By Rob L. Wagner
6 March 20126
When licensed pilot and Saudi Arabian women’s rights activist Nawal Al-Hawsawi heard that Ethiopian Airlines was employing all-female flight crews on some of its routes, she thought it was time to reconsider how she chose an airline when she travelled.
“Ethiopian Airlines wasn’t even on my radar and I had not considered using them to fly,” Al-Hawsawi said. “Now the next time I travel, I will think about them. They care about me as a customer.”
Ethiopian Airlines last November joined Air Zimbabwe to employ all-female flight crews on some routes as a means to promote women’s empowerment.
Royal Brunei Airlines started using all-women crews last month on some routes.
INCREASING FOCUS ON WOMEN’S MARKET SHARE
Over the past five years the airline industry has steadily pursued the women’s market share, whether it is by bringing sensitivity to the cultural and religious beliefs in the Middle East with halal- and Muslim-friendly services or simply by offering special amenities, as airlines look for ways to promote niche offerings.
LGO International FZ, a privately held airline based in Abu Dhabi, established a program to serve only women with an all-female flight crew in an effort to tap into the Gulf region’s wealthy conservative families.
On a far more modest scale, some commercial airlines are trying out several all-female services.
According to Korean Airlines, more than 40 percent of business class travelers and 50 percent of the passengers enrolled in frequent flier programs are women. As a result, the airline expanded its Prestige Lounge at Inchon International Airport to include a dedicated area for women and a female-only lavatory onboard its aircraft.
A small number of carriers, including Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines, Virgin Australia, Brazil’s GOL and Finnair, offer ladies-only bathrooms in economy or business class.
Others, such as Oman Air, have designed first class amenities bags for women.
Whether these services will become an industry-wide phenomenon is still to be seen.
ONLY 3 PCT OF WORLD’S PILOTS ARE WOMEN
Only 4,000 of the 130,000 commercial airline pilots around the world are women and just 450 are captains that supervise flight crews, according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots. Yet an estimated 64 percent of all worldwide airline passengers are women, according to Intrepid Travel.
Rafael De Sousa, a resource recruiter for AeroProfessional, an agency in Famborough, United Kingdom, specializing in recruiting commercial pilots, said the pool of female pilot applicants is shallow. “There is a lack of interest among women to enter the field,” he said. “They perceive it as the profession that is male-dominated.”
Al-Hawsawi agreed the lack of female pilots would make it difficult for airlines to provide all-women flight crews, especially in conservative countries like Saudi Arabia. “Some Saudi women prefer male pilots, which is a cultural issue, but they have few role models to look up to.”
Sabin Muzaffar, executive editor of Ananke, a Dubai-based non-profit digital women’s magazine and a representative of the United Nations Women Global Champion for Women Economic Empowerment, said that airlines staffing all-female flight crews is a marketing tool, but still beneficial to women.
“Whatever the case may be, marketing these services is what their clients are striving for,” Muzaffar said. “It’s a genuine effort.”
Muzaffar noted that employers must establish inclusive policies if they wanted to remain in business. “Inclusion means sustainability, not catering to one section of society. We cannot ignore half the population, whether in the Middle East or the United States.”
De Sousa said if airlines would encourage girls to pursue aviation careers, it would demonstrate a commitment beyond marketing. “(All-female flight crews) is a marketing strategy to attract female passengers, but in reality airlines need to get out there and recruit young women in universities and colleges to become pilots.”
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