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The Emperor’s New Clothes: Dress Codes and Airlines Meet in the Middle

One of the biggest controversies of 2017 involved dress codes for flyers. Both passengers and flight attendants alike made headlines for their approach to getting dressed up to fly. But with recent changes to corporate codes, what once was a concern of airlines and flyers may be little more than an afterthought.

At last, we can put one of 2017’s most bizarre stories behind us.

I’m not talking about United’s dragging of a passenger off an aircraft or even the numerous bad passengers that made us late for our final destinations. Instead, one topic that captivated flyers was dress codes for flights. When is it appropriate to dress up – or dress down – for a flight?

The debate on dress code came to a head in March 2017, when United was chided by both celebrities and flyers after two passengers were denied boarding over wearing leggings. At the time, the airline claimed a clause in their Contract of Carriage which allowed them to refuse passengers who don’t meet acceptable dress standards.

It was later revealed the flyers were non-revenue passengers, flying as guests of a United employee. Thus, the airline claimed they were in the right because the passengers were “not in compliance with [the] dress code policy for company benefit travel,” and employee benefit flyers “are representing UA [sic] when they fly.” Never mind the fact that the girls in question were teenagers, who could in no way be confused with actual United employees.

Although some FlyerTalkers empathized with the teens, others took United’s side for not allowing them to fly. Many noted that flying on an employee benefit ticket meant following strict rules, including following a dress code that exceeded those of regular passengers. On the other hand, many also agreed that United’s response on social media was equally bad.

“The key mistake from UA’s messaging is that the legalistic brush-off came before it was known, at least via UA twitter, that these were non-revenue employee pass travelers,” flyerguy99 wrote in the forums.

“It’s obviously not these two teenagers’ fault that they chose to wear yoga pants on a particular day — that’s a totally normal thing to do,” Flyertalker mherdeg notes in the forums. “But the person who arranged their pass travel should have told them ‘by the way, in order to be allowed to fly NRSA, you’ll need to meet a few criteria. One of them is this dress-code requirement. I suggest you always bring a dress-code compliant set of clothing when flying NRSA.’”

Passengers aren’t the only ones who had difficulties with dress codes last year. American Airlines faced their own dress code revolt from pilots and flight attendants over uniforms. For over a year, employees claimed their uniforms – made by Twin Hill – were causing allergic reactions and other health problems, going so far as to demand a full recall of uniforms. By June 2017, the airline agreed to cut ties with Twin Hill over the uniforms, before selecting Lands’ End as their new provider.

FlyerTalkers were sympathetic to flight attendants, with some calling for testing to get to the root of the allergens. Others noted complaints from front-line staff about the quality of uniforms and their effects on morale.

“Was behind an FA and a pilot at TSA in TPA recently,” deeruck wrote in the forums. “The pilot was noting that he’s been buying his own uniform shirts because the AA supplied one wore out and lost buttons very quickly. It sounded like the FA had experienced a number of the health issues.”

In 2017, we learned that dress codes are very complex topics that change from airline to airline. In turn, we also learned that, by erring on the conservative side and speaking up when something is, in fact, wrong, these situations can be addressed and ultimately changed. With flyer education and American changing uniform providers, perhaps 2018 will be the year we experience less excitement over clothing choices.

Unless flyers make the choice to overdress. Which, based on the context, may end poorly for the flyer.

Comments are Closed.
KRSW February 20, 2018

I've flown non-rev on many airlines over the years and it was always understood that you were a guest, not entitled to anything, and that you also were representing the company. Business attire / business casual has always been the standard, and I have no problem with this. It seems quite reasonable to me, and I'm flying for practically nothing, so sure. If the "cost" to fly in this particular fare code is dressing up, then that's what I'll do.