ISTANBUL—New cabin crew uniforms have become the latest ignition for Turkey’s ever-smouldering debate on religious conservatism in politics.
State-owned Turkish Airlines (THY) was accused of leaning toward conservatism after photos of new sample uniforms were leaked on Twitter. The airline strenuously denies the accusations, saying the photos were of a rejected design.
The leaked images of the cabin crew uniforms led the public, fashion designers, and journalists to voice heavy criticism of the airline and of world famous designer Dilek Hanif for what they saw as conservative and uncomfortable designs.
Turkish Airlines would like to try something unique that includes both modern and ethnic patterns to better reflect airline’s brand image.
—Dilek Hanif, fashion designer
One photo that showed a stewardess with Ottoman-style long caftans, fez (felt hat), and thick socks was leaked on Twitter by another designer, raising an immediate response on social media.
“Turkish Airlines would like to try something unique that includes both modern and ethnic patterns to better reflect the airline’s brand image” said designer Hanif in an interview with The Epoch Times.
“There is a very big misunderstanding. The selecting committee wanted to see the patterns and longer skirts as an option. After seeing it, they agreed that it was not suitable and eliminated it right away. It is unfortunate that picture was leaked on Twitter.” Hanif stresses that she has not received any kind of pressure from government or airline’s management to design conservative dresses.
Some think that Turkish Airlines, 49 percent owned by the government, has been influenced by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)—a centrist Islamic party.
“AKP during its ten-year rule has been consciously imposing this kind of change. This is a product of AKP mindset implementing changes step by step that attract public reaction” said Vice President of Republican People’s Party (CHP) Umut Oran.
Turkish Airlines, Best European Airline award winner, made a public statement confirming that the selection of the uniforms had not been finalized. The company said there are many options, and immediately released new photos showing other uniform designs.
But rumors regarding an alcohol ban on some Turkish Airlines’ flights have kept them in the melee of the debate on religious conservatism.
Rumors started with a tweet by a Turkish singer Demet Akalin on Feb. 9 saying, “Turkish Airlines flight from Adana had no alcohol service! It has been lifted in some domestic flights, FYI! Tourists in the front seat rebelled.”
On the same day, Hurriyet columnist Vahap Munyar wrote that there was no alcohol service in a flight to Kayseri and when asked cabin crew blamed the service company for neglecting to upload alcohol.
Rising criticisms prompted Turkish Airlines to release a public statement on Feb. 13 to clarify the new alcohol policy. The company has confirmed that alcohol is only served in business class on domestic flights. Business passengers in 5 out of 16 domestic routes are served alcohol, with the alcohol service removed from the other 11 due to lack of demand, says the airline. In addition, Turkish Airlines has removed alcohol service on flights to 8 countries (out of 98). The company has cited requests from the countries themselves as the cause behind its policy.
But the clarifications by Turkish Airlines have not helped to soothe reactions.
It was noted o a person’s microblog that the Turkish Airlines is at the forefront of a religious war against alcohol use in Turkey.
Vice president of Republican People’s Party, Umut Oran claimed, “Emirates and Qatar Airlines still serve alcohol on flights to those countries,” and has sent a parliamentary question to Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek on Turkish Airlines’ new alcohol policy. Oran has asked whether the airlines has received direct instructions from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“The decision we have taken has nothing to do with politics. My duty is to manage Turkish Airlines in [the] most effective and profitable way. We make decisions based on purely economic considerations,” said Hamdi Topcu chairman of Turkish Airlines in an interview with Radikal newspaper.
Columnist Ertugrul Ozkok blamed Turkish Airlines for separating the country and wrote, “Do you mean those who fly to the western cities of this country are ‘profanes,’ and those flying to the rest are clean believers? …You have transformed Turkey into such a faith federation.”
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