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On an airplane, every inch counts.
The second-largest U.S. carrier is debuting new uniforms, including "passport plum" dresses and "groundspeed graphite" vests for flight attendants and more than a dozen other pieces for 64,000 employees around the world on Tuesday.
Detail of new Delta flight attendant uniform. (Source: Delta Air Lines)
So what doesn't go with the new Zac Posen uniforms, the airline's first redesign for "above wing" employees — flight attendants, lounge attendants, and ticketing and gate agents — since 2006? Four-inch heels.
The airline is shaving an inch off the maximum heel height for the footwear of its more than 22,000 flight attendants from four inches to three inches, a Delta spokesperson said.
The decision was based on feedback from employees and advice from a podiatrist, the spokesperson added. Delta said it collected 30,000 surveys from employees about the uniforms themselves.
The minimum heel height for Delta flight attendants remains a half an inch, for when they are making their way to their aircraft, but they can change into flat shoes, including ballet flats, on board, where workdays are physical and long, from pushing heavy food-and-beverage carts through the aisle to helping passengers find coveted overhead bin space for their overstuffed carry-on bags.
Delta flight attendants can also wear boots with pants, and opt for different footwear altogether with a doctor's note. Sales of high heels have slumped broadly, recent retail data show, amid concerns of the physical impact of these shoes as consumers consumers shift toward more comfortable apparel and footwear.
Men have similar requirements, and shoes must be solid, smooth black leather. No hiking boots, or ornaments, such as metallic embellishments.
Delta uniforms from the late 1960s. (Source: Delta Air Lines)
United Airlines requires separate heels of at least an inch but no more than three inches, or flats with pants only. In-flight shoes must have a heel of at least one-quarter of an inch, according to the Association of Flight Attendants, the labor union representing United's flight attendants. On Alaska Airlines, flight attendants' heels can also be no higher than three inches, and flats are acceptable once the cabin door is closed, the airline said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Alaska Airlines' maximum heel height is four inches. It is three inches. It also referred to the color of Delta's uniforms as "passport purple" instead of "passport plum" and the labor union representing United's flight attendants is the Association of Flight Attendants, not the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.