Why You Should NOT Always Dress Up on an Airplane

“H ere are four reasons why you should dress up on a flight”, according to this article written by Sophie-Claire Hoeller of Business Insider — which include that you may get an upgrade; you will save space in your suitcase; you will feel better about yourself; and you will make work more pleasant for the flight attendant.

I respectfully disagree. Comfort is paramount to travel, in my opinion; and whenever I am dressed up, I am usually not comfortable.

The fatal flaw with that article is that it seems to address that there are only two ways to dress for a flight: “dressing up” and “dressing like a college kid late for their Monday-morning class.”

My Secret: Black Jeans

Whenever I travel, I almost always wear a pair of black jeans and either a comfortable shirt with buttons; a polo shirt; or a nice T-shirt. There are no tears or holes in my clothing. No obscene or offensive words are printed on any shirt that I wear. The footwear of choice is sneakers or running shoes; but they are not in day-glow colors with flashing lights and a roller wheel embedded in the heel. One pair which I have worn looks like actual shoes from a distance, as they were all black from heel to sole.

In other words, I dress casually — but neat. Unlike blue jeans — which can evoke casual to the eyes of others — black jeans give more of an appearance of slacks while still providing the comfort of jeans, in my opinion…

…and these days, jeans come in all sorts of colors: beige to mimic khakis; green to mimic slacks — or blue if you want that classic casual look that has survived for decades.

Thankfully, I rarely wear suits; and that is only when I plan on heading straight to an appointment when the flight concludes.

Forget the Upgrade

As Michael Friedman wrote in this article at InsideFlyer, “No, you won’t get upgraded by wearing a suit. I don’t care what your brother’s best friend’s girlfriend’s uncle told you; it doesn’t work that way.”

I have been given upgrades unexpectedly over the years, so it is improbable but not impossible. However, I did not get the upgrades because of what I wore — my jeans and shirt. Rather, it was how I treated employees of the airline — with dignity and respect. Your chances increase even further if you are patient and understanding during a hectic time for that airline employee when he or she is in the middle of handling irregular operations.

Be honest with yourself – and yes, the answer could vary, depending on the circumstances: is an upgrade really that important?

Treat Others with Respect and Dignity

Friedman also wrote that “If you want to make the flight attendant’s job more pleasant, say “please,” “thank you” and smile.” Amen. I lost track of how many articles I have written over the years which espouse those simple words in showing respect to members of the flight crew…

…and even if you follow my advice, you will most likely not get an upgrade. What I imparted to you were rare occurrences. Hopefully, though, you will get the satisfaction of making the day of the person to whom you show respect and dignity — and that should be to everyone and not just to employees of the airline.

Saving Space in Baggage?

I pack light; so even when I travel with a suit, I can pack it in a bag and still travel light. I do not need to wear a suit to save space in my bag. I have not used a garment bag in years.

There is an old mantra: collect your belongings to pack for a trip; and then pack only half of your belongings while leaving the other half behind.

Bonus tips: here is how to fold a shirt in fewer than two seconds; and you can also fold a suit into a bag without it wrinkling or using too much space.


In the days of yore, travel by commercial airline was supposedly an experience which was not taken for granted where passengers dressed up for the flight — treated to what might be considered impeccable service by members of the flight crew — but that was when the experience was purportedly more special than it is today.

Personally, I would be especially miserable if I were dressed up during this flight operated by Etihad Airways; or on this flight operated by Alitalia; or a flight on which I have yet to report which was operated by Gulf Air. There are times where air travel feels like little more than riding a city bus in the sky — crowded with people who stink, litter, and simply do not care about their fellow passengers — and I certainly do not want to be dressed up under those conditions.

If you feel better whenever you dress up, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that; but I do not need to dress up in order to “feel better about myself.” I like to be comfortable whenever I travel; but the clothes I wear are not casual to the point of looking like a slob.

My recommendation is to dress how you like in which you believe that you would feel comfortable and yet still be respected by others. If you want to wear a shirt with expletives or a controversial statement printed on it, do not expect to be respected by others…

…in other words: how you address may give more of an impression to others than simply how you dress. Do treat others in a civil manner with respect.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

5 thoughts on “Why You Should NOT Always Dress Up on an Airplane”

  1. Captain Kirk says:


    A perfectly succinct article that I completely agree with. When I read this I felt like you took the words right out of my head. I read the original article about wearing a suit and it being the best way to score an upgrade. It is total nonsense. In a world full of lots of elites, CCs with perks and people booking FC/BC with miles, and planes being as full as ever, upgrades just don’t happen no matter what you are wearing. With respect to your statement that travel is about comfort I couldn’t agree more. While I never travel for business, if I did I would take your approach, certainly not a suit. When I do fly, (obviously only leisure) I fly in adidas pants. I know it looks very casual but I don’t care, my comfort is of the utmost importance to me. As a person who has Crohn’s Disease, the last thing I want to wear are dressy clothes and being stuffed into an uncomfortable seat. Lastly, I totally agree regarding treating crew with respect. I don’t care if the FA comes to my seat 3 or four times for drinks, trash removal, etc., I will always say thank you whenever he/she interacts with me. Great article, keep up the good work!

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      …and yet it is so easy and effortless to say “please” and “thank you” to members of the flight crew, Captain Kirk — or to anyone, quite frankly. I really never understood the aversion by a number of people to do that.

      I write about how I am thankful that I am healthy; so my articles are typically from that point of view. You bring up an excellent point: people who have issues with health which are not obvious to other people — such as Crohn’s Disease — have reasons to dress the way they do. I know people with that disease; and I know that they struggle constantly with dietary restrictions and the consequences when they do not adhere to them. Would that be a fair general statement?

      Regardless of health, people should dress comfortably in most situations. I find that I am in a better mood — and am more productive — when I am comfortable.

      1. Captain Kirk says:

        Absolutely it is a fair statement. I enjoy traveling and for me the symptoms are very manageable with medication and good diet. I am one of the lucky ones!

  2. Shannon says:

    Could you do a demo of you said ( black jeans, shirt and polo)? With your handsome looking, beautiful eyes and strong physique, it will be more persuasive than words! Wait, do I sound like a big fan? haha

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      You lost me at “strong physique” as I am the last person to admit that I have one, Shannon

      …but I have posted photographs of me in the past wearing black jeans. This article has one of them:


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