Monday, July 15, 2024
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Watership Up with British Airways


Last year British Airways relaxed the rules around its strict uniform policy and went gender-neutral to allow male pilots and crew to wear make-up and carry handbags. Under the leadership of boss Sean Doyle, it has now unveiled a redesign of its 20-year-old uniforms to make them more appealing to non-binary staff.

RONNIE had just settled down with a glass of rosé and a tofu salad. Pickles the cat was stretched out on the rug. Strauss Junior’s Tales from the Vienna Woods played softly in the background. All was peaceful.

Ronnie was content. She had recently returned home from her first foray as a British Airways flight attendant in her new uniform. As a self-styled, semi-official ‘Pride Champion’, Ronnie (born Ronald Trimble) could now wear a dress and blouse.

The return trip to Prague had not been without its moments. She had got some disapproving looks from a Mormon couple, but a Church of England vicar had told her how splendid she looked, and the banter with an inebriated stag party from Luton never quite became something she could classify as hate crime.

Ronnie was especially pleased because for the past five years she had been developing BA’s new gender-neutral uniforms with designer Ozwald Boateng. In the words of the airline, they had developed the collection with ‘painstaking care’. 

Ronnie and Ozwald shadowed a number of airport roles to understand how the uniform needed to perform for each job and ensure a ‘modern British, stylish look’ with high-quality, resilient fabrics.

More than 1,500 crew across the airline took part in 50 events to help ensure the garments’ suitability, from design workshops to prototype feedback and garment trials. British Airways says that these workshops have helped to ‘create an iconic collection that will stand the test of time’.

Ronnie was on her third glass of wine when the phone rang. It was her supervisor, Brian. He was agitated. ‘Ronnie, we need you. There has been a sudden outbreak of long Covid and we are desperate.’

Ronnie had been hoping to take her couple of days’ break browsing the charity shops of Kensington for desirable cast-offs, but duty called and she relished the thought of another chance to show off the creation she had helped to design.

‘OK, Brian, where to?’

‘It’s long haul to Riyadh I’m afraid. Pick up at 6.30.’

Ronnie’s heart sank. She had rarely done long haul and the tropical heat always irritated her. What should she wear? How would the Saudi authorities react to her new appearance? As a ‘Pride Champion’ she could hardly lose face. She had already binned her trousers, shirt and tie, but the prospect of spending time in an Arabian jail was not at all desirable.

She poured another glass. For a moment she lost herself in the music. Woods, trees, deer, birds, rabbits . . . ‘Yes, rabbits!’ she exclaimed. ‘Rabbits!’

Ronnie remembered that the uniform design team included people called Furries who self-identified as animals. One of her colleagues, Abigail, was particularly keen on bunnies and was well known for sitting at the back of the plane gnawing on a carrot during her breaks.

Fortunately, Abigail had just landed at Terminal Five and Ronnie discovered with great relief that she was happy to lend her new BA rabbit uniform, to be collected from BA Reception, who would clean it overnight.

Ronnie was relieved. She had always liked animals, so dressing as a rabbit for the Riyadh trip was not a total cop-out. She just hoped the whiskers would not clash with her moustache.

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John Ellwood
John Ellwood
John is the father of four beautiful girls. He is, thankfully, not knowingly related to Tobias Ellwood. ‘My Dear Friends . . . ’ a compilation of many of John’s contributions to TCW Defending Freedom is available in paperback and on Kindle.

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