Non-Rev Travel Dress Code

Archaic rules for the outward bound

I am on a small, exclusive list of flight beneficiaries for a relative or close friend who work(ed) for American Airlines. In a world where plane travel is, to use my husband’s words, the “most expensive bad experience” a person can have, I delight to take advantage of these benefits whenever possible.

That said, there is one area of non-revenue transportation I may never understand: the dress code. In the 1960s or 70s when these rules were obviously made, I’m sure they had hippies and people who didn’t bathe trying to board the plane, an obvious affront to that Catch Me If You Can glamour era of travel. But those days are past. Today stylish citizens pay $150 for designer jeans and leather flip-flops. Paying passengers, glamorous or not, can wear what they choose, but non-rev passengers are penalized by being forced to observe an absurd dress code.

“Collars are not required for male or female,” but t-shirts are “unacceptable attire for any cabin.”

“Women’s style of shoes/sandals such as open toe, sling-backs and clogs are acceptable in all cabins,” but flip-flops are “unacceptable.”

Sweatshirts are “unacceptable attire for any cabin,” but you have to pay $5 for a blanket to keep you warm.

Over the years (21 to be exact) that I have been flying non-rev, I’ve met numerous ticket agents who brush off these ridiculous requirements, realizing their arbitrary nature. And then there are the anal-retentive fashion Nazi ticket agents: “Miss, you’re going to have to change into a different pair of shoes before you can board the plane.” How am I supposed to change shoes when I checked my bag with all my clothes in it?? One flight attendant gave me a piece of clothing to wear so I could get on the plane.

To be fair, American Airlines has changed some of their rules over the years. In the olden days, girls had to wear skirts in any cabin. Open-toe shoes were never allowed. Denim was prohibited anywhere, but now you can wear it in coach. Men were required to wear collared shirts in any cabin and coats in first or business class. So we’ve made some progress. Right? I deeply look forward to someone in the air travel industry berating whomever is making up these silly rules. Wake up people! Look in a magazine, read an article or 20 about how business professionals wear flip-flops to work, and update the non-revenue travel dress code.