The so-called "golden age of travel" invokes images of suavely dressed travellers, platters of lobster and clouds of cigarette smoke.

While it's probably a good thing that we've done away with in-flight smoking, some have mourned the loss of a dress code, as air travel becomes cheaper and more accessible.

We may not dress to the nines for air travel anymore, but we also don't smoke next to children on a flight. Photo / Getty Images
We may not dress to the nines for air travel anymore, but we also don't smoke next to children on a flight. Photo / Getty Images

The blog Passenger Shaming – which names, shames and photographs the worst in-flight behaviour – is filled with examples of travellers in varying states of dress.

While you might think that airline dress codes are a thing of the past, they do exist in some capacity.

Advertisement

Some airlines – such as American Airlines – have dress code rules that apply to employees and those travelling on a buddy pass.

Earlier this year, a cousin of an American Airlines employee posted a 28-minute expletive-laden video rant on Facebook after she was denied boarding on a flight from Miami to New York – which she claims was over the ripped jeans she was wearing.

A similar incident occurred in 2017, when two teenage girls travelling on United Airline's pass program were denied boarding for wearing leggings.

Air New Zealand has a similar policy for passengers on staff travel, requiring a "high standard of dress" – with "tracksuits, frayed or patched jeans, singlet tops, shorts, jandals (flip flops), bare midriffs or bare feet" listed as unacceptable.

However, the New York Times reports that even for those paying regular fares, there is a dress policy of sorts – with US airlines United, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines all listing bare feet as grounds for removal from flights.

United also excludes passengers "not properly clothed", while American Airlines warns that it may refuse those "clothed in a manner that would cause discomfort or offense to other passengers."

An airport may not the best location to show off your new bikini. Photo / Passenger Shaming
An airport may not the best location to show off your new bikini. Photo / Passenger Shaming

that "all customers travelling on Air New Zealand services are required to maintain a tidy standard of dress" and footwear is required for health and safety reasons.

Many passengers believe that it's worth dressing up for a flight, as it may just nab you that oh-so-desirable business class upgrade – but it's debatable as to whether this actually works.

Advertisement

Talking to the New York Times, Brian Sumers, a reporter at the travel industry website Skift, said he doubted airline employees paid much attention to what passengers wore.

"You know, people would have told you two decades ago that it was a good idea to dress nicely on a plane, because you never know if the airline might take care of you, like maybe bump you up to business class or first class because you look nice," he said.

"But that doesn't really happen now. Airlines know who their best customers are, and they're the ones they'll bring up if there's a seat available."

But others disagree.

Should you go for comfort over style while travelling? Photo / Passenger Shaming
Should you go for comfort over style while travelling? Photo / Passenger Shaming

Airfare Watchdog founder George Hobica told the New York Times he believed he was upgraded on a United flight due to his navy blue suit.

"I was in the lounge, where everybody was dressed in sandals and gym clothes, and I heard them call my name," he said.

He was then upgraded to first class – and as he had no status on that airline, he concluded it was due to his outfit.

He also recounted being told by a Lufthansa gate agent that appearance did indeed matter.

"She told me she would upgrade people based on how good-looking they are, how pregnant they are, or how nicely they're dressed," he said.

For myself, it's always a tough call – comfort over style. For a longhaul flight, I will usually dress up a little bit for check-in – a button-up shirt and smart pair of chinos are comfortable enough and give an impression of professionalism.

Passengers relax in the cabin of a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser in this photo from 1949. Photo / Getty Images
Passengers relax in the cabin of a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser in this photo from 1949. Photo / Getty Images

While my efforts have never actually rewarded me with an upgrade, I think it's still worth the effort – and I still believe it may pay off one day.

But once we've reached cruising altitude, you can bet I'm straight off to the bathroom to change into trackies and a t-shirt – but my most stylish example of the two, naturally.