How Should You Dress As a Passenger Aboard an Airplane?

O nce upon a time, flying as a passenger in an airplane was an upscale experience. If you were to believe some of the advertisements from the 1960s and prior decades, you experienced impeccable service and opulence — even when seated in the economy class cabin.

Fast forward to today, where the chasm in classes of travel seem to be widening: you can either squeeze yourself in a seat which seems to decrease in width, seat pitch and the amount of cushion while paying extra in ancillary fees for even thinking about breathing air; or you can sleep in a full-sized flat bed made up for you by members of the flight crew as you were taking your shower after dining on a seven-course gourmet meal designed and prepared by a five-star chef and sipping on vintage champagne.

Sure — there are classes of service which attempt to fill that aforementioned void: premium economy and different variations of business class, for example — but the majority of travelers fly as passengers seated in the economy class cabin.

How Should You Dress As a Passenger Aboard an Airplane?

When reading articles about the economy class cabin itself — such as this article pertaining to 6 of the germiest places on the airplane and how to avoid them; not wanting to be a target of pickpockets; and 14 tips on how you can prevent theft in hotels and aboard airplanes as three of numerous examples — the last thing you would want to do is dress formally…

…but then again, sporting a slovenly appearance by being dressed in a T-shirt with a vulgar message; holes in your frayed blue jeans; and wearing sandals in which feet overflow out of them is not the right answer either, in my opinion.

I do not believe that a T-shirt and blue jeans should be taboo in the premium class cabin, as long as the outfit is reasonably neat in appearance. I have worn either a T-shirt or polo shirt with black jeans numerous times when I travel because I believe that there should be a balance in comfort and appearance…

…and — more likely than not — seats in the premium class cabin on international flights are typically isolated with walls and cubbyholes for privacy purposes; so few people are going to see how you are dressed anyway. You might also be tempted to change into the pajamas supplied by the airline, which is arguably more casual than a T-shirt and blue jeans.

For me, a pair of nice black jeans is a dressier substitute for blue jeans — the only difference between the two is the color — without having to sacrifice comfort or invest money in expensive slacks. I have never liked traveling in a suit and tie because it is uncomfortable for me to do so…

The Right Attitude is Usually More Important — and Effective — Than Attire

…but more important to me than appearance is attitude: treat others with respect, civility and dignity; and — more often than not — that will supersede the appearance factor. I personally favor a fellow passenger wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt who is polite and respectful over the sharp-dressed executive who acts like a pompous DYKWIA — click here for more information on that acronym — while dispensing a caustic attitude of superiority in a rude and inconsiderate manner.

Here is an example I experience often when I am seated in the premium class cabin where I am wearing either a T-shirt or polo shirt with black jeans while the person next to me is dressed in professional attire and the flight attendant asks for our orders of beverages prior to departure:

“May I please have an orange juice with no ice?” I will ask while looking into the eyes of the flight attendant.

“Wine” grunts the person next to me without looking up.

Once the beverages are served to us:

“Thank you,” I say while looking up with a smile.

Nothing said from Mr. or Mrs. Grumpy seated next to me when the drink is served.

Take a guess as to with whom the flight attendant would usually prefer to interact.


As you can see in this article written by Dan Miller of Points With a Crew as one of countless examples, this topic is rather controversial and has been that way for many years — but I contend that the experience aboard the aircraft degraded from the purported “golden days of air travel” long before the dress code was relaxed.

I know there are people who dress professionally every day aboard airplanes on flights which can last up to 18 hours; but I am not one of them due to the aforementioned discomfort. I will continue to wear either a T-shirt or polo shirt with a pair of black jeans — regardless of the class of service in which I am seated — but I will also treat fellow passengers and members of the flight crew with the utmost in respect. Not once have I been knowingly criticized or denied anything as a result of what I wear; and my demeanor definitely usually is met positively by most other people.

This has been my experience over my years of traveling all over the world.

Although there are subjective limits, I believe that a person should dress accordingly to their beliefs and comfort levels — whether the attire is traditional, religious in nature, casual or professional — and although there are obvious exceptions which again are subjective, other people should not be quick to judge how people dress…

…so how should you dress as a passenger aboard an airplane? As comfortably as possible, in my opinion — but without appearing unkempt and disheveled.

I look forward to your thoughts in the Comments section below on this contentious topic, as I enjoy the fact that you speak your mind.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

2 thoughts on “How Should You Dress As a Passenger Aboard an Airplane?”

  1. scott says:

    Having worked first/ biz class, and economy, I don’t care how you are clad(except for those pajama bottoms and flip flops that young women board the plane, and think its appropriate(but they are young and stupid). I think you wearing jeans and nice shoes, and polo shows class at least to me. It is also in how you act..I have had some three piece suit dude belittle me because I didn’t immediately hang his coat, and I have had people in coach in jeans t shirt who were so very kind(guess who gets the better service lol) One other thing, you never tick off anyone who serves you, trust me..after 29 years in the industry, I have seen it all. If you are an azz I just might make your drink alittle special(don’t wanna know what that could entail. Best Regards

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Good points, scott — and I believe that you have seen it all.

      Thank you for reiterating the main point of showing courtesy and respect to others — whether they are fellow passengers or members of the flight crew — regardless of how anyone is dressed.

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