Much has been made recently about the passengers who were denied boarding on a United flight because of the choice to wear leggings in lieu of something else. When the dust settled, it was brought to light that the decision to deny boarding was because the passengers were non-revenue pass riders. That is, they were using employee benefits and/or buddy passes to ride on a space-available basis.

The dress code at UAL is crystal clear about what kind of attire is considered acceptable for employees, their families and designated travel partners, and the friends to whom they provide buddy passes. Further, there are specific stipulations that must be met if those passengers are to be allowed to ride in first or business class as opposed to coach class. If there is any gray area or question about the acceptability of the choice of clothing, the gate agent will be the final decision maker. The fault in this case lies with employee who didn’t make sure that the passengers were in compliance with the dress code.

The ability to fly for free and to offer substantially reduced fare tickets to friends and family is one of the best perks of working for an airline, but it is a privilege, not a right. Further, it comes with certain expectations of decorum and behavior, one of which is the dress code.

Every airline has some form of dress code, and while the new norm is fairly relaxed—shorts are usually allowed—it is not a free-for-all. United, for instance, doesn’t allow flip-flops, and most airlines don’t allow torn (even by design) jeans or shirts, and none allow for any kind of profane, offensive or provocative material. And don’t assume that just because you got on the airplane you’re in the clear. The flight attendants can have you removed if they think the gate agent dropped the ball.

Pilots have another issue to contend with, which is attire that is acceptable for the cockpit jumpseat. Most carriers don’t allow jeans or a T-shirt to be worn if occupying the jumpseat. As a result, you’ll often see commuting pilots wearing their uniform, or perhaps the uniform pants with a collared shirt, especially if the flight is fairly full. Another option is to wear the uniform, but to remove the epaulets, wings, et cetera, from the shirt.

I try to avoid giving anybody my buddy passes because I just don’t think they’re a great deal, especially if someone is on a schedule. But if you get hired by an airline and decide to issue your buddy passes, make sure that your friends understand all of the rules associated with such travel. The dress code is important, and so is the general behavior, so spending a lot of time at the airport bar is not a good idea. To that extent, your friends or relatives shouldn’t brag to other passengers about getting such a cheap (or free) seat. Those passengers with such expensive tickets, after all, are paying the employees’ salary and helping to provide that benefit. Don’t throw it in their face.

I’ve known several employees whose pass privileges were suspended or revoked because of abuse. Some sponsored passengers who acted inappropriately or yelled at gate agents, and a few were caught trying to sell buddy passes for a profit (this almost always gets you fired). But, whether it’s a buddy pass or yourself, pay attention to the rules of the carrier in use. If you need to ask yourself if something is appropriate, it probably isn’t. When it comes to dress, be conservative.—Chip Wright