London - These days little girls are told they can be anything they want when they grow up.

So when an airline handed out badges saying ‘Future TUI Captain’ to boys and ‘Future TUI Cabin Crew’ to girls, it caused quite a storm.

The stickers were given to children boarding a TUI Airways flight from Bristol to Cyprus as part of an ‘activity pack’.

But the gesture backfired when some passengers accused the airline of gender stereotyping. Among them was Dame Gillian Morgan, chairman of NHS Providers, the body representing hospital and ambulance trusts. She said she was ‘sure’ the stickers were deliberately sorted by gender, describing it as ‘deeply sexist’.

She said: ‘It happens implicitly all the time. The boys can have the Lego, the space rocket…and the girls can have a little pony. We desperately need more women to do science, maths and engineering but little things like this take us backwards.’ Another passenger noticed the same thing on a flight to Corfu earlier this month. She said: ‘Lovely touch giving children TUI stickers and activity sheet...not so lovely that all the boys were given “future pilot”’ and all the girls “future cabin crew”?! Sexist.’

On Wednesday TUI described it as a ‘mix up’ and insisted the stickers are ‘designed for use for any child regardless of gender’.

TUI has 870 pilots earning an average of £111 683, of whom 95 per cent are men. In contrast, nearly 80 per cent of its cabin crew, who are paid an average of £26 272, are women.