For What It’s Worth: Make Air Travel Great Again!

Earlier this week, quite a brouhaha took place over United Airlines refusing a passengers entrance onto a flight because of what was deemed inappropriate attire. The Twitterverse brandished their pitchforks at the airline for imposing their dress code rules on a young passenger who was sporting leggings.

The tweet that launched a thousand hate-responses came from an irate flyer, Shannon Watts, the founder of the anti-gun violence group Moms Demand Action.

“I guess @united [is] not letting women wear athletic wear?” Watts tweeted to her more than 32,000 followers.

United responded: “[we] “shall have the right to refuse passengers who are not properly clothed.”

United’s rather tone-deaf first response brought even more online protesters, including some celebs. Comedian Sarah Silverman, actor Seth Rogen, model-turned-Twitter provocateur Chrissy Teigen and actress Patricia Arquette all took to the interwebs to express their displeasure.

While many of their 140-max character barbs were certainly funny, I actually agree with United’s stance. Never mind that the airline wasn’t trying to restrict regular fare-paying passengers’ sartorial choices — United later made it clear, posting:

“The passengers this morning were United pass riders who were not in compliance with our dress code policy for company benefit travel.”

I may be going against the grain, but I contend that instead of getting a dressing down for instilling a dress code, all airlines should require one — for everyone. There should also be an official guidelines for in-flight behavior to keep things from getting quite literally, sticky.

I’m certainly not against comfort on long flights – within limits. I am not suggesting men wear jackets and ties or that women wear heels. In fact, whenever I see a woman wearing stilettos at an airport I’m always certain she must be at least slightly deranged. But one should treat public flying as more of a business-casual activity than a sickbed one.

Airplane travel used to really mean something. There was a certain elegance to boarding a behemoth flying machine. It was a privilege. People donned their Sunday best with the anticipation of adventure and the awe of open skies. They sat up straight, they read quietly or shut their eyes.

It’s not just passengers who are to blame for how far we’ve veered in terms of flying etiquette. Airlines have also slackened.

I recall in the late 1980s, a friend who applied to be a stewardess (that’s the word that was used back then) explained to me that all applicants had to fit a certain height/weight ratio. Planes were thoroughly sanitized post-flight. For better or for worse, those standards have certainly changed as well.

Heading to the airport nowadays shocks the flesh with long lines, near strip searches, insane fees, spotty WiFi, and (good God) the possibility of being stuck in the dreaded middle seat. Not to mention my fear of the dreaded in-flight live-blogger, who at any moment could be posting photos of you inadvertently drooling onto the shoulder of your neighbor.

Basically domestic air travel has since devolved into a version of “Lord of the Flies.”

With all that discomfort, it’s no wonder those flying want to try to be as comfortable as possible. I simply feel we should collectively try to reel it in.

So in an effort to set things right, here are 5 simple rules to MATGA:

No shoes, no service: Anyone who dares to remove their shoes would immediately be banned from air travel for at least a year.

Think of a version of “Seinfeld’s” Soup Nazi declaring, “No flight for you!” This goes for anyone crass enough to wear flip flops on a flight as well. The very thought of one padding into a bacteria-ridden airplane bathroom in one’s socks is far scarier than turbulence.

Don’t dress for a mess: The same goes for those who fly in pajamas (unless you’re a toddler) Likewise, there are very few situations when it is appropriate for a grown man to be seen in public in shorts. Flying certainly isn’t one of them. I would say a good rule of thumb when traveling would be to show as few body parts as possible. Who wants to sit in a chair that someone’s skin was stuck to for eight hours?

Kid-free zone: And speaking of toddlers, how about one sort of PG-13–type flight per day to each destination reserved for adults. It works for certain resorts and forms of entertainment, why not in airplanes? Or at the very least, a children’s section reserved for those traveling with them.

Smell no evil: No stinky food! I’m looking at you guy  sitting next to me last summer on my flight to Miami armed with a Subway tuna hero.

In addition, I’m all for the TSA sniffing out terrorists to keep us safe, but perhaps airline staff should be sniffing out olfactory terrorists as well. While passengers raise their arms in the xray security scanner, I vote that a TSA worker get right in there and take a whiff of all travelers’ armpits. Mandatory deodorant-wearing for all, with reapplication every five hours of a flight required.

Hear no evil: Noise should be kept to a minimum. Outdoor voices should only be permitted to advise of an emergency. If you simply want an extra bag of peanuts, gestures go a long way. There is a very special place in hell (decidedly not First Class) for my recent seat-mate on a first-class flight to Portland who decided it was prudent to watch the movie “The Matrix” loudly from his laptop sans earplugs.

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  • Elisabeth Austin

    I’m on board with this. Well said.