l'Airbus A318 F-GUGE
l'Airbus A318 F-GUGE Wikipedia/Philippe Noret

Air France will allow female flight attendants to fly to Iran’s capital, Tehran, on a voluntary basis after facing significant union backlash at its decision to make wearing headscarves and loose clothing mandatory during arrival in the Middle Eastern country.

The airline had initially sent a notice to staff stating that female attendants flying the Paris to Iran route, which will commence on April 17, would have to dress in accordance with Iranian law upon landing.

This includes being required to wear trousers during the flight, as opposed to skirts, and wearing a loose fitting jacket and a headscarf or hijab covering their hair when exiting the aircraft.

Air France also asked its female flight crew to refrain from smoking in public. Male attendants were not given the same advisory when it came to them flying the same journey.

The Paris-Iran route had been on hiatus since 2008 due to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but flights are resuming after the signing of the Iran Nuclear Deal last year.

Following the airline's note, unions began receiving phone calls from staff who were concerned about wearing coverings and the penalties that could result from a refusal to abide by the new rules.

One union, the Syndicat National du Personnel Navigant Commercial (SNPNC), called the rules an “attack on freedom of conscience and individual freedoms, and invasion of privacy", Mashable reported.

This prompted the airline to fight back against the union’s requests, saying the headscarf requirement was “not new” -- it is already in place for flights to Saudi Arabia -- and that the hijab did not have to be worn onboard.

“This obligation does not apply during the flight and is respected by all international airlines serving the Republic of Iran," Air France had said in a statement on Monday.

However, it seems Air France eventually caved to the demands of staff and unions, on Tuesday agreeing that staff could refuse to travel to Tehran without incurring any penalties.

"Any woman assigned to the Paris-Tehran flight who for reasons of personal choice would refuse to wear the headscarf upon leaving the plane will be reassigned to another destination, and thus will not be obliged to do this flight," human resources official Gilles Gateau told the ABC.

France bans the wearing of face-covering headgear, such as masks and other veils in public places, whether by a Muslim or non-Muslim. The ban applies to full body coverings, such as the burqa. However, in Iran, all women are required by law to wear a hijab.

Australia’s national carrier, Qantas airlines, at present does not fly to areas such as Saudi Arabia, Iran or other middle Eastern countries where a requirement for female hair to be covered is in place. A spokesperson from QANTAS told IBT Australia that while there are services to Dubai, the city was “cosmopolitan” with regards to its dress regulation.

A spokeswoman for British Airways also told the Sydney Morning Herald that flights would resume from Heathrow to Iran in July. Recommendations to crew will be made closer to the date.