Why Are Pilots Almost Always Clean Shaven?

by SharonKurheg

Most of us don’t get the opportunity to see the cockpit of a plane anymore. Many of us don’t ever really see the pilot of their plane (although they usually hear them on the loudspeaker at least once). But if you did see them, you’d notice an interesting phenomenon…most of them are clean-shaven.

a man in the cockpit of an airplane

PC: Maarten Visser / flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Seriously…if you use your search engine of choice and search for the keywords AIRLINE PILOT, you’ll see a bunch of men (and women. Yay!) who are nearly all, if not entirely all, cleanshaven. No beards. Only the occasional moustache.


It all has to do with safety.

If there’s an emergency situation and a pilot needs to use an oxygen mask to maintain breathing a proper amount of oxygen, a beard can prevent an oxygen mask from fitting snugly.

What does the FAA say?

The FAA doesn’t have a rule about facial hair. However, this “unwritten rule” came about in 1987,  after the FAA released the results of a study they had done. According to the study, “the data indicated beards adversely affect the efficiency of continuous flow oxygen masks.”They continued:

The leakage of ambient air caused by beards does not permit an adequate percentage of oxygen to be presented to the lower portion of the respirator tract. The proper functioning of the continuous flow mask relies on having the greatest concentration of oxygen presented at the beginning of inspiration (taking a breath or inhaling) with dilution of oxygen permitted during the latter phase of inspiration. The concentration of oxygen and the inspiration phase during which it is inhaled are more critical factors than the total oxygen received. Bearded passengers might expect some deficit in
oxygenation following a decompression that could lead to varying degrees of hypoxia (physiological conditions that result when the body does not receive enough oxygen). If the mask is properly donned and usual emergency descent procedures can be followed, the deficit in oxygenation might not be severe enough to be life-threatening, but could cause loss of

Besides that, according to IFL Science, another study in the 1987 review found that there was anywhere between 16% to 67% leakage out of oxygen masks for those who had beards, determining that there was enough leakage to cause a lack of oxygen flow to the lungs.

Well, that sounds potentially scary!

What do the airlines say?

Although the FAA recommends a lack of facial hair, it’s not a hard and fast rule. Each airline has its own interpretation of it, which appears to be based on a mixture of their interpretation of the FAA’s recommendation and their own wishes for a clean, professional look. I couldn’t find the rules for all of the major US-based airlines, but I did find most of them:

  • Allegiant Air allows trimmed moustaches, goatees and beards.
  • American Airlines has a ban on “pilots with facial hair” while they’re “on active duty,” for safety reasons.
  • Delta Air Lines allows small moustaches that end at the corner of the lips.
  • Hawaiian Airlines allows full, trimmed beards.
  • According to a pilot’s forum discussion in Sept. 2023, JetBlue USED to allow “neatly trimmed beards and goatees” for a few years. However the pilots took advantage and started to look way too scruffy, so JetBlue went back to requiring a cleanshaven look.
  • Southwest Airlines doesn’t allow their pilots to have mustaches that extend below the lip line or that cover more than 50% of the upper lip. No beards allowed.
  • United Airlines allows neatly trimmed moustaches and goatees that are no longer than a half-inch.

What about other countries?

It depends on the country…and the airline.

  • Air Canada allows their pilots to have beards as long as they are shorter than 1.25 centimeters.
  • British Airways says, “If worn, beards must be short, well-trimmed and their style compatible with the design of oxygen mask on the aircraft for which the crew member is qualified.”
  • As a general rule of thumb, airlines that are based in Muslim countries have less stringent rules about facial hair.

Feature Photo (cropped): John Christian Fjellestad / flickr / CC BY-2.0

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