Controversial Topic: Should Airport Lounges Continue to Have Dress Codes?


Airport lounges are those "exclusive" venues designed for frequent fliers, business travelers, international First and Business class passengers, and those who wish to pay the one-time or annual fees to be a member. An airline lounge is intended to be a stress-free oasis isolated from the bustle and noise of the concourse.

Members, whether long-term or short-term, enjoy access to quiet work areas, comfortable seating, separate TV areas, newspapers and magazines, time-of-day-appropriate buffets and food offerings, and a bartender who serves whatever you want without additional charge.

Many airport lounges even segregate a Quiet Zone that discourages cellphone talkers and group conversations to provide a further escape from noise and distraction.

But is a strict dress code still appropriate in an airport lounge?

Dress Codes in Airline Lounges

Gone are those days when travelers felt compelled to wear their “Sunday best” when traveling by airplane. For anyone who has not flown during the last half-century, that concept went the way of the Ford Edsel.

Eventually, because airport lounges were mostly populated by business and first-class passengers, most visitors tended to wear business or semi-casual attire at least. In fact, the stated dress requirement for some lounges in recent decades explicitly refers to “smart” casual as the appropriate level of style, a somewhat vague indication of clothing that ranks somewhere between formal and slovenly.

Unfortunately, setting dress code requirements can be very subjective, typically enforced by the opinion of the “gatekeeper” seated at the entrance to the club or at the jetway entrance to the aircraft.

In recent years, airline clubs in the U.S. have relaxed their rules to define their fashion “faux pas” more specifically as bare midriffs, T-shirts with offensive slogans and photos, beachwear, flip-flops or bare feet, or pajamas.

As for workout clothing and other informal wear, note that many of the people visiting lounges are waiting the departure of a 12-hour international flight. Even doctors recommend wearing comfortable, loose clothing that does not restrict movement or circulation. So, shouldn’t tracksuits, sweatshirts, T-shirts, and shorts that would be allowed on the plane also be permitted in the Lounge?

Typical Airline Lounge Dress Rules

While drawing a thick, well-defined line between what is acceptable and what is not is quite difficult, most airline lounges have relaxed their dress codes. U.S. carriers, Delta, American, and United, no longer attempt to define dress codes in specific terms but may bar entry when a passenger is blatantly out of line when entering with bare feet, grossly inappropriate graphics, or excessive skin exposure.

In many instances, if other visitors complain about offensive appearance, the staff may suggest changing, covering up, or leaving.

The airline or lounge management always retains the right to refuse service and entry, even to members.

International Airport Lounges

The general statement among European and Australian airlines is that passengers should be comfortable, but dress tastefully without offending other passengers.

However, Swissport, operators of 40 high-quality airport lounges around the world, still requires passengers to follow a smart casual dress code with no sports attire or shorts, baseball hats, or other informal clothing permitted.

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