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In the Air 

What’s the dress code for air travel?

A. I recently watched “The High and the Mighty” (1954) and was amused by its portrayal of mid-century air travel: Not only were the passengers smoking up a storm; they were dressed to the nines. Today it’s all about the gym clothes on planes, the Bada Bing tracksuit being what American men wear to fly…” (GQ, Modern Manners, Glenn O’Brien, page 323, September 2006)

Don’t wear sweats or a tracksuit – You’re not going to the gym, although physical discomfort may be involved. You are, hopefully, traveling to some exotic location for pleasure, or on your way to orchestrate a complex and challenging business deal, one that will change the very face of your industry. Or perhaps not, but it’s good to be thinking, and dressing, that way, even if you’re really just traveling back to HQ to kiss the ring of your corporate chieftains, or to pay the obligatory visit to your in-laws. (However, if you’re flying to Cleveland to pump a couple slugs into Guido, and have a beer with Vinny afterwards, it is okay, and perfectly appropriate, to wear your tracksuit and some good cheap gold jewelry.)

While there are many good reasons to fly, there are also times it should absolutely be avoided. If you have some stomach virus that may necessitate frequent use of a bathroom, and you’re about to board a 15 hour flight to Thailand, you may want to reconsider. If you believe that anyone may attempt to engage you in conversation about their family life, and you had to check your sidearm before boarding, you may also wish to make other travel arrangements.

If you are flying first class or business class, the imperative is to make sure that you take full advantage of every perk that is available. Given the price of these seats, it is completely reasonable that the limousine that is sent for you stops directly in front of the plane, and that you are carried to your seat, on a velvet cushion, by liveried nymphets who fan you and drop cherries in your mouth. (Tip generously, as the narrow stairs up to the plane are a bitch.) Once in your seat, you should expect (at least on Singapore Air), an 18 year old Asian beauty, in a mini-dress, to provide you with nicely chilled champagne, and some exotic snack prior to dinner. If you, poor fool, actually paid full price for your seat, it seems reasonable to expect that the hostess will invite you back to an enclosed portion of the cabin for a threesome with her equally ravishing co-worker. If, on the other hand, you’re flying an American airline subject to age-discrimination laws, your flight attendant will be either an aging gay man or a frumpy and grumpy 25 year female veteran in a soiled cardigan, hanging on for the family health benefits. The most you can hope for in this case is that they don’t “accidentally” dump the champagne into your lap.

If you don’t get the limousine, the manservants, or the especially accommodating flight attendant, you might wonder exactly why you are paying ten times as much for your slightly wider seat than someone further back in the plane. In any event, regardless of the wisdom of selecting such a seat, the least that can be expected is that you adopt a posture of obnoxious, though understated self-satisfaction, indicating both that you are far better than the human chattel in the back, but also that you travel in comfort so often that you can barely be expected to notice either the requisite comforts, or the envy of your less privileged fellow passengers. If you just won the lottery on Tuesday, if may take a couple flights until you get this look down, but it will come. Also, try not to notice that most of your fellow passengers in first are fat and unattractive. No one said getting rich was pretty.

If, through the cruel injustices of twisted fate, you are flying coach, a whole different set of rules apply. First, you will be miserable, but, as a gentleman you should accept your misery with grace, and not try to add to the misery of the other unfortunates in coach. If you are tall or bulky, your experience will be especially trying, and your only satisfaction may be in knowing that the smug bozos in first class are subsidizing the cost of your flight with their overpriced seats. You will not explain to your fellow passengers that you normally fly first class; in fact, you will explain nothing to them, except perhaps why you are getting up for the third time. You should not carry on luggage which cannot be accommodated without inconveniencing your fellow travelers. If you are traveling with children, you should make sure they are well behaved, reasonably quiet and not likely to vomit on anyone not related by birth or marriage.

If you are struck by turbulence, remember that a gentleman remains calm and collected at all times. Plus, if you’re flying tourist, the idea of sudden death may be comforting. If you are near nervous flyers, your demeanor will reassure them. If the person in the seat next to you is gripping the armrest with white knuckles, this may be the time to mention something about how the flight always hits a little turbulence at this point, as you’ve experienced many times. (You may lie.)

If the turbulence becomes a nose dive, then you’ll be facing your real test as a gentleman. It’s perfectly acceptable, at this point, to leave a voicemail to your mother, wife, and/or mistress, telling them how much you cared. (If time permits, it would be especially thoughtful to provide contact info for your estate planning attorney, if handy.) If you are religious, a quiet prayer may be in order, however, this is no time for a conversion; die as you have lived. Remember that, in the vast majority of cases, death in a plane crash is instant and painless, much preferable, and cheaper than, a lingering painful death from cancer. Not that, frankly, you have a choice at this point, but it’s always good to look on the bright side.

In the unlikely event that you survive the crash, you have an opportunity to truly shine as a gentleman. Also, no need to worry about your ripped trousers; this is one of the few occasions when any mode of dress is acceptable. First of all, you must assist your fellow passengers to escape, children first. (Although the bratty kid who kept punching his sister can stew in the leaking jet fuel for a while.) Old people next, according to degree of neediness and worthiness – the old lady who kept complaining to the stewardess can try to find her way out the with bratty kid. Good looking young women are always a high priority, especially if their husbands or boyfriends have just made them single by dying at the point of impact, but you certainly may not grope them while providing sympathy.

In the event that the plane has crashed in the Andes, and you appear to be on your own for an extended period of time, its important to remember that, no matter how bereft of food supplies you may be, a gentleman never resorts to dining on his fellow passengers. Eating meat is, in general, fine, but, as in all things, up to a point.

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