When I fly, I always wear a sports jacket. No tie, often a sports shirt. Usually dress shoes, though not since I got mt neato-keen Boston Red Sox canvas deck shoes. Why do I do this? Apparently because I’m old, but also because of that old, archaic value, respect. If I’m in public, and especially if I’m going to be in close quarters with someone, I want the experience for them to be as pleasant as possible.
The airlines exercise very little dominion over what its passengers wear. Bare feet will keep you grounded; a T-shirt with profanity or a lewd message may get you barred from a flight, but not much else. However, the airlines do notice what you wear, and what you wear may have benefits:
George Hobica, founder of the travel fare advice site Airfare Watchdog, said that “everyone believes no one gets upgraded anymore based on how they look.” But, he added, “It does happen.”… [Hobica] then relayed tales of friends who had been upgraded while wearing clothes they considered nicer than what they might wear to the gym or the grocery store, and a conversation he once had with a gate agent friend at Lufthansa.
“She told me she would upgrade people based on how good-looking they are, how pregnant they are, or how nicely they’re dressed,” he said. “She said: ‘Look, we oversell flights and, of course, we go down the status list first. Absolutely, we look at your miles.’” But if no one on the flight warrants special privileges, the absence of ripped jeans or tattered sneakers can help, Mr. Hobica said.
The Times got uniform denials that attire was rewarded when it contacted various airlines, but a flight attendant vaguely confirmed Hobica’s account.
“I will say that when I see someone come on the plane and they’re dressed nicely and their children are dressed nicely, I do take notice,” said …a United flight attendant since 1978. “When someone is a little dressed up and looking like they made an effort, it’s almost like they’re showing respect for themselves and for everybody else on the plane…My personal opinion is that when you take pride in how you look, you take pride in how you act,” she said.
The Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the day is…
It is ethical for polite attire to confer benefits for flyers over passengers who dress in flip-flops, tank-tops and torn jeans?
My view is that I wish I could in good conscience answer this question in the affirmative, but I can’t. Such a practice would help reinforce good manners and civility, and that is much to be desired.
To endorse this practice, however, is to endorse bias, and not just bias, but some very pernicious biases: age, weight, height, attractiveness, gender, race, ethnicity, attractiveness, and especially economic status.
If the airlines want customers to dress better, then announce up-front that those who are well-groomed, well-washed and well-dressed will get superior treatment. Otherwise, it is unethical not to treat everyone the same.