Yes, Airlines DO Have a Dress Code. Here’s How You Can Use It to Get an Upgrade.

Attention, all jet-setters! There's a simple way to make your flying experience much, much better.


Odds are, you don’t think twice about what you wear on an airplane. It should obviously be comfortable (especially if you’re taking an international flight!) and airport security-friendly. When it comes to a traveling wardrobe, though, most jet-setters stop there.

But what if we told you a simple fashion choice could redefine your experience in the air? According to experts, following this unspoken dress code might have some unexpected perks. (And don’t forget the little etiquette rules for flying on an airplane.)

Most people aren’t aware that airlines maintain certain policies—good and bad—for flyer appearance. Whether you have a first class ticket or a standby seat in economy, not wearing shoes or proper clothing could be grounds for dismissal on a United, Delta, and American Airlines flight. Travelers can also be barred from boarding if they are wearing inappropriate clothing, such as t-shirts with profanity or bikini tops. You should never do these things on an airplane, either.

On the other hand, anecdotal evidence suggests that dressing to impress could earn you an upgrade on your flight. Although “everyone believes no one gets upgraded anymore based on how they look… it does happen,” George Hobica, founder of the travel fare advice site Airfare Watchdog, told the New York Times.

Most airlines adhere to a corporate policy that uses flyer loyalty and other factors to determine who gets the upgrade. However, some say that appearance could be a fallback option if no one else qualifies.

Hobica recalled how a gate agent friend at Lufthansa once told him “she would upgrade people based on how good-looking they are, how pregnant they are, or how nicely they’re dressed.”

Representatives of the airlines, however, rebuke this claim. Still, you never know; a quick trip to the dry cleaner’s could find you in the lap of luxury at no extra cost.

Brooke Nelson Alexander
Brooke is a tech and consumer products writer covering the latest in digital trends, product reviews, security and privacy, and other news and features for Reader's Digest. She's a two-time Emmy-nominated reporter with nearly 10 years of publishing experience, and her work has been recognized by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association.