We are flying to Sri Lanka with Cathay Pacific.
It's been a few years since I've flown Business class, so when our bid was accepted for an upgrade we were delighted, but I was also a little apprehensive. From what I remember it was fairly stuffy. No one even seemed to get out of shirt collars, never mind plane pyjamas.
We're both retired, no longer representing anyone but ourselves, but I worry I'll face judgment (or worse) if I turn up in the shorts and jandals combo I'm planning on spending most of the holiday in.
Have things loosened up? Or is there some sort of dress code I need to be aware of?
First off, congratulations on the upgrades! Secondly, relax. You can leave the three-piece suit at home.
No one is seriously suggesting you spend 17 hours in a pressurised tube in your Sunday best. Most long-haul passengers change into something more comfortable the moment the seat-belt signs are extinguished. Airlines are only too happy for you to do so. Some carriers like Qantas, Qatar and even United's Polaris Class guests will provide a set of complimentary jim-jams for the journey. Sadly Cathay Pacific doesn't have pyjamas in Business; fortunately it doesn't have a dress code either.
Though most airlines do have a loose set of guidelines on clothing, Cathay Pacific has no written dress code for flights. Trainers, shorts – hell, you can go full socks and sandals if you're into that. You'd have to look at someone's boarding pass to tell which direction they will turn on entering a plane.
That being said, there are some wardrobe malfunctions where airline staff can't just use their discretion and look the other way.
I've never heard of anyone being "downgraded" for wearing the wrong thing but in a worst-case scenario you can be refused boarding.
Shoes are one of those things.
Air New Zealand, for example, only has a one-paragraph "dress code" for passengers across all cabin classes to "maintain a tidy standard of dress". However for "health and safety reasons, travellers are required to wear footwear".
IATA guidelines covering plane evacuations suggest plane passengers should wear shoes.
Jandals are one of those grey zones where it's up to the airlines to work out where they stand. BA, for example, is not going to flip-flop on its hard and fast rules on jandals and beachwear, but many other airlines insist on non-committal "casual shoes". In most cases, it's up to the crew to make the call in deciphering the dress code.
In many cases the airline will provide broad guidelines such as Qantas' vaguely worded ban on clothing bearing "offensive words or imagery".
"Offence", of course, is highly subjective. Over Christmas a family from Wellington were surprised to be told their 10-year-old son would not be allowed on the plane back from South Africa wearing a T-shirt with a snake on it. I've certainly sat beside some passengers in get-ups that seem designed to offend the eyes, but it seems odd what causes objections and what slips through the net.
Instead of codifying every "banned" motif, it's usually up to the individual ground staff on the gate to make the call. In most cases you'll be waved on through without any issues.
Having said that a big part of making the most of a Business class flight and starting a holiday the right way is the lounge experience.
Lounges are another matter altogether. When I was researching your question, a spokesperson for Cathay Pacific said though there was no in-flight dress code "it's worth considering that Cathay Pacific asks passengers that their attire is consistent with a professional environment when entering its passenger lounges".
Airline lounges and or pay-to-access lounges can be very particular and seem to make the rules up as they go along.
Qantas' lounges, for example, go as far as to single out a no "ugg boots" policy. This could just be a discrimination against bogans thing but you really have to research before rocking up in your fur-lined boots.
According to Qantas' lounge guidelines "staff have the discretion to refuse entry to any eligible passenger, if in their reasonable opinion the customer's dress does not comply with the dress policy". You won't get a refund either.
Cathay's lounges are slightly more relaxed – in fact, if you have time when transferring through Hong Kong, Cathay's Pier Lounge has a yoga studio and encourages passengers to bring leisurewear to change into.
It might be a plan to stow your jandals and bring a pair of comfy shoes and something smart to wear over your boardshorts.
As long as your clothing is clean and not covered with offensive images or slogans, you should be alright. Safe journey!
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