LONDON (Reuters) - Turkish Airlines is quashing a ban on female flight attendants wearing red lipstick and nail polish, its chief executive said on Thursday, after an outcry by secular Turks worried the country is becoming too Islamic.
The national carrier had said in a statement this month the use of red and dark pink lipstick and nail polish would impair the “visual integrity” of its staff.
But Chief Executive Temel Kotil said the order was made by over-zealous junior managers who did not consult senior bosses about the initiative.
“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.
Asked whether there was a ban, he said “no”, and confirmed female staff could wear lipstick and nail polish of any color.
“As you know, some in Turkey are a little bit keen about these issues,” said the fast-talking, U.S.-educated Kotil, who has served as chief executive since 2005. “We are a great global carrier and we know what we are doing.”
Many Turks took to Twitter to complain about the ban and 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”.
Turkey is 99 percent Muslim but the NATO member state and European Union candidate has a secular constitution.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, which traces its roots to a banned Islamic party, has relaxed the state’s control over the expression of religion, such as once-strict limits imposed on wearing the Islamic-style headscarf.
Such restrictions were aimed at reining in Islamism and improving women’s rights, but effectively prevented many devout women from studying at university or taking government jobs.
In a presentation, Kotil forecast operating revenue would rise to $9.749 billion in 2013 from $8.318 billion last year. No net income guidance was given. A decade ago in 2003, operating revenue was $1.898 billion.
The airline, which says it flies to more countries than any other carrier, aims to increase passenger numbers to 46 million this year from 39 million last.
Aviation union Hava-Is has threatened to strike this month over pay but Kotil was optimistic such action could be averted.
“We love the union, we love our employees ... and hopefully we can find a solution,” he said.
Editing by Nick Tattersall and Andrew Heavens