By Ashley Pearson
When Seattle burlesque performer Maggie McMuffin travelled from New York to Boston in a jaunty tiger sweater, thigh-high socks and striped shorts that observers said “looked like underwear”, she got as far as the gate at Boston’s Logan Airport before agents asked her to change her clothes. The airline determined that McMuffin’s outfit was “not appropriate” and that her “shorts could cause offense to other families on the flight.” The dancer, who was forced to buy a pair of JetBlue’s $22 pyjama pants (a sum that was later refunded, along with about $200 for the flight), demanded the pilot apologise and issue a “clear dress code for airline passengers.”
And last year, United Airlines was hit by a storm of criticism after it barred two teenage girls from boarding a flight in Denver because they were wearing leggings as trousers. The decision set off a veritable outcry on social media, with users attacking what they called an intrusive, sexist policy. Ultimately, the airline backed the gate agent’s call, defending it in a furious series of tweets.
Far from being outraged at this hard-line policy on airline-appropriate dress, I applaud it.
Let me make this clear, I have no problem with those who wish to express themselves in a manner in which they feel comfortable. Short shorts, tube tops, braless, bare feet—go for it. But if I’m forced to sit next to you in a confined space for over six hours, yes, I feel I ought to get a say.
First of all, let’s talk about the worst offender. The flip flop wearer. United, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines all list bare feet as grounds for removal from flights in their official contract of carriage documents. United’s policy also covers passengers “not properly clothed” and American’s warns that the airline may refuse to transport passengers “clothed in a manner that would cause discomfort or offence to other passengers.”
Whoever determined that flip flops (basically bare feet with a thin layer of nothing) were acceptable on planes deserves to be thrown out of one. I remember a flight from New York to London where the person behind me removed said footwear and put their appalling feet on the back of MY ARMREST for the duration of the flight. It was out of this undeniable trauma that my crusade began. Airports are dirty, or haven’t you noticed? The toilets, the food courts, the well-trodden linoleum on which millions of people traipse around all day… If the sides of your feet are essentially touching the ground, you will pick up all manner of dirt and germs. Please do not bring them into my personal space.
If you have long, wild, unruly hair, please be considerate and secure it in some manner. I don’t want it touching my arm or hanging over the back of your seat and into my face, no matter how expensive or sweet-smelling your conditioner. Shorts that expose a lot of leg are also a no-no—if only because in today’s world of ever-shrinking seats, I don’t want to be grazing your thigh in an intimate way every time I reach into my magazine rack.
I will long recall with dread the obese man who sat next to me on a flight from London to Naples. He had a large expanse of belly gaping between the hem of his too tight golf shirt and the top of his trousers—exactly where my elbow hit the arm rest. Needless to say, I spent the entire flight pressed up against the window side of my seat.
My life in the air has tragically abounded in bare feet sharing my foot space (planes are cold! For the love of God bring some socks!), a variety of strangers’ nipples brushing up against me, and don’t even get me started on the number of times I’ve had to avoid naked thighs.
I advise airlines to reflect on their “contract of carriage”, in which they lay out the various rights and rules for travellers and hold firm. Athleisure and beachwear may have managed a successful invasion into every area of modern life, but I will shamelessly continue to advocate for sensible layers of cotton, linen, or wool during air travel. Look at it this way: you’ll be more comfortable, better protected from germs, and the rest of us can breathe easier when we’re sitting next to you.