How to Dress for a Flight: In Defense of Looking Good in an Age of Leggings

By Jonathan Spira on 27 March 2017
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The recent headlines concerning two passengers who were not allowed to fly because they were wearing leggings has given rise to a discussion of what passengers should wear when flying as well as what is expressly forbidden by airlines or proscribed by common decency.

Long gone are the days when dressing in more formal attire for a flight was customary and when dressing up could land a passenger an upgrade. At this point that’s just a memory, as upgrades today are based on a flyer’s elite status with the airline.

The recent controversy that arose after a United Airlines gate agent refused to board two non-revenue (i.e. employee) travelers whose attire (the aforementioned leggings) did not conform to the dress code for what the airline calls “pass riding” brought the topic of dressing up or dressing down for a flight into the spotlight.

When I was a youngster, I wore the five-year-old version of a suit when flying, my father was in business attire, as was my mother. In fact, almost the entire plane looked like it was outfitted to attend Yom Kippur or Easter Sunday services.

Today, one sees a cavalcade of poorly fitted athletic attire, shorts that are too short, jeans that are too tight, and, if you go by the reality show about Southwest Airlines, “On the Fly,” clothing that has not seen the inside of a washing machine or dry cleaners for several decades.

Still, airlines do maintain minimum standards. While wearing a suit or blazer on a trip is not mandatory, it will not only save room in one’s bag and perhaps even earn a modicum of respect from the cabin crew, who tend to appreciate the effort that passengers put into looking just as good as they do.

American Airlines says its passengers may not be “clothed in a manner that would cause discomfort or offense to other passengers” and may not be barefoot.

Delta, too, does not welcome barefoot travelers nor does it want passengers with a “malodorous condition” but its conditions of carriage are silent on attire.

Both JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines bar people above the age of five from being barefoot (Southwest exempts those where it is “required due to a disability”) and (using the exact same language) ban passengers whose clothing is “lewd, obscene, or patently offensive.”

According to a United Airlines post on Twitter, the airline’s Contract of Carriage allows airline staff to refuse service to passengers “who are barefoot or not properly clothed.” Such decisions are typically at the discretion of the gate agent.

Click here to continue to Page 2Employee Dress Codes and Leggings-Gate

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