Air France Flight Attendants Don’t Want To Be Forced To Wear Headscarves

Filed Under: Air France

As of this month Air France is resuming 3x weekly flights between Paris and Tehran. This comes after sanctions were lifted between Iran and the US/Europe, given that international inspectors have confirmed that Iran has allegedly dismantled their nuclear program.


This new route is leading to some interesting controversy among Air France flight attendants, some of whom are unwilling to work the route. What’s the cause of the controversy?

Female Air France flight attendants will be required to wear headscarves as soon as they land in Tehran, which the union argues violates their personal liberties. Therefore they’re requesting that the flights be voluntary to work, meaning that flight attendants can’t receive any penalties if they don’t want to work this route.

To be clear, Air France is simply requiring flight attendants to follow the Iranian laws which have been in place for decades, requiring all women to cover up. The Telegraph does a good job outlining the two sides to this story.

Here’s what the union argues:

Flore Arrighi, head of the UNAC flight crews’ union, said: “It is not our role to pass judgement on the wearing of headscarves or veils in Iran. What we are denouncing is that it is being made compulsory. Stewardesses must be given the right to refuse these flights.”

She added that female staff were entitled to exercise “individual freedoms”.

The deputy head of the SNPNC flight crews’ union, Christophe Pillet, said: “Female staff do not wish to have dress regulations imposed on them, especially the obligation to wear an Air France scarf that completely covers their hair as soon as they leave the plane.”

Mr Pillet said flight crews were prepared to wear headscarves in Iran when out of uniform, but objected to being ordered to wear them as part of their uniform.

Meanwhile here’s what the airline argues:

The financially ailing French airline, which sees the resumption of Tehran flights as an “excellent” business development, pointed out that other airline staff were obliged to comply with Iranian rules. “Tolerance and respect for the customs of the countries we serve are part of the values of our company,” a spokesman said.

Air France argued that French law allows “the restriction of individual liberties” if “justified by the nature of the task to be accomplished.”

This is a real toughie, and I see merit to both sides. This kind of stuff is always a slippery slope, because sometimes it can be tough to find a balance between following local customs while also respecting the rights people are afforded in an airline’s home country.

What I do find interesting here is that the union acknowledges that Air France is simply asking them to follow local law, and that they’re fine with flight attendants being required to wear headscarves when out of uniform in Iran. What they take issue with is having to wear headscarves as part of their uniform. I’m not sure I totally get the distinction there, personally, since even their time out of uniform in Iran is still technically time where they’re “on the clock.”

That being said, I do get the argument in general. Flight attendants disagree with being marginalized and being forced to wear a headscarf, which I think is a valid point to make. But how do you reconcile that with a for profit airline which flies to markets with different cultural norms?

I guess to take the argument a bit further, should gay flight attendants be allowed to opt out of flights to countries where they lack basic rights?

I don’t know, it’s a toughie…

Bottom line

I’m curious to see how this battle between Air France management and the flight attendant union plays out. Flight attendants want to be able to opt out of these flights since they feel like their personal liberties are being violated. At the same time, Air France is arguing that conforming to other countries’ laws is part of the job. They both have valid points, in my opinion.

Who do you think is right in this headscarf disagreement — Air France or the flight attendant union?

(Tip of the hat to Mike)

  1. Why do white people think they’re so damn special that the world must cater to their whims and fancies? I’m anti-burqa/hijab but the law of the land must be respected. France is perfectly within its rights to stop women from wearing burqas in its sovereign territory, similarly Iran is perfectly within its rights to ask that women wear headscarves in its sovereign territory. If they don’t like it then they might as well axe the flight, no one asked them to fly to Tehran.

  2. I´m sure they will come to an agreement, if the headscarves are supplied by Hermès

  3. Air France is “just” showing “tolerance and respect?” To countries who show none to its own female citizens?

    This isn’t a hard one to figure out, though I can’t do that, because I don’t know Fench employment law. Either it’s legal to force workers to do something – for whatever reason – or it’s not.

    That said, it seems fairly crappy to force anyone, women in this case, to do something that continues to subvert their interests.

    Why are Muslim men so afraid of women? Being uncovered? Being allowed to drive? Being allowed to divorce without being stoned to death?

  4. Last few days there’s a lot of aviation-Muslim related for sure…

    I reckon this lucrative prospect is too pitiful to be missed. Employees should be given choice, though. If Air France can not simply get a set of female crews, maybe they would consider all-men crews 🙂

  5. Why not hire some Tehran based crew or any one who doesn’t have any problem from Islamic laws?
    They maybe specially for this flight or all flights to/from Muslim country.
    Probably requires some planning but shouldn’t be a problem.

  6. Can you imagine being forced to work in a location where you are considered a second class citizen and must cover yourself up? The headline is misleading. They aren’t fighting to keep from wearing headscarves, they are fighting to keep from being forced to work in a location that forces them to hide themselves due to their gender.

    They don’t want the right to refuse to wear the headscarf. They want the right to refuse to work the route. That is a big difference.

  7. Fire them, or Air France crew can sleep onboard the plane if they don’t want to follow the law.

  8. I’m wondering why this is a problem for the employees flying to Tehran but not the ones flying to Riyadh…though I guess in Riyadh they don’t cover up until they get on the employee bus to head to the hotel?

  9. Women cover their heads with scarves when they go into St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City or cover their shoulders when they enter a mosque or temple in India, so what’s the difference? Any female tourist in Iran has to do the same. Why should they be allowed to export their anti-scarf beliefs to another country.

    If they won’t fly the routes, hire workers that will, male or female.

  10. It’s not just the flight attendants but also the female pilots that need to cover up. It’s absolute bull**** if they expect to go to Tehran and not follow their laws. They can refuse to travel there if it is in their contract to refuse a trip on personal reasons but if not, then legally they dont have a leg to stand on. I know this sounds blunt but there’s no point trying to fluff this story up

  11. I don’t care because I don’t like air France or their staff

    Still waiting for them to blame the Americans or the Jews for this.

  12. Omg so much drama.
    1. Volunteer crew to iran
    2. Have you seen how persian women play around with their headwear its laughable in a cheeky way.
    3. Iran isnt saudi get it
    4. I wore shorts on really hot days in tehran in 2013

  13. @Donald; women are not told they have to go into St Peter’s Basilica as part of their job. All the AF employees are doing is asking for the right to refuse the route and making it voluntary. I know I would balk at being told I had to go work in a country where being gay is punishable by death. I would rather that be voluntary. So that I could refuse it if I wanted to.

  14. Female crew (or gays or anyone else) should not be forced to fly to Iran. Instead the airline should offer “hazard pay” high enough that sufficient crew is willing to volunteer.

  15. Air France – the model for union politics and ground staff strikes. It’s the law – follow it. Just as ridiculous as the law in France, which prevents people from wearing religious gear…

  16. Donald: “Any female tourist in Iran has to do the same. Why should they be allowed to export their anti-scarf beliefs to another country.”

    You can choose not to visit Iran as a tourist. As a FA, you cannot choose where your employer sends you. That is the key difference you seem to be missing.

  17. Point of order: women don’t have to cover their heads when they go into St. Peter’s in Vatican City, even the Catholics aren’t that oppressive.

  18. The flight attendants are free to violate whatever laws they wish to violate, but violating laws which have penalties attached may come with legal consequences.

    Being flight crew does not ordinarily come with having diplomatic immunity in countries being visited, even if for work.

    The airline shouldn’t require its flight attendants to wear a head scarf or even underwear during the hours when the flight crew isn’t being paid for working a flight.

  19. I like the idea mentioned here about hiring Iranian based flight crews for the flight. I do take issue with those who say fire the flight attendants who refuse to go to Iran because of this. There is such a thing as unjust laws in the world and I believe that the Union is right on this. But also agree that if a company is going to do business in a country they have to respect the laws of the land as no one is requiring them to do business there. Food for thought…would you force an Israeli or Jewish flight attendant to work the flight? I get the airlines argument but it just seems like hiring Iranian crew or French Muslim crew would be the way to go. Especially considering the rate of unemployment among them. Even thought airline won’t admit it I wonder if they would have security concerns about this. Look the reality is to all of you who say follow the law of the land just because it’s the way it is…lets take it to the extreme. Would you join the Taliban in stoning a women in Afghanistan who was raped if you were there in 1990s? Extreme example but don’t sit here and argue that simply because a law is a law it should be followed 100 percent of the time and Air France is 100 percent right to force their employees to have to go to a country and abide by that law. I have no issues with the Unions request to make it volunteer only, or the idea of hiring locals. Extra pay could help solve this thing too. Similar to how my Job compensates me when I go to lesser developed countries they could always increase pay marginally for the flight attendants on that route.

  20. Looking at this from another angle, you can no longer travel to the US under the visa waiver programme if you’ve previously travelled to Iran. It could make your holiday plans a bit more difficult by going there to work.

    Although I suppose most long haul air France employees may already have US visas as part of the job

  21. Wow, seems AF has handled this rather poorly.

    Why not tell the FA’s:

    “In Iran, the law requires that you wear a headscarf, and this applies whether or not you are in uniform. Accordingly, we are issuing you a stylish headscarf which coordinates with your uniform which you may use if you would like to comply with local law.”

    While I am familiar with headscarf requirements, I am not familiar with employer’s being responsible for employee’s compliance – the above approach would spin the isue to one where AF is assisting the FA in complying with local law rather than mandatring it themselves.

  22. Liberals will be the death of Westen values.

    Give them an inch they will take a foot. Give theme a hand they will take an arm. I suppose lessons from Hitler only apply to state actora not to a religion or ideology.

  23. Fascinating, and deeply disturbing. It is shocking, actually, how a piece of cloth, and the idea of religious “modesty”, interfaced with ‘business’ issues, can cause such cognitive dissonance.

  24. @Credit – you have always been such a troll on here. “Liberals will be the death of Westen values.” Are you serious?? What does this have anything to do with liberals?

  25. I side with the union on this one. I absolutely agree that “tolerance and respect for the customs of the countries we serve” is very important, but tolerance and respect for the customs and beliefs of their own emplyees is equally important.

  26. This can get a lot more complicated for an FA who ‘self-identifies’ him/herself as the opposite gender or declares ‘gender-neutral’ !

  27. French in general are lazy and are seeking for any excuse to do as little as possible. Nothing new here. Same old story.

    When the high speed train link between France and Germany started and the ICE and the TGV started running a sort of joint venture operation, there were loads of stupid things the SCNF staff would not do (which were part of the normal train staff tasks in German) as they would consider beyond them.
    This took months and months.

    As for the head scarf controversy, I believe Western countries have all the right to ban it and middle east countries can make it mandatory for everyone. Stupid, yes but to each their own.

  28. Air France should refuse to service Iran. Good for the flight attendants who refuse. Asking someone who is not a member of the religion to wear this symbol is about the systemic oppression of women. Dont sugar coat it. There are plenty of Iranian women who would take that scarf off if they could.

  29. What a silly thing to say. Refusing to lower yourself to accommodate 7th century standards of modesty is not laziness.

  30. @Aaron Women in Riyadh aren’t required by law to cover up, it’s more of a social thing. Many women choose not to cover up, and many do with no one objecting any of their decisions.
    I’ve almost never seen cabin crew covering up while on Saudi territory.

  31. @Donald
    Women are NOT required to wear head cover in St Peter’s. Men are required to wear shirts, women must have their shoulders covered and cannot wear shorts. Yes, these are rules imposed by the Vatican but no one is required to go inside the cathedral for their job.

    AF is wrong. I would refuse to comply with the customs of any religion while performing my job. If these “uncovered” women offend Iranian passengers, they are free to fly another airline.

    Michelle Obama did not wear head cover on a State Visit to Saudi Arabia. And as an American woman, I was glad she refused.

  32. Simple solution: Hire Islamic/Persian/Iranian staff who willingly adhere to the religious/cultural/political practices for the flight. To force liberated Western women into the black burka/niqab/hijab is kowtowing to an oppressive and diabolical ideology. Plenty of Iranian women would gladly shed their head cuff if it wasn’t for
    men there invoking a 7th century slave ideology.

  33. The union is making it sound as though it is the airline that is forcing them to wear the headscarf. It is the Iranian government. The FA’s are perfectly free to not wear it while in Iran but they may prosecuted by the Iranian police NOT Air France. Making it voluntary is a good solution but what if there are not enough volunteers (even with a salary bonus) to maintain the route frequency or even an increased frequency in the future? I don’t think there is an easy solution to this but I for now the volunteering option seems to be best at respecting freedom of choice.

    The other thing that got me thinking was if there was a muslim woman who wanted to wear her face veil on the streets of Paris, she too would face prosecution, which to me is an equally intrusive and overbearing form of legislation. France has kind of gone off the deep end when it comes to secularism in an equally dogmatic and authoritarian way, just like the countries they seem to deride.

  34. The mistake AF is making is in acting as the enforcer of this law; the very idea of using the word ‘tolerance’ in the context of a law which exists only because religious tolerance is not recognized in Iran, is obscene.

    It is one thing to warn employees of the consequences they might face for x or y in a foreign country for not submitting to local decrees, but quite another for the employer to do that country’s dirty work for it.

    “Yes, we know wearing a yellow star on your sleeve if you are Jewish is offensive, but that’s the law in the 1930s Germany we serve, and so all AF Jewish employees will be served with a stylish yellow star to wear when working routes to Germany.”

  35. Oh look, a bunch of men navel gazing in the comments section of a blog about a concept that is totally theoretical to them- being oppressed because of your gender to the point of where it’s possible to be executed if you don’t meet some standard of modesty that can vary depending on how badly the local authorities want to punish you on their own misogynisitc whim.

  36. I’m fine with the muslims forcing their women to wear to headgear in public in their own country.
    I just won’t go to those places ever.
    By the same token, these muslims should be forced to remove their headgear in Western countries.
    Especially in France.
    If muslims don’t like it, don’t come here.
    When in Rome……

  37. Wearing a scarf isn’t going to kill you. Suck it up and do your job – which is to do your job.

  38. AF is not the first European airline to fly to Teheran, so what are LH or OS doing in these cases?

  39. Laicité (“French secularism”) is one of the most important pillars of the country. So I understand why Air France staff is against wearing the headscarf.ïcité

    It aims at preventing discrimination due to religion. If everyone in France wears jeans/tshirt, then you cannot discriminate as all citizens look alike.
    It is not much different than the policy in the US that resumes/CVs do not mention age/sex.

    When you see the latest news of the Muslim family kicked out of a United plane, it is a blatant discrimination but if they had not display any religious sign, a big mess would have been avoided.

  40. In all fairness Iran Air flight attendants ( if females are allowed to work ) should remove their scarves upon arrival in France so that the French are not frightened out of their wits..

  41. France has already lost their country, and now Belgium. I am with the female FA’s as Hollande said about French values and French culture being important to France.

    And a lot of Arab men need to behold the speck in their eyes. If a woman’s elbow is enticing/sexual to them then they need to examine their own heart and mind and change their sinful thoughts.
    Women are not to blame for Arab/and some Persian men’s lustful behavior. It’s like children’s behavior. They did this so this evil that happened is a result of someone else’s behavior !

  42. I doubt that this would be a popular route for FAs ( although Tehran is a charming city). I can’t imagine how AF believes it is going to make it profitable: additional costs associated with 3X weekly, limited government and business travel ( at least for now).
    I thought they are going through a process of rationalising routes rather than speculatively adding more.
    It will be interesting to see the outcome: this Union can be scary; it was only a year ago when they cornered some execs meeting to discuss possible layoffs and ripped the shirts of their backs, literally.

  43. Volatile issue, isn’t it? It all boils down to a question of tolerance. Unfortunately, most people (as a number of the comments here demonstrate) believe that they are the victims of the other person’s intolerance. This is particularly true when people go beyond carrying their faith in the hearts and practicing their religion in their homes and “places of worship”. Iran is an example of this sicking intolerance. The observation, “It’s the law.”, proves my point. It is a law that promotes intolerance based on one’s religious beliefs. Did not Kuwait Airlines do the same recently? How about the recent discriminate against a women passenger on El Al? Respect and tolerance are a two-way street.

    The problem can be described very clearly (although it is a paradox): In the name of “tolerance”, you accept the promotion and presence of intolerance. So, stop abetting the zealots who persecute those who do not agree with them.

  44. I think if you work for an airline, your airline decides where to go. Where it does go, you follow the local laws. If you have a problem with this, you should get out of that line of work.

  45. If Air France is going to do business in Iran, one would naturally expect Air France to follow Iranian law. I would think a relatively easy solution to the issue would be to either staff the route with all male crews, staff the route with male crews and female voluteers, or perhaps use local Tehran crews on the route.

    If I make the assumption that Air France is not the only western airline to fly to Tehran, how are other airlines handling the situation?

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