When commercial airline travel first took off, it used to be a landmark experience for travelers, who would often celebrate the event by wearing their most fashionable outfits. Jetsetters and frequent flyers from the 1960s and 1970s doubtless remember the sharp suits, elegant dresses, and fashion-forward stewardess uniforms of that now bygone era. However, a recent announcement from Saudia Airlines revealed the carrier’s plan to enforce a dress code for passengers, though the decision is motivated by cultural -not sartorial- considerations.
Saudia Airlines unveiled the new dress code via a detailed press release on their website. Considering the airline’s position as Saudi Arabia’s flag carrier and that it is technically owned by the state, it is hardly surprising that the dress code reflects the country’s primarily Muslim culture.
The new rules ban women from wearing outfits that reveal their arms or legs, and also stipulate clothing must be suitably thick and loose. Men are also affected by the new rules, with the document expressly instructing male passengers not to wear shorts. Saudia merely provided examples instead of a detailed, point by point list, but its overall message was for passengers to avoid any clothing choices that could offend or cause discomfort to other passengers, placing an emphasis on modesty and respect.
According to Saudia’s website, passengers who do not abide by the new dress code are subject to removal from the flight. The proclamation did not go on to specify whether or not passengers would be compensated for the cancellation.
Responses on social media to the new dress code have been mixed. Some commentators are praising, or at the very least, respectfully acknowledging Saudia’s commitment to their corporate and national principles. Saudia already bans the serving of alcohol in-flight to comply with Muslim prohibition. Furthermore, the carrier provides secluded prayer areas for devout passengers. In that sense, the dress code is simply a logical extension of the Muslim-majority cultural climate in which the carrier operates.
Other commentators were less enthusiastic, calling the policy regressive, unnecessary, and a clear infringement upon passenger rights. Several passengers have already reported running into difficulties with the new policy, forcing them to purchase a new set of clothing at the airport, or in some cases cancelling their flight entirely. Saudia is not alone in its new policy, at least according to Ali Al Ghamdi, the former head of tourism for the country. He claims that many other airlines maintain dress codes, though which carriers he was referencing remains unclear.