Do airlines care how you’re dressed?

Do airlines care how you are dressed?The lists are almost comical. All over the travel web, you’ll find articles about how to scam score an upgrade from an airline, and invariably, one of the items involves attire. If you dress well, the thinking goes, you’ll be treated better, ostensibly because airline employees judge books by their covers. But, does it really work?

There are a lot of variables that are much more important than attire, such as whether you have elite status. So, it’s a bit much, it feels, to over-value clothing. Further, procedural constraints deemphasize the role of how you’re dressed in your general treatment by airline employees.

I’ve been fed the “well-dressed” story since I started flying frequently on business more than a decade ago. I never really bought it, though, as treatment was almost always obscured either by my temper or my status.

But, that’s all different now.

I no longer have the coveted “platinum” tag, and I’m starting to fly fairly frequently again. In the past month, I’ve been on four international flights, and I’ve learned … just what you’d expect. Treatment may be a hair better if you’re sartorially splendid, but all things rarely are equal enough to make a real call on this.

Here’s what I wore (and what I saw):1. Jeans and a respectable button-down shirt: This is what I wear to work every day, and it’s good enough for my employer. So, if it works for the people who pay me, it should be good enough for the airlines I pay, right?

Ummmmm … yes, actually.

I was treated about as well as can be by an airline (without elite status or a first-class ticket). I get neither more nor less than I had coming to me. Truth be told, the flight attendants were friendly and accommodating. Though I wasn’t dressed like an executive, I held myself like one, and that seemed to get the job done.

2. Jeans and a Gadling shirt: Nobody gave a damn that I write for one of the largest travel blogs on the web (which was perfectly fine with me, frankly). So, for all of you who think we get special treatment when we’re recognized … we’re not recognized (at least I’m not). And, the fact that I was dressed down made no noticeable difference.

3. The full uniform: As I write this, I’m wearing a suit, tie and horribly uncomfortable shiny shoes. I arrived at the airport from the Toronto Stock Exchange, where I rang the opening bell with IR magazine. I was all business – and looked it and felt it. According to the conventional wisdom, the airline should have upgraded me to first class and kicked everyone else out, right?


So, what happened?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

I was treated as I was when clad in my Gadling shirt and my button-down and jeans. The fact that the jacket matched the pants added nothing to the equation.

[photo courtesy of Inside Investor Relations]