The CEO of Turkish Airlines on May 9 dismissed the latest hullabaloo at the flag carrier, insisting that the company has not banned its flight attendants from wearing red lipstick and nail polish.
Turkish Airlines appears to have backed down for a second time this year as the flag carrier continues to play a frontline role in the growing battle between the country's secular tradition and the strong Islamic bent of the ruling AKP, as well as the government's urge to tap into religious sentiment as it looks to build a role as a regional leader. The national airlines' role in connecting Turkey with the region and the western world makes the company - 49% state-owned - a symbolic battleground.
The implementation of an alcohol ban on internal flights and those headed to strict Muslim states has caused consternation, although Turkish Airlines says that domestic flights are too short to make serving drinks necessary. However, a highly conservative prototype design for cabin crew uniforms that was leaked on the internet early this year appears to have been ditched.
In a story picked up by media around the globe, the national carrier said in a statement on May 1 that the use of red and dark pink lipstick and nail polish would impair the "visual integrity" of its staff. Better late than never, on May 9 CEO Temel Kotil said at a press conference that the order was made by over-zealous junior managers who did not consult senior officials.
"As to the lipstick, we had no problems, but somehow low-level managers put together a paper without asking us and that paper leaked to the media and became a big issue," Kotil told reporters in London, according to Reuters. Asked whether there was a ban, he said "no", and confirmed female staff could wear lipstick and nail polish of any colour.
"As you know, some in Turkey are a little bit keen about these issues," the US-educated CEO continued. "We are a great global carrier and we know what we are doing."
Protests over the ban were expressed on social media, with Turkish women posting photos of themselves wearing bright lipstick. Meanwhile, the president of the airline's Hava-Is union, Atilay Aycin, called it a bid by the management "to shape the company to fit its own political and ideological stance".
Certainly, the government appears to have the company's back. The airline is currently facing a standoff with the union, which has threatened imminent strikes over pay. While Kotil offered platitudes - "We love the union, we love our employees... and hopefully we can find a solution" - Ankara said recently that it would ban any industrial action at the flag carrier under legislation designating it a strategic company.
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