the flight attendants according to their seniority.

The earlier design (see above thumbnail photo) came in 10th for "Nicest Flight Attendant Uniform (2013)."

However, performance wise, ANA's flight attendant came out the top, as it was placed sixth in "World's Best Cabin Staff (2013)."

ANA, which started its operation in 1958, is the largest airline in Japan. In 2017, it came in 3rd under the Top Ten Airlines award and 2nd for World's Best Cabin Staff award.

Your Vote on the Best Flight Attendant Uniform

Skytrax's Winner for "Nicest Flight Attendant Uniform"

Based on a customer poll carried out on Skytrax's Facebook page, the winner of 2013's nicest uniform goes to Singapore Airlines. Second place went to Malaysia Airline. The full results were as follows:

  1. Singapore Airline
  2. Malaysia Airlines
  3. Qatar Airlines
  4. Thai Airline
  5. Emirates
  6. Garuda Indonesia
  7. Korean Air
  8. Lufthansa
  9. Cathay Pacific Airways
  10. ANA All Nippon Airways

Do you agree with the results? What is your choice?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Mazlan A


Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on July 31, 2014:

Hi ALIA. These are all very personal and our likes and dislikes will vary. Each of these uniforms has their own merits and reflects on the corporate cultures of the airlines. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

ALIA on July 29, 2014:

Sorry but imo Thai Airways International's outfit was just ugly o.o

I think Garuda Indonesia's kebaya was the best looking out of the three :)

Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on May 07, 2014:

Tony Kemp, looking on the brighter side of things, prices of most goods in the USA are still cheaper! Thanks for dropping by and comment

Tony Kemp on May 06, 2014:

Everything in the U.S sux... including airlines, food, hotels...everything

Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on March 01, 2014:

Hard to say as Baju Kebaya is traditional dress worn both in Indonesia and Malaysia. Malaysia Airline had baju kebaya for their flight attendant's uniform since it first started flying, whereas Garuda Indonesia airline doesn't.

Poor Malay on February 28, 2014:

I think Malaysia is not good, because it mimics the Indonesian kebaya outfit

Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on December 01, 2013:

teaches12345, you are not the only one, many agreed that SIA's uniform is the nicest

tirelesstraveler, I hate to say this, but you are right

MG Singh, you are right, sex appeal is one of the factor interviewers looked for during the interview. It works in Asia, not sure it is acceptable in countries such as the USA!

Thank you all for dropping by and commenting

Dianna Mendez on November 29, 2013:

I don't know which is the most pleasing but they are all so beautiful. I love the Singapore uniforms as they look very comfortable yet fashionable.

Judy Specht from California on November 29, 2013:

These uniform are lovely. American airlines don't compare at all.

MG Singh from UAE on November 29, 2013:

Another aspect of the dress is sex appeal. The dresses are so selected that the girls look sexy for travelers. No wonder mostly slim and good looking girls are selected. Girls without sex appeal will lead to lower volumes of traffic. Nice post

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