Cockpit Chronicles: Is it time for pilots to ditch the hat?

Call it civil disobedience. Or, for some, it’s a way to express displeasure at management. Maybe the hat just doesn’t work well with their haircut. Whatever the reason, pilots have been ditching their hats lately at airlines across the country.

Some companies have heard enough complaints that they’ve changed their policy, making the hat optional for their pilots.

In fact, effective March 15th, that’s the case at American Airlines. It’s the most significant change to an AA pilot uniform since the Roosevelt era. Which isn’t saying much, since the uniform hasn’t really changed at all since then.

No surveys were taken, although getting rid of hats would surely have been a popular move among most pilots. Doing away with hats started years ago with flight attendants before gaining momentum among pilots.

American Eagle went to the optional hat years ago.
There’s been a movement to bring back hats for men regardless of their profession. But it doesn’t seem to be gaining any traction as far as I can tell.

Internal employee message boards have debated the policy at length. Some pilots say the hats are keeping with a more professional appearance, while others cite examples of being mistaken for a skycap while waiting for a hotel van at the airport.

The hat has proven to be useful during an evacuation, as passengers can recognize who the pilots are as they’re assembling outside the plane. But it doesn’t really serve any other function. We certainly don’t wear them in the cockpit (something that is sure to get a laugh when pilots watch a flying movie where the aviators are all wearing their hats and jackets).

I actually have mixed feelings about the change. I’ve become rather used to wearing my ‘helmet’ over the years, and while it isn’t being done away with entirely-it’s the pilots option whether or not to wear it-I suspect I’ll go for the convenience of leaving it at home. Especially given the long commute ahead of me starting this summer.

Maybe I’ll bring it back for my retirement flight. Or should switch to an entirely different kind of pilot hat like this one.

I’m curious what you think. Are pilot hats a goofy throwback to a bygone era? Or do the hats add a touch of professionalism to the job?


Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the Cockpit Chronicles Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.