My father-in-law worked for an airline for 43 years, so I’ve flown on a few passes before. When my wife and I were dating, I can recall getting told several times while getting dressed to fly on a pass that I should “look nice”. A college-aged me bristled when told I had to iron some khakis (they were likely pleated; it was the 90’s) to look acceptable for a flight.
In the time since we stopped flying this way and started paying full retail, I’ve flown in any number of outfits. Sandals, an aloha shirt & shorts on the way to Hawaii. Jeans and a t-shirt on countless trips for work. Just a few weeks ago, a bowtie and a jacket.
In all that time flying I can only recall ever noticing folks flying as a “non-rev” one time and that was because I was the one flying with that status.
I bring this up because of the recent United snafu, started when a passenger overheard a gate agent asking a young woman to change her outfit – No leggings! – to comply with their wardrobe policy. As someone similarly scrutinized, though never told to change my clothes by a gate agent, I sympathize with their situation.
Dressing up, or down as is the norm these days, for flying should be a personal choice. No one knows you’re a pass traveler anymore than they can guess your astrological sign. I’d go so far as to say that whenever I see a well-dressed person without a carry-on, I assume they’re flying non-rev. This goes double for kids dressed like small accountants.
The issue here is the power that the gate agent has and the unwritten rules of how nice one must dress. My father-in-law, as the employee, was given pretty wide latitude due to his tenure and “flight status”. Women, in my limited experience, were scrutinized more closely as was the case with my wife almost being denied boarding a flight once for wearing open-toed shoes.
This is 2017. Almost no one dresses up for a flight unless they’re traveling for business and even then I see an awful lot of sweatshirts, baseball caps & jeans in First Class as I walk by.
Making a big deal out of what a child wears on a plane and then compounding the problem by explaining (poorly) pass flying expectations on Twitter is the real “bad look” here. And gate agents have enough to worry about without having to play “Concourse Cop” to all those non-revs.
The better solution is to simultaneously relax the policy to conform to current attire standards and to let someone other than a gate agent (maybe the ticket/check-in counter) handle the enforcement so as not to incite angry passengers right before they board.
More than dress codes, it’s good behavior airlines should be enforcing. Entitled passengers and complaints about service, comfort, and timeliness of flights are the norm when I’ve flown recently. Airlines should worry more about (and guard against) how their pass-flyers act on flights and less how they dress.
Because I’ve experienced enough assholes on planes in the past year to know you don’t have to dress like trash to act like it.