There’s been a recent outcry over airlines censoring people about what they may and may not wear when boarding commercial flights. Some think people should dress with a modicum of respect when flying. But most say, “Anything goes.”

Because airlines don’t publish specific dress codes, what’s appropriate is subjective. Not only is freedom of dress at stake, but First Amendment rights come into play. Should people be allowed to wear shirts emblazoned with four-letter “expletive deleted” words, which have different meanings for different people?

Who should have the final word as to what you (and others) wear?

Are T-shirts with political statements, e.g. “Terrists gonna kill us all,” be a reason someone is denied boarding? It was, for an Arizona State graduate student Arijit Guha, who was barred from a recent Delta flight. Guha says he wore the misspelled shirt to protest what he considers racial profiling on the part of federal security agents.

If restaurant owners can refuse to serve someone who isn’t appropriately dressed, why don’t airlines have the same rights? In reality, they do, since planes are private property and not public spaces. On the other hand, what is inappropriate to some, is OK for others.

This isn’t only a T&A (breasts and derrière) issue, but in this world of dressing down rather than dressing up, should people be permitted to board planes sporting short shorts and flip-flops? What if they’re not wearing shoes?

A recent AP story included the vague dress codes for the four largest US airlines:

      • American Airlines: Bans passengers who “are clothed in a manner that would cause discomfort or offense to other passengers.”

• Delta Air Lines: Reserves the right to remove passengers “for the comfort or safety of other passengers or Delta employees” or to prevent property damage.

• Southwest Airlines: Forbids passengers “whose clothing is lewd, obscene, or patently offensive.”

• United Airlines: Bars anyone over 5 who is barefoot “or otherwise inappropriately clothed, unless required for medical reasons.”

Even though some people wax nostalgically about when people used to wear their Sunday best when flying, that era is history. Don’t even think that people, even in the front of the plane, are on the best-dressed list. Some “rich and famous” and rock stars excel in the grunge look.

A recent informal poll about flying attire elicited these answers from business travelers:

Charles Caro, Executive Director at Rebounders United, stated, “There used to be some decorum when flying, but those days are over. Today, if you show up with a paid ticket and something resembling clothing, you’re good to go. 

In fact, TSA rules have made “casual” the rule rather than the exception. I recently heard a story about a man having trouble getting through the TSA screening that was so frustrated with the metal detector he simply pulled off *all* of his clothes.”

Margaret Bennett, Managing Partner at Bennett’s At Your Service, wrote, “I sat next to a man who was very appropriately dressed, but who stunk to high heaven. Can the airlines regulate that he take a bath and wash his clothes before flying? To be honest, I’d rather sit next to a woman in a bikini (not really flying garb) than next to him, no matter how nice he looked from a healthy distance.”

Ms. Bennett continued, “

When I’m flying I just want the people I’m flying with to be mentally stable. I could care less about what they are wearing. I want to get where I’m going without a fighter jet escort or a hijacking.”

Michael Keane, Council member, appointed by the Governor of Vermont at Vermont Economic Progress Council, had an interesting perspective: “I dress neatly but casually for flying, whether on business trips or for holidays. I’d rather sit with people who dress and act the same way, but that doesn’t always happen. If someone has a paid ticket, there’s a level of contract so that the airline boards you, regardless of what you’re wearing. 

That being said, I believe that the airlines themselves are culpable for making air travel an uncivilized experience — treat passengers like necessary evils or like cattle and that’s what you may get.”

Do you agree that anything goes (when it comes to dress) when flying? If so, what can be done to make people WANT to dress a bit more when traveling? I’m not talking black-tie, but the idea of long pants and shoes does hold appeal — at least for me. What do you think, and more importantly, how and should it be monitored? Do post your thoughts.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.