Virgin Atlantic said the new guidelines would give staff ‘more choice on how they want to express themselves’.

Airline says crew can work without makeup but must follow chosen palette if they do

Virgin Atlantic has told female cabin crew they will no longer have to wear makeup in the air.

The airline will also provide female crew with trousers as part of their standard uniform, rather than only providing them on request.

Virgin said it was a “significant change” in an industry where female crew are often expected to spend considerable effort on their appearance, adding to the costs and unpaid labour for low-paid employees.

Although low-cost carriers, such as easyJet and Ryanair, have relatively relaxed rules on crew presentation, most full-service international airlines prescribe what makeup must be bought and worn.

Virgin said cabin crew could now work without makeup, but were welcome to follow the palette of lipstick and foundation set out in its guidelines.

Mark Anderson, the airline’s executive vice-president of customer, said it had been “listening to the views of our people” and the new guidelines would “provide our team with more choice on how they want to express themselves at work”.

The airline has not always been regarded as a champion of gender equality, although its founder, Sir Richard Branson, once wore crew attire and makeupin the air to settle a bet.

The move is the latest apparent reorientation among aviation’s less obviously progressive airlines. Last week, Akbar Al Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, which used to fire pregnant cabin crew, launched the International Air Transport Association diversity and inclusion awards to encourage more women into the industry.

Baker, who has previously derided cabin crew on rival airlines as “grandmothers” and last year said only a man could do his job, said Qatar would sponsor awards for outstanding women as it “recognises the need for wider diversity in the workplace, not just in our airline but across the industry as a whole”.

British Airways, which was recently revealed to have maternity pay policies that resulted in a 90% pay cut for pilots despite recording profits of more than £2bn in 2018, requires female crew to wear makeup, but in 2016 dropped its rule that women could not wear trousers.

According to uniform guidelines from 2015, all BA female crew are expected, as a minimum, to wear lipstick and blusher, to “groom and maintain” their eyebrows and conceal “obvious blemishes … wherever possible”.