With over half of the U.S. population now owning a tattoo, the question arises about whether pilots can have tattoos, piercings, or even beards, especially those who wish to become a pilot and are still in the dreaming, planning, or training stage. Pilots are the face of an aviation company and the responsibility they hold is significant so a professional appearance is a must for the majority of most aviation companies. So how do tattoos, piercings, or beards fit in today’s modern world of aviation?
Tattoos, piercings, or beards on pilots are at the discretion of the company when the pilot is applying for a position. Tattoos that can be hidden by clothing or makeup are generally allowed but visible tattoos can be against most airline company policies. Piercings can easily be removed when on shift.
I personally know many pilots who work in the utility sector that have full arm tattoos and have no issue, but each company is different and the type of flying and location of the flying may dictate much stricter personal appearance policies that if you are unable to comply with may lead to an unsuccessful job application.
Can Pilots Have Tattoos?
Generally, airlines do not any visible tattoos but may allow tattoos hidden by clothing. Smaller aviation companies are more lenient on their tattoo policy and if you fly utlity aircraft then tattoos are very rarely a problem. Facial and visible neck tattoos are almost always forbidden.
Most large airlines have strict policies on visible tattoos, for example: on the forearms, biceps, neck, face & hands. Any tattoos in these areas will almost always end up with a denial of a job application. This may come to light during the interview when the interviewer can see the tattoos without any need to adjust clothing.
Most airline pilots wear short sleeve shirts and the option to wear a long sleeve shirt while in uniform may be an option, but again it will be down to the airline to decide as many of them pride themselves on ALL of their pilots wearing the same uniform. Some airlines have the long sleeve option in their uniform and some do not.
If you are wanting to become a pilot and have forearm tattoos, take some time while waiting for your next flight and have a look at the pilots that are walking around the terminal with no blazers on. See which airlines allow long sleeves to be worn and take note. These may be your best option when looking to apply for a pilot position and then keep your tattoos hidden during the testing and interview process.
“Body Piercing and Tattoo Adornments Will Not Be Visible While in Uniform.”American Airlines – Aircrew Personal Appearance Policy
If you find there is no way you will be able to cover your tattoos then other options to pursue could be into the corporate jet sector, cargo, medevac, or utility sector. Many aviation companies that do not operate out of the world’s large airports will have more lenient tattoo policies.
You may not be able to secure the dream airline pilot job you had hoped for, but if your tattoos are presenting a problem, then looking into companies that are out of the limelight may provide you a pilot position.
If You Are Planning to Become an Airline Pilot – Do Not Get Any Visible Tattoos!
Are There Solutions For Pilots With Tattoos?
If you already have a lot of visible tattoos and are planning to become an airline pilot head to an aviation career fair and speak to the airline representatives BEFORE you begin flight training. They will be able to advise you on their latest company policy and if your tattoos are acceptable.
Spending tens of thousands of dollars on flight training only to then find out no one will hire you without laser removal would be heartbreaking!
If you have tattoos that are in areas that are visible when wearing a pilots uniform, there are only really three coverage options:
- Coverage Makeup
- Coverage Sleeves
- Laser Removal
Be aware though that coverage sleeves and makeup may still not be allowed by the airlines and if found at a later date you could be liable to dismissal.
For small tattoos on the wrist, forearms, or ankles a concealing product can be applied to hide the tattoo every time you are on duty and for the pilot interview. These take time to apply and experimentation with different brands will be needed to find the one which matches your skin tone the best and covers the tattoo.
You can find a good selection of well-reviewed tattoo covering makeup Here at Amazon.com
Although not as discreet as coverage makeup, sleeves can work well if you have tattoos that show through white company shirts. Dark tattoos can sometimes be seen through a shirt and the application of a coverage sleeve under the shirt may be an option. Coverage sleeves generally are not discreet enough to be worn on short sleeve shirts for example, unless you are able to find something like a latex sleeve, but then wearing it for hours on end may become uncomfortable.
You can find an example of tattoo coverage sleeves Here at Amazon.com
Laser tattoo removal is a big decision and may not be available for everyone. Your tattoos are a personal statement or may contain very sentimental value so having them removed may be out of the question. If however, that tattoo you had placed on your forearm during a drunken spring break at Cabo in your twenties is something that you could lose, then laser removal is an option.
Laser removal is not cheap, can require many sessions, and leave a scar so it is something that will need to be given some serious thought and have expert consultation with an experienced laser removal surgeon in your area. To give you some idea of the costs and process involved please see these links:
Can Pilots Have Piercings?
Most airlines will not allow facial piercings to be worn while on duty. Earrings may be worn by female pilots, but not male pilots. Piercings that leave large holes in earlobes for example will not be allowed. Pilot positions outside of the major airlines are far more lenient.
During the interview process when 50 applicants for example are being interviewed, the panel notices EVERYTHING about each applicant as it is easy to see when so many come through the process.
Small things like piercing holes are easily noticed and if this is thought to contravene the airlines’ dress and grooming policy it can be enough for the job offer to be denied.
Just like tattoos, the airlines can be very strict on their personal appearance policy but when you begin to look at smaller employers in different aviation sectors the piercing policy may be very relaxed in comparison.
Just this week I was on a wildfire with 20 other helicopters and 2 of the pilots had their ears pierced or eyebrow pierced and was sporting jewelry.
Every company is different, but if airlines are your dream, then remove your piercings and allow them to heal if you are unsure. Again, seek advice from the airline representatives at a career fair.
Can Pilots Have Beards?
Generally, most airlines do not allow beards. Mustaches are allowed. Oxygen masks need to be tight-fitting and beards were thought to prevent this, although new research has proven otherwise. Some airlines are starting to allow beards providing they are less than 1.25cm/0.5” in length and kept neat.
For decades, most airlines had banned beards because if pilots were to wear an oxygen mask during an emergency the beard was supposed to prevent the mask from making a tight seal on the pilot’s face. However, a recent study performed by the Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Collaboration with Air Canada proved that beards did not prevent the pilot from receiving enough oxygen to prevent the onset of hypoxia.
To see more on this see the SFU Press Release Here
The study recommended that pilots should be able to wear a beard no longer than 1.25 cm or 1/2” in length and be neatly trimmed. Because of this, many airlines are starting to review their facial hair policy which also helps pilots whose culture requires facial hair. I think this is a great step forward!
For pilots wishing to fly in sectors outside of the airlines, the rules on facial hair are far more relaxed and it will come down to company-specific policies as to if and how much facial hair will be allowed.
Every aviation employer has differing requirements for the personal appearance of their pilots. The airlines hold some of the tightest requirements, while some of the small utility operators have some of the most relaxed. For most pilots wishing to prepare for a career in the airlines the only way to know exactly what is acceptable and what is not is to seek out the exact policy for that employer and/or talk to one of their recruiters.
Discreet or hidden body art does not usually pose a problem but obvious markings, piercings or large beards may prevent the employer from offering you a pilot position within that company.
Once employed as a pilot, then you may be able to test the water a little more as to what is allowed and what is not. As society becomes more accepting of personal branding the airlines may begin to relax their policy over time, but for the professional look that most airlines seem to require, the clean-shaven, clean-skin look of their employees will always rule.