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Passengers Push Limit of Tasteful Attire

By Keith L. Alexander
Tuesday, September 7, 2004; Page E01

Stephen H. Halloway remembers flying more than 40 years ago when airline travel was a social event and he and his family climbed aboard in their Sunday best. But those days are long gone, he says.

Halloway, 58, an Alexandria frequent flier, said he is amazed at the number of the "Britney Spears wannabes" who board his flights: women wearing short tank tops and T-shirts with what he called highly suggestive and offensive wording.

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Other passengers also have noticed the decline in dress standards. Today, travelers step off the beach barely clothed, or out of the gym still sweating, and onto their planes. Ungroomed, unshowered, passengers shamble aboard oblivious to any concern that they will be packed onto a crowded flight with scores of other people in close quarters for hours.

"I know we have to worry about security issues, terrorist and other problems that in the scheme of life are much more serious," said Philadelphia health consultant Stephanie Carlson. "But c'mon, who wants to stare at and smell a 3oo-pound man stuffed in a muscle shirt, short shorts and back hair for a two-hour flight who obviously hasn't been near any water in about a week."

With airline travel picking up this summer, planes have been more cramped than usual, and passengers are becoming more vocal about fellow travelers who are eyesores or pollute the air. Earlier this summer, American Airlines went so far in one case as to enforce its conditions of carriage, which travelers used to find on the back of their paper tickets and now can read on the carrier's Web site.

"American may refuse to transport you," the rules say, "or may remove you from your flight at any point, for one or several reasons, including, but not limited to the following:

a) Have an offensive odor not caused by a disability or illness.

b) Are clothed in a manner that would cause discomfort or offense to other passengers."

Two New York area travelers returning from a Costa Rican vacation ran afoul of the rules in July. American prohibited the passengers from boarding when one refused to change his T-shirt or turn it inside out. An American spokeswoman told Biz Class that the flight attendants found the T-shirt offensive because it depicted a naked man and woman performing a sexual act. News reports at the time said the T-shirt depicted a female's bare breast.

"Three cheers for American," said Fairfax real estate broker George Meredith. "To be squeezed into a plane cabin for hours with a dirty, smelly, sick, sweaty or improperly dressed person is something the airlines need to protect us from for health, safety and humanitarian reasons."

Other airlines, including United Airlines, Northwest Airlines and US Airways, have no explicit rules about attire or personal hygiene.

For Cheryl Owns of Arlington, casual Friday attire is acceptable for passengers but airlines should take action against anything less. "It's okay to be comfortable," she said. "But pajamas, too-tight sweats, too-short shorts are just plain bad taste."

Annapolis frequent flier Bill Lovelace said airlines should require dresses or long slacks for women and at least polo shirts and slacks for men. "The casual look is fine, but let's not get carried away," he said.

The airlines have a responsibility to provide a safe and reasonably comfortable trip, said Don W. Lasher. That means making sure passengers don't have to endure "behavior, odors or materials which are considered by the average person to be outside reasonable boundaries," he said.

A small minority of Business Class readers said the brouhaha over clothing and odors was being blown way out of proportion. Computer-system administrator Peter Burris of Columbia Heights said he has had to run through airports to make flights and arrived a little sweaty. "If somebody denied me the right to board an airplane after I ran, that would be actionable, such as a lawsuit," Burris said.

Some travelers suggested that their fellow passengers need to be a little more tolerant, especially in the case of seatmates from cultures they may not understand. "What are you going to do, deny an entire culture from boarding a flight?" Silver Spring lawyer Melissa McCartney said.

Though he fondly recalls the old days, Halloway, the Alexandria frequent flier, says: "To remove someone who was not disorderly for wearing a T-shirt is a bit much. Since airline travel has become more stressful, we should try to maintain our collective senses of humor."


© 2004 The Washington Post Company


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