Air France Staff Win The Right To Opt Out Of Iran Flights

Filed Under: Air France

Yesterday morning I wrote about Air France restarting flights between Paris and Tehran this month, and the trouble it was causing with their unions. In Iran women are required to wear headscarves, so Air France staff were told they’d have to cover up as soon as they deplaned in Tehran

Air France’s union took issue with this, and requested that the route be staffed voluntarily, in the sense that female flight attendants and pilots could opt to not work the route. They said they weren’t passing judgment on Iran’s policies, but rather that forcing staff to work these flights restricted their individual liberties.

Meanwhile Air France’s management argued that French law allows for the restriction of individual liberties if it’s justified by the nature of the task to be accomplished, which they argued was the case here. That reminded me a bit of the lawsuit a while back from a Muslim flight attendants who didn’t want to serve alcohol.

Well, it seems like Air France management and the unions have come to a quick agreement. Or more precisely, Air France management has given into the union’s demands. Per Reuters, Air France’s Paris to Tehran flight will be voluntarily staffed, meaning female crews can opt out of operating the service:

Air France said it would allow female cabin crew and pilots to opt out of flying routes to Tehran after some staff said they did not want to be forced to cover their hair when in Iran.

Air France, part of the Franco-Dutch group Air France-KLM, is preparing to restart flights to Tehran from April 17 after an eight-year hiatus due to sanctions.

After a meeting between Air France management and unions on Monday, the French carrier said it would offer female staff the choice of opting out of the flights.

I’m curious to see if other airlines’ unions now raise similar concerns and follow in Air France’s footsteps. The Reuters article quotes spokespeople from British Airways and Lufthansa regarding their policies:

A spokeswoman for British Airways, part of International Consolidated Airlines Group, which is planning to restart flights to Iran from Heathrow on July 14, said it would make recommendations to its crew nearer the time.

Germany’s Lufthansa, which continued to fly to Tehran throughout the sanctions, said it had not experienced any problems and that crew followed the rules to cover up when in public spaces.

Nicoley Baublies, head of Lufthansa’s main cabin crew union, said some crew members had raised concerns, but not to the extent seen at Air France.


Bottom line

Personally I’d love to visit Iran, though I realize the perception from many is that it isn’t safe. I’m curious to see how many Air France employees end up opting out of this Tehran flight, either because of the requirement to cover up, or more likely because they simply don’t want to fly to Iran.

While women will have the ability to opt out if they so choose, male staff (a significant number of which are openly gay), will be forced to work these flights instead. Of course this is all a slippery slope, but…

Do you think Air France made the right decision here, and do you think other airlines will follow?

(Tip of the hat to View from the Wing)

  1. I had the exact same thought about male flight attendants and the outward assumption/appearance that the preponderance are gay. Will male, gay flight attendants be allowed to opt out of flying to countries where their mere existence is essentially illegal and punishable by imprisonment or worse? Seems like THAT is a much bigger social issue than head covering and scarves. Then again, there are a lot of gay flight attendants working for UAE-based airlines where the illegality persists as well, so you win some, you lose some?

  2. Since its a new route, i think this is the right decision. However all FA’s hired after today should not be given that option as they know it is a possibility.

  3. Since 1789 (storming of the Bastille) Marianne, the female allegory of Liberty, has been used by the French state to symbolize, well, liberty. While Marianne has in her various incarnations been portrayed garbed in helmet and cap, never has she been depicted wearing a niqab, hijab, burka, burkini or such frock alien to the freedoms and sensibilities of the French woman. The current official Gouvernement de France Tricolour logo includes Marianne’s profile with an expression of boldness, independence avec free flowing hair. Vive la Republique Francaise pour Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite! I don’t see the words ‘slavery’ and ‘oppression’ included. Hope you enjoy your flight.

  4. @Adam-
    I worked at one of the UAE carriers in management. a GOOD portion of management was gay (like me!!) as well as a large majority of the cabin crew. Hell, when they recruited me to come to the company, another colleague of mine from my US carrier was also recruited, and they got a job for his partner there too. Gay is NOT an issue in the UAE, as long as you don’t start a pride parade. It’s probably one of the gayer places I’ve ever lived. My brother, who lived in San Francisco at the time, came and visited. He too is gay, and the lunches/ brunches and general nightlife we had in the UAE he said were “gayer and more fun” than he had in SF. There is a difference between the laws on the books and in practice. It’s not a big deal and it was a VERY fun play to live – I miss it.

  5. @Jason but more so @Adam…agree with you on UAE but there is a difference between Iran and UAE…a huge difference.

  6. @Charles – yes, Iran is different,but plenty of gay friends of mine went there to visit (Australians mostly) and had no problems and loved the country. As long as you stay low key and don’t assume you’ll have the same experience as you would in Australia, Europe or the US you’ll be fine and be wowed by what has been described as an amazing hospitable place. It’s not like people are sitting there at the airport ready to pounce on gay people and throw them in jail. I also knew cabin crew who flew flights there all the time and had no problem. Courtesy and respect go a long way.
    Besides, Air france flew to Tehran within the last 10 years and Lufthansa has flown there the whole time. These regulations are nothing new. The veil is the law of the land when you’re there. it’s not a big deal.

  7. I think Air France management didn’t think the fight was worth the hassle. I have a feeling it’ll be mostly male crews who will be going to IKA from CDG. I’m no expert but doesn’t Saudi Arabia have similar laws? I know AF flies to Riyadh but wonder whether the female crew have to wear the hijab once in the city.
    I also wonder whether AF will hire some crew who are based in IKA who will mainly fly the IKA-CDG route.

  8. @Joey
    In Saudi Arabia, women MUST be veiled completely at all times. Full Abaya. Iran is slightly more relaxed and women definitely tend to phone it in a lot more. In Iran women can wear their normal clothes, just put on a head scarf. In Saudi, women must wear the full on Abaya.
    In UAE no such restrictions exist.

  9. “I’m curious to see if other airlines’ unions now raise similar concerns and follow in Air France’s footsteps”

    I’m curious how they (Air France and others) deal with their employees who fly to Saudi Arabia.


    You seem to have the veil and abaya mixed up. Iran isn’t that much more relaxed; the abaya and hijab are still mandatory. You just see some women in larger cities like Tehran challenging that by wearing bulkier “normal clothing”, i.e, a loose fitting jacket or tunic top that still hits at the knee or below, and they still cover their hair, if not with the hijab, then just a loosely wrapped scarf around the head.

    In Saudi Arabia, it varies from city to city and depends on the nationality of the woman.

    Saudi women, mostly, wear the abaya, hijab, and veil, though you do find women in more liberal (liberal by Saudi standards) larger cities like Jeddah and Dammam who just wear the abaya and hijab, and skip the veil. Especially among educated and Western leaning Saudi women.

    For foreign women, it also depends where and who you are. In Riyadh, all women need to wear the abaya and hijab, regardless of nationality or religion. In other places, like the aforementioned Jeddah and Damma, but even in medium sized cities like Jubail and Yanbu, many Western women don’t wear the hijab and don’t need to, they just wear the abaya. Many non-Muslim women from Asian and Middle East in those cities as well just wear the abaya also. And even many Muslim women won’t wear the veil, just the hijab and abaya. And much like in Iran, there are women in Saudi who are challenging the established “black only” abaya rule by wearing neutral colors such as grey and beige. A small minority for sure, but you do see it these days when 5 years ago, you wouldn’t.

  10. AF isnt forcing women to wear a headscarves, the laws in Iran are. The staff are free to make their own decisions on wearing one when they land in Tehran and deal with the consequences of breaking the law on their own too. If AF bows down to this demand then where does it end? Will AF staff refuse to fly to any country where the laws are different from France?

  11. What was that Lucky that you said at the end? You like to drop the soap? hahahahahahaha Also, by the way, you are such a dumb f a g g o t. You sound like a npr ‘news’ story, where it is so obvious, and everyone is just being childish. You obviously don’t know s h i t about France and French people.

  12. I think iran is safe to visit. Obviously things are a bit more tense if you are gay, but unless you actively drawing attention to that fact i doubt they are going to care. I can certainly under the hesitation, but that is more the government than the people themselves from my understanding.

  13. Trup…if that sounds fair to you..then you are a total a s s. I sure as hell hope you don’t live in the USA. There should be a line up of all these minority p of s, and they should be shot in a giant firing squad.

  14. In todays news Muslim students Switzerland were exempt from shaking hands with female teachers because it was unislamic.

    You (aka liberals ) keep on bending backwards while they are uncompromising and unyielding.

  15. Iran is not going to care if a few FAs decline to work the route. They are only interested in normalising ties.
    The biggest issue with personal safety would be the chance of an earthquake. There is little reason to be fearful of anything else.
    The most unpleasant consequence of my visits there, and with Lybian and Syrian entry stamps as well, was the close questioning on arrival in the USA about what, why, who etc. But I had anticipated that and the questioning didn’t seem unreasonable under the circumstances.

  16. Long gone are the days when Air France flight attendants used to suntan by the pool of the Intercontinental Hotel in Tehran, sipping Iranian wine. Post-revolutionary Iran is definitely a much less liberal place (especially in terms of personal freedoms), but it’s not as terrible as some of the comments above and in previous posts have made out to be.

    Why? I’m Iranian myself, and while I don’t necessarily agree with the current situation in Iran, there is something that non-Iranians will not understand: Iranian hospitality. The concept of the ‘guest’, especially those from overseas deems a foreigner as someone who should be protected and more respected. Yes, foreign women are required to cover their hair and dress ‘modestly’, but failure to do so will result in a request to cover, rather than a beating or jailing, as some of you probably imagine.

    Present day Iran has neither the revolutionary zeal that led to the US embassy hostage taking, nor has the stomach to be isolated in the world any longer. Most Iranians are fully aware that nations such as the UAE and Qatar which they deemed as regional backwaters prior to the 1979 revolution have now surpassed Iran economically. Think about it: Iran Air itself is not only older than Emirates, Etihad or Qatar Airways, but actually older than the UAE and Qatar! This is not an easy pill to swallow for Iranians, and they are ready to engage the world once again.

    In addition, most Iranians are not Arabs, so Iran is not an Arab nation where ‘abayas’, ‘niqabs’, etc. are mandated by law. I’d go so far as to say that if you go to Tehran (where Air France will fly into and not some conservative provincial airport), and dress in an abaya, you’d be mistaken for an Arab visitor from the southern shores of the Persian Gulf.

    As for gay people: As long as they don’t announce their sexual orientation, or show affection in public, no one will say anything – Iranian politeness prevents that.

    In the end, I think until the negative image of Iran is changed, Air France was right to allow their flight attendants to opt out of flying into Iran. However, I think the time is ripe to visit Iran now: To help the ordinary people engage with the world, rather than isolate them, which is exactly what the hardliners in (and out of) the country want.

    @Lucky et al: Do visit Iran. You will all be pleasantly surprised.

  17. Who cares if the make staff are gay? It makes no difference here – they’re not planning on having sex on the streets are they?! If they start refusing flights too, soon, gays won’t be hired as they would need people willing to fly to Tehran, Dubai etc.

  18. Ironically, my only direct encounter with a gay male was in Isfahan, where a stranger (Iranian) asked me if I were gay, would I be interested in hanging out more with him…

  19. Let’s just face it that the bottom line of the employers is the profit and pleasing their board and share holders. No employee is indispensable – the company will still survive. And if they dont get the airline based country citizens to do the job, they will look into the povery ridden developing and third world and hire there and likely pay these people less than is the minimum wage. Good for the union for standing up for their members. And if a gay man from a poor resourced nation gets tortured or put to death for their sexuality…no doubt it wont even make news in the west since life is cheap when one is poor

  20. @Joey

    AF is already overstaffed with around 300 or 400 equivalent full time cabin crew every month.
    AF has not recruited for almost 10 years now. And probably have no additional needs for the next 10 years.
    I will be surprised a IKA base crew is created.
    But who knows?

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