All of us in the airline industry have our “nonrev” (non-revenue standby passenger) outfit.
Mine is a denim dress with black flats and a cardigan. It’s comfortable, loose, presentable and exceeds nearly every airline’s criteria for acceptable attire as a guest of their airline representing my own. Many carriers no longer require nonrevs to wear business casual attire and now permit sneakers and jeans, but I still feel most comfortable dressing up a little more than that, just in case. It’s very comfy and presentable.
When most people choose jobs in the airline industry, a huge draw for them is the flight benefits. Most airlines worldwide allow their employees free standby travel on their own airline, and nearly free travel on many others. As if that isn’t enticing enough, the benefits are usually extended to spouses, parents and children, with buddy passes also offered for anyone else the employee would like to offer them to. These perks are about as wonderful as getting keys to the world. I still feel like I stole something whenever my name is called by the agent to claim my free seat.
In return, our employers make very clear what they would like from us and others to whom we extend our privileges. They take great pains to spell these simple requirements out: We are to not abuse the benefits we are given by selling passes or fraudulently adding dependents, we do not cause a fuss if there is not a seat for us and, lastly, we have to observe the dress code. It doesn’t seem a lot to ask, especially now that the requirements have been eased to the point where a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers are permissible. My dependents have never had a problem with it, and neither have I. Nor have I ever heard complaints from others in the industry.
The United fiasco sparked national outrage in which many – even well-known celebrities – involved themselves without understanding the facts. It was later learned that the leggings-clad teens were not paying passengers but nonrevs, who are held to this dress code. In fact, it is now believed that the young girl and her family were actually paying passengers who’d overheard and misunderstood the agent’s conversation with the other young women, having their daughter change into a dress believing that the nonrev dress code also applied to them. People who are entirely unfamiliar with the rules in place within the airline industry worldwide have been taking this issue up as if we were an oppressed people dying to be freed from a tyrannical regime. It is confusing and frustrating. We can all only speculate as to what happened, but the people in question seem like they were merely dressed too frumpy, not suggestively.
For those that also think the rules are probably gender-biased, I must disagree as well. I have seen as many men as women be spoken to about dress or appearance if the dress code isn’t met, which is very infrequent. No gender or group is singled out and it has never been an issue before this. In fact, almost all of my colleagues support a dress code – even for their own children. It’s anything but strict. Would it kill people to look presentable?
Most of us believe in dressing nicely in the workplace – and for flying in general – and we want our dependents to do the same. I send all my friends a giant caveat email prior to flying on my benefits. I make sure they understand what is expected of them so that there are no surprises, and they always comply and have never felt put out by it. Instead, they are grateful to be a guest on my airline. When people don’t follow these very basic rules, they can be denied boarding. If a nonrev makes a lot of trouble, the employee can lose flight privileges or even be terminated.
Here in full is the list of prohibited clothing for United employees and their dependents:
– any attire that reveals a midriff
– attire that reveals any kind of undergarments
– attire that is designated as sleepwear, underwear or swim attire
– mini skirts
– shorts that are more than three inches above the knee when in a standing position
– form-fitting lycra/spandex tops, pants or dresses
– attire that has offensive and/or derogatory terminology or graphics
– attire that is excessively dirty or has holes/tears
– any attire that is provocative, inappropriately revealing or see-through
– bare feet
– beach type rubber flip-flops
These rules are very similar to the rules laid out at my airline at at most others. These are likely the same rules (and probably even less strict ones) that are in effect at your own workplace.
In short, it’s situations like these and the fiasco at Madrid Airport last summer or the Jetblue passengers stuck in Salt Lake City that makes many of us loath to share our travel benefits. In this case, other than the passengers showing up not meeting United’s criteria, they caused no problems with the agents. The tweets that caused the uproar were from someone not involved or even on the same flight. But social media is a powerful tool – powerful enough to write headlines on topics that don’t deserve them. Most of us see this matter as incendiary as Cathy from accounting attending a meeting in sweatpants. But the consequences for trouble caused while on travel benefits is very high – this can absolutely cost the employee related to the leggings-clad teens his or her flight privileges or even job. Airlines may even decide that the PR nightmares brought on by employee travel gone awry are no longer worth it and end free travel for good.
So to those trying to defend us and our families from the horrors of dressing neatly: Thanks, but no thanks. The airline industry isn’t on your side on this one.