Possible Passenger Dress Code Coming to a Plane Near You

From skirts too short, to pants too low, some passengers are learning the hard way that their wardrobe can keep them grounded.

Several high profile incidents have flyers rights groups calling on airlines to publish dress codes just as clearly as ticket fares and baggage restrictions.

"People aren't mind readers,” says Kate Hanni, executive director of FlyersRights.org. “They don't know what that flight attendant's going to want to see when you get on a plane!"

She argues the lack of consistency leaves passengers exposed to the judgments of the flight crew, who may take offense at clothing that wouldn't be considered indecent off the plane, but which leads to an argument and sometimes ends with the passenger getting kicked off. Such an incident happened in San Francisco this past June, when a college football player’s low hung pants- and his refusal to pull them up- caused his controversial removal from the plane.

Most airlines agree that the people running the flight need to know passengers will do what they’re told.

"In the end, the flight crew is in charge of the aircraft, and they have to make judgments based on what they think is going to create the safest and most comfortable environment for everyone on the airplane,” says Virgin America CEO David Cush.

In the airlines view, passengers removed from flights because of their wardrobe became a risk.

But Hanni contends if that's the case, it's the airlines fault.

"The airlines should step up and do this on their own, just so that passengers can predict and appropriately dress. If there's a requirement to wear a certain type of clothing, or not wear a certain type of clothing, tell us!"

Indeed, most of the major carriers scoff at spelling out specifics, and only give general guidelines in their contracts of carriage. American Airlines, for instance, won't give a maximum weight limit, but reserves the right to turn away anyone deemed too fat to comply with safety instructions by themselves. The airlines say it also within its right to kick off someone with an offensive odor not caused by an illness or disability. On the question of clothing, passengers can be booted if they're dressed in a manner "that would cause discomfort or offense to other passengers."

But then US Airways allowed a man to board wearing little more than lingerie and stockings.
Airlines say dress codes would be hard to enforce, and could expose them to lawsuits if the flight crew over-reacts.

In the view of Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson, that's what usually happens.

"If an airline's going to be so unreasonable for kicking someone off a plane for wearing saggy pants or being slightly overweight, to me, it just seems impolite of the airline to behave in that way," Branson says.

Airline operators say if passengers wear appropriate travel clothes, and flight attendants are more tolerant, everyone can have a nice flight. But that's not good enough for advocates who want it in writing, so there's no confusion about what flies, and what doesn't.