Regularly, airlines can and do tell passengers what they can wear
If you’ve flown enough, you’ve seen it: passengers at the airport, impatiently waiting for their flight at the gate in an outfit you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing, saying to another passenger who remarked about their clothing, “I can dress any way I please and there’s nothing anyone can do about it!”
Ah, but there is, and commercial airlines impose their will on passengers’ clothing choices every day.
Like it or not, when you purchase an airline ticket, you agree to abide by the airline’s contract of carriage. It controls every aspect of your flight. In it, airlines typically include a generic statement about passengers’ clothing.
American Airlines requires passengers to, “Dress appropriately; bare feet or offensive clothing aren’t allowed.” Southwest Airlines states they don’t permit “lewd, obscene, or patently offensive” clothing. The descriptions are purposely vague.
Regularly, airlines can and do tell passengers that if they don’t change clothes or cover up, they won’t be permitted to board their flight. That passenger who believes the airlines can do nothing about their clothing with the obscene cartoon will quickly learn that the wrong clothing can stop their trip before it starts.
The Southwest Airlines’ “fashion police” reputation is well earned, but don’t think they’re alone among U.S. or other airlines across the globe. They aren’t. Micro-skirts, revealing shirts and clothing with political messages, obscene cartoons or poor language, more often than not, result in an airline ultimatum to change clothes, cover it up or be denied boarding.
Recently, an American Airlines flight attendant required a female African American physician, traveling with her eight-year-old son, to cover up her romper outfit for her flight to Miami, even though most passengers would consider her outfit perfectly acceptable. Eventually, American Airlines apologized and refunded her ticket cost, but she still had to cover up to board her flight.
When I was a kid flying on commercial aircraft, men and teenage boys wore jackets and ties. Women wore dresses and heels. We don’t have to dress up like they did in the ’50s anymore, but we don’t have to dress down as if we’re going to the gym. Dressing neatly and smartly may even help you get a seat upgrade.
When choosing clothes to wear for your flight, you must take the airline’s rules into account, but you should be concerned about more than the fashion police. The wrong clothing can cause you to receive mediocre service and put your health and safety at risk.
Wearing pants? Make sure your pants won’t drop if you have to remove your belt, if any, at airport security.
Clothing that’s overly loose can be a problem at airport security if agents think you’re using it to hide prohibited items. I’ve seen more than a few women with loose, flowing skirts get an enhanced patdown because TSA (Transportation Security Administration) agents were concerned about hidden objects in their clothing.
When flying, avoid restrictive clothing, including skinny jeans, particularly on long flights. They can exacerbate DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis). If your jeans leave a mark on your skin, they’re too tight. Consider wearing compression socks on long flights. Research shows they can significantly reduce the risk of DVT by promoting blood circulation, helping to prevent leg swelling.
Wear layers. I’ve been in planes that are too warm or too cold during a single flight. I always have a jacket with me and typically a travel vest with plenty of pockets. I can adjust my clothing to stay comfortable regardless of the cabin’s temperature. The vest helps me through airport security by letting me safely stow change, my cellphone and other belongings in the vest’s zippered pockets put in a bin. In the plane, it lets me keep personal items handy during the flight.
While rare, emergency evacuations from planes occur more often than most air travelers realize. While your clothes shouldn’t be too tight, they shouldn’t be too loose either. Your clothing shouldn’t have big flowing cloth hanging away from your body. In an evacuation, that can get caught on debris, slowing you and those behind you down.
Don’t wear flip-flops, sandals or high heels. In an emergency, they won’t protect you from cabin debris and high heels will make it hard to move around. Wear comfortable flat shoes. It’s best if they can be easily removed and put on again at airport security, to make it easier for you there.
I recommend long pants, shirts and blouses. Buy ones made from natural fibers or blends. In case of fire, they’re safer than 100 percent synthetics. Synthetic fabrics can burn and fuse with burned skin. Personal experience leads me to strongly suggest that you shouldn’t wear shorts or dresses when flying. Long pants will protect you from “chute burn” in an evacuation. Take it from me, “chute burn” can be painful for days.
I suggest some empathy for your fellow cabin mates when you fly. Don’t drench yourself in cologne or perfume. Take care of your personal hygiene prior to flying. Wear freshly laundered clothing. Don’t forget deodorant.
As you now understand, what you wear as an air traveler matters to you and fellow passengers. Choose your clothing wisely.
(Image: American Airlines A319 landing at Philadelphia International Airport. Copyright © 2018 NSL Photography. All Rights Reserved.)
After many years working in corporate America as a chemical engineer, executive and eventually CFO of a multinational manufacturer, Ned founded a tech consulting company and later restarted NSL Photography, his photography business. As a well known corporate, travel and wildlife photographer, Ned travels the world writing about travel and photography, as well as running photography workshops, seminars and photowalks. Visit Ned’s Photography Blog and Galleries.