Do airlines have a dress code?

ByMichael Otieno

Do airlines have a dress code?

There was a time in the not so far history of commercial flying when an opportunity to take to the skies meant dressing up for the occasion.

Everything about taking a flight was geared towards an occasion, from the exquisite dress code observed by passengers, the flawlessly groomed crew, to the properly laid out dining experience — which was several courses, by the way.

Caviar, lobster, champagne and cigars formed part of the inflight menu, and there was proper cutlery, glassware and chinaware for onboard service.

And who wouldn’t want to dress up for such a fine dining experience?

Dubbed the “Golden Age of Flying,” there was also an unwritten minimum standard of dress, conduct and decorum for passengers.

Flyers actually queued up for photos to be taken of them before boarding the aircraft – not the selfie kind though.

 Over the years, while flying has become safer than a short drive to the mall, numerous changes have transformed the onboard experience.

Today, the airliner has been built for greater efficiency, therefore flights are longer, and more seats have been added to the cabin.

However, the traveller’s sense of grooming, personal hygiene and decorum have taken a nose dive.

The transformation can be equated to a mass-produced product. Flying has become very affordable for many; doesn’t matter whether they are rich, affluent, cultured or of high society – as long as they can pay for the seat they get to fly.

The sense of style and flair with which passengers travelled has been eroded as fashion and etiquette have been transformed since the 1960s.

Now it is almost as if there is a competition for the “worst dressed” or most “indecently dressed” passengers.

Most airlines do not have a dress code for their paying passengers.

For non-revenue passengers such as staff and their dependents, there is a strict dress code and code of conduct to be adhered to whether travelling on duty or otherwise.

Failure of non-revenue passengers to adhere to an airline’s dress code and code of conduct can lead not only to denied boarding but also a ban from travelling on the airline all together.

The dress code becomes even more pronounced where staff or their dependants travelling on non-revenue tickets expect to be seated in business or first class.

In some cases, the dress code extends to business class lounge access where they insist on smart casual wear.

The fact that there is no dress code for paying passengers is no carte blanche for travellers to breach the boundaries of decency.

Sometimes airlines will use veiled statements like, “While there is no formal dress code in any cabin, we do appreciate that appropriate clothing for travel is worn.”

Truth is most airlines will have a problem with dressing that goes against decency laws and accepted norms or is not respectful of the local customs and culture being visited.

For instance, clothing with offensive language and symbols may not be accepted for boarding if it is likely to offend other passengers.

Consequently, many airlines recommend that for all cabins passengers must be well groomed, neat, clean, and attired in good taste. If in doubt, always wear something else.

As much as it is ones prerogative to dress as they deem fit, bad body odour and smelly feet can be uncomfortable for other travellers in this era of lengthy flights.

Here’s to bringing back style and decency in flying.

This post was earlier published in The East African Magazine April 22, 2017  The evolution of style and decency in flying.

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About the Author

Michael Otieno author

Michael Otieno is Managing Partner at SADIM Airline Management Solutions, an airline management consultancy practice with a focus on African airlines and airports.

  • Sebina Muwanga

    There is no standard for “Appropriate clothing” and “neat, hygienic or well groomed”.

    A female of European or Carribean origin
    wearing knee high shorts and a body hugging blouse may offend a middle aged male traveller of Arab origin. Because of his background and cultural beliefs, the female would not be “appropriately dressed”.

    Some passengers may not be comfortable with burqa and veil wearing females for many reasons, including terrorism.

    A heavily bearded Sikh, Arab, Pakistani who does not trim his beard because of cultural beliefs might appear ” shabby and unhygienic” to other males who are not bound by custom or religion to grow a beard. The same applies to Rastafarians with dreadlocks and unkempt beards.

    Enforcing “appropriate attire or grooming” is a tricky one.

    Denying a passenger boarding due to “inappropriate attire” may amount to infringement of one’s right to religion, association and cultural beliefs enshrined in the universal declaration of the Rights of man, and several constitutions around the world.