Airline Dress Codes – What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

Two US Airways passengers recently filed a lawsuit involving an incident that took place last summer when a gate agent said the men’s hoodies and jeans were unacceptable in first class. So the passengers changed into something more formal only to see others in first class wearing – yes, jeans and hoodies.

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Discrimination or Lack of Transparency?

The men who filed the lawsuit were African-Americans. The others first class passengers in the casual outfits were not.

US Airways says it does not discriminate and is taking these allegations very seriously. They also note that the two men who filed the lawsuit were traveling on what are commonly referred to as buddy passes or discounted tickets received from an airline employee (which the two men freely acknowledge using). The question is, do these buddy passes – sometimes referred to as reduced or non-revenue tickets – include a promise to adhere to a dress code? A dress code that does not apply to full-fare passengers?

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Dress Codes – Not Spelled Out

FareCompare contacted US Airways with this question, and while spokesman Todd Lehmacher would neither confirm nor deny the existence of a dress code associated with these tickets, he did note that, “Employees are aware of the travel policy and required to understand the expectations when utilizing their pass privileges.”

This would seem to suggest that there is some kind of dress code and the US Airways website does state that reduced-rate tickets offered to travel agents requires “business casual” attire. However, the US Airways spokesman said its travel policy regarding the buddy passes “is an internal one and between the company and its employees.”

According to media reports, the attorney representing the two men in the newly filed lawsuit suggests that dress codes are not spelled out and need to be since his clients “were never informed that different policies applied to reduced fare and regular fare passengers.” It would seem to be common sense that if there is a dress code associated with these tickets, it should be made crystal clear. But what about dress codes for passengers in general – do such things exist? Yes and no.

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Dress Codes – Passenger Violations

Most airline contracts-of-carriage do include a little-known provision that states passengers cannot be barefoot. Beyond that, there is little in the way of a written dress code. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

In recent years, there have been several widely-publicized incidents of passengers being reprimanded and in some cases tossed off flights for what was deemed inappropriate clothing. A partial list:

  • 2007 – Southwest almost kicked a 23-year-old woman off her flight because her mini-skirt was “too short”
  • 2011 – Southwest kicks off Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong because of his low-slung pants
  • 2011 – US Airways allowed a man wearing little more than women’s undergarments to take his seat
  • 2012 – American passenger is forced to changed her T-shirt which was emblazoned with the F-word

While some of these examples would seem to be little more than possible fashion faux pas – if that – wearing a T-shirt with profanity on it would seem to violate┬áboth the rules of style and simple common sense.

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Published: April 15, 2013