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Cover up or get off the plane

Dress code for airlines

Everyone's definition of right and wrong is derived from unique sources so who draws the line between regulation and discrimination?

August 26, 2012 3:20 by

A report about several US airlines that refused to board passengers based on the way they were dressed has prompted Kipp to wonder whether such a rule could be (is already?) implemented in the Middle East. Several women and a man were told to cover up, change their clothing or leave the aircraft. The women were dressed in (what was described as) revealing outfits and the man’s trousers were ‘too’ baggy. There are many reasons to be rejected but none proves to be as controversial as this one.

Kipp suspects that this issue, if put under the spotlight by Middle Eastern airlines could become even more amplified, mostly because of the heavy expatriate-to-national ratio in the region. With many cultures residing in one area, one witnesses many different sets of values and ethics. If it does take off, airlines will have a choice to either allow fliers to dress as they please (within reason of course, we are not speaking about nudists) or adhere by their codes but risk offending any of the hundreds of nationalities flying in and out of this region.

The dilemma with most airlines is that they don’t publish specific dress codes or spell out what is or isn’t appropriate, consequently leaving passengers to play the guessing game. The issue with this lack of communication is that the airline may only ‘draw the line’ once you’re ready to board the plane. Furthermore, most people do dress for comfort, particularly during a long flight, and this can easily encourage fliers to wear more revealing outfits with the notion that they aren’t breaking any rules.

“It’s like any service business. If you run a family restaurant and somebody is swearing, you kindly ask them to leave,” says Kenneth Quinn, an aviation lawyer and former chief counsel at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

Having said that, certainly not everyone can agree with Quinn, as others have reacted differently to this controversy. Several lawyers, disgruntled at the atrocity of this action, are sticking to the rationalization that if you have paid for something, then you should be allowed to take or make use of it. “If people are paying the price for their tickets, they should be able to wear what they want,” corporate lawyer Leigh Ann Epperson told AP.

There are many factors that shape our cultural perception of what is decent and what isn’t. In fact, some cultural values are more malleable while others have concrete values that dictate every move. The point is, where do we draw the line between decency and indecency?

Dress code regulations have been a hot topic in many countries, particularly in the Middle East. Recently, there was a dress code awareness campaign aimed at expatriates living in Dubai, encouraging them to dress more respectfully. The campaign, as you can imagine, received an extreme amount of attention, trended on social media platforms and made national media headlines for days. It received a lot of support as well as criticism, as any influential or significant campaign usually does.

There are a number of questions to ponder here. Should airlines be allowed to refuse passengers based on how they are dressed? Should action only be taken if a complaint has been lodged against them or simply based on the judgment of the airline staff?

At the end of the day, Kipp thinks that if private corporations are generally allowed to refuse service to any customer whenever they see fit – even though their rejection usually comes with a little more sensitivity – shouldn’t airlines be allowed the same or should there be an exception made, particularly in the case of international flights?


  1. dismanirie on August 27, 2012 11:57 am

    Once you embark on this road there is no end to it, as matters of taste and social compliance vary so much from country to country. Furthermore, if you approach the matter of attire with safety in mind, forget the over-baggy trousers incident; almost all wearers of loose draped clothes (such as abayas) will be denied boarding.

    However, once you have a ticket, the airline is obliged to carry you to your destination, unless you pose a direct threat to safety or fail to check in on time.

    Any airline which takes it upon itself to impose a dress code on its passengers should prepare for the backlash against such impositions. More constructively they might provide alternatives such as lightweight tracksuits to cover the indecorous clothing, much as some restaurants provide jackets for those without.

    However, if a passenger refuses to change his/her attire, the airline must pay full reimbursement for denial of boarding.

  2. Zainab on August 28, 2012 1:21 pm

    Please leave the Airlines alone and come to the real life.. During the last 10 days of the Holly Month of Ramadan, I was shopping at one of the hypermarkets in Bahrain, the first time I saw a young lady from South Africa who was almost naked. I talked to her in very softly way and explained to her the that it is inappropriate to go around in public with such kind of revealing clothing during these holy days of Ramadan. She smiled, agreed and went away. After a little while I saw her wearing a decent T-shirt that I think she bought upfront from the same hypermarket. I was very impressed and touched with her understanding. On the contrary, and on the other occasion, I saw a Russian woman in a very revealing dress, I tried to talk to her in the same manner I talked to the South African lady, but this one was the most rude person I have ever met, she gazed at me as if she wanted to kill me, waived her hand and walked away in an extremely rude way. There a was young man accompanying her, he was very polite who replied to me and agreed with me and I understand that it is Ramadan, let me explain to her she might misunderstood. The bottom line here is that some of the expats who lives and work in our countries do not respect either our culture or our Islamic values. They convinced with the fact that they are just guests in our countries and they should respect us and behave in decent manners. Unfortunately, it does not stop at the indecent attires but sometimes exceeds to kissing and hugging in public..!

  3. Andrew on August 29, 2012 1:14 pm

    Zainab, you’re comparing residents of a country versus customers of an airline.

    Airline passengers may never legally entire the country the airline is flagged in – as they could be in transit.

    On top of that, they’ve paid for a service, as opposed to being refused service.


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