Common wisdom holds that if you dress nicely, you have a better chance of scoring a first-class upgrade at the gate. This is a bit silly, of course—dressing nicely certainly doesn’t hurt, but it seems unreasonable to assume that a jacket and tie trumps one’s elite status, especially in this era of highly complex loyalty programs.
Tell that to Armando Alvarez.
Alvarez claims United denied him a first-class upgrade because the track suit he was wearing was deemed too casual for first class. “I was humiliated and embarrassed,” said Alvarez, a VP with Best Buy and a United Red Carpet Club member. “If this happened to me and I’m a United Airlines Red Carpet Club member then I believe it’s happening to other people and this must stop.” He says other people in the boarding line thought he was joking when he told them what happened.
There once was a time when flying was something you dressed up for—suits for the gents, dresses for the ladies—but today, largely due to the cramped and uncomfortable nature of flying (first class exempted, of course), airlines are the dominion of yoga pants and comfy sweatshirts, even in first class. Alvarez may have violated some antiquated ideal of flying as a grand, high-class experience, but in reality he was dressed like just about every other person that flies every day.
United is investigating the incident, and says it will speak to the employee from the gate and review security footage. The airline says there is no passenger dress code, but cited two rules: Ticketed passengers cannot be barefoot and must be clothed. Well, we know Alvarez was clothed, and we can assume he was wearing shoes, so what gives?
This isn’t the first time an airline ruled on someone’s clothing. Southwest famously kicked a woman off a flight because her clothes were deemed too skimpy.
Readers, what do you think? Is it fair to deny an upgrade because a passenger’s clothes are too casual? Should airlines have the right to essentially judge a passengers fashion choice, especially when the passenger is dressed in a decent manner (i.e. no excessive or inappropriate exposure)? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.
Update, Monday November 9: Ben Mutzabaugh reports that this may all be a miscommunication: According to United, “The gate agent apparently thought the customer in a track suit was an airline employee. If that would have been the case, an employee would have been subject to a dress code.”
Spokeswoman Robin Urbanski provided more details: “This was an unfortunate miscommunication with the gate agent who speaks English as a second language and was simultaneously assisting another customer when he believed Mr. Alvarez to be an airline employee in which a dress code policy is required.”
Interesting. Further complicating the story is the fact that the gate agent in question was apparently a contract worker and therefore not even directly employed by United. We’ll see how this develops, but in the meantime, what do you think about United’s explanation?