How to Get Your Airline Friends and Family Fired

You may have seen in the news during the past few days a story about two US Airways first class passengers who were told to change clothes before being allowed to board. They were traveling from Denver to Los Angeles via Phoenix and were allegedly wearing jeans, hoodies and baseball caps. A “no go” according to US Airways.

The African-American siblings (brothers) complied by changing clothes, but were shocked to discover two other first class passengers (one Caucasian, one Filipino) boarded and took their seats wearing attire similar to what the two brothers were forced to change out of – jeans and the like.

Sounds crazy, right? They thought so and have now sued (PDF) US Airways for racial discrimination and emotional distress.

Not so fast.

While the court complaint linked above says the brothers had the same first class tickets as the other pair, US Airways confirmed with both NBC News and USA Today that the brothers were traveling as non-revs on buddy passes. As such, a dress code applies.

Buddy-Pass Etiquette

While the brothers admitted to traveling on buddy passes, they claim that they didn’t know the dress code policy. And whose fault is that? The employee’s whose pass they’re traveling on. And I can only hope that employee is no longer working at US Airways, because if they are, they probably won’t be much longer.

Pass travel of any kind is an absolute privilege and carries responsibilities. When I worked for United, those responsibilities were very clearly explained to me, including the fact that I could be held responsible for the behavior of anyone traveling on my passes – up to and including termination.

As such, I only ever gave them to people I truly trusted, clearly explaining the rules. I never let a “friend of a friend” use them who I didn’t know for the very reason my job could be in jeopardy. And quite a few of my colleagues at the time had a similar personal policy, which I’m sure many airline employees today hold.

I’m sure the lawsuit will be shut down rather quickly, as it’s ridiculous. But what shocks me most about it is the fact that there were actually two first class seats open for buddy pass fliers. When does that happen domestically nowadays?! 😉


  1. Don’t be ridiculous. The question in this matter is if the men would have been asked to change if they were a different race. Was there any mention of the dress code regarding buddy passes at the time? Did the flight attendant even know? That’s garbage.

  2. What also surprised me was both men just so happened to have a button-down shirt and nicer trousers to change into in their carryon luggage.

  3. DapperDon, what is garbage is the money grab these 2 people are making. Not only does it jeopardize the job of the person who so selflessly gave them the buddy passes, it bastardizes the plight of those who legitimately suffer through racism.

  4. In most cass the flight attendants are not the ones to enforce* or be the party with the authority role – in most all cass that’s the sole purview of the ground/customer service personnel.

    *Note: There can be cases where a passenger *boards* in compliant attire, but sub sequentially changes into non-compliant attire once onboard or after door close/pushback/departure.
    In these cases a FA could speak to it, but largely if it’s on the ground, the matter falls to CS to decide.

    Part of the problem as I see it is this: Dress code is not written in wholly and totally objective and definable language.. Arguably it can’t be..

    As example, checked baggage limits are defined in this manner… Piece count is a objective and definable measure. So is 23 kilos.. Everything in this regard is objective and maters not as to the passenger or employees race, origin, marital status, veterans status or any other federally recognized classification

    Yes, dress code does explicitly address a fair number of items as being either ok or not, but It is not an all encompassing list .. .. and to that end. I recognize why there is the need to use words and phrases like “business casual” or similar..

    There will be some discretion and even interpretation as to what this means… But to me, so long as the basis for the decision was not based in whole or part, on one or more Federally recognized traits, then to me the case is one of agent discretion ..

    Those of us who are direct carrier employees and non-rev frequently all know there are and can be cases where we have seen first-hand either very strict enforcement or even what *we* thought was a bad/wrong decision.

    I also think we all know that when you look at this from the basis of a global carrier that some stations just handle it differently than others .. That can mean ABC city looks over every non-rev and enforces to the “T”, whereas perhaps city XYZ rarely does. While we’d all like system-wide conformity in this regard, given that there is discretion in the application of terms like “business casual” that’s just not going to happen

  5. Completely disagree with almost every prior post. Hard to imagine race didn’t play some role in stopping them. I hope they sue, win, and get this ridiculous, precious first-class-buddy-pass-dress-code policy changed.

  6. Or they could just stop giving employees the opportunity to use buddy privleges….

    “Completely disagree with almost every prior post. Hard to imagine race didn’t play some role in stopping them. I hope they sue, win, and get this ridiculous, precious first-class-buddy-pass-dress-code policy changed.”

  7. (1) the complaint is a series of legal conclusions, which opposing counsel will no doubt argue in their motion to dismiss. Asserting that the plaintiffs were discriminated against on the basis of their race is merely that–an assertion which falls victim to the most basic post hoc analysis.

    (2) Taking the plaintiff’s facts as true, there is no evidence presented which could lead any jury to reasonably conclude that there was an inference of racial discrimination. The entire complaint relies upon the alleged different treatment experienced by a Caucasian, Filipino, and two African-American passengers. It is a non sequitur to presume, arguendo, that different treatment evinces racial discrimination.

    (3) If it comes to a question of company policy (US Air will likely rely on this), the complaint should have argued that selective enforcement of company policy can give rise to a cause of action for racial discrimination. Too bad this is absent from the complaint.

    While I don’t agree with any aspect of their complaint, they could have at least hired more competent attorneys. Jeez…

  8. My question is this: were the other two passengers on paid F tickets or buddy passes as well?

    If it is the former, then the plaintiffs have no basis to file a lawsuit, as the FC passengers on revenue tickets do not have to follow the same code of dress. However, if it is the latter, then there was indeed discrimination (worth a lawsuit…ehhh probably not).

    That is a piece of information that I would like to know and it seems to have not been reported anywhere.

  9. Are you kidding? You want someone fired because their buddies wore the same clothes as the other passengers in first class?

    Why on earth is there a separate dress code for buddy pass flyers in first class anyway? Why do they have to dress up when others in first class aren’t?

  10. I don’t think they would get fired due to the improperly dressed buddies, however the buddies then sueing the airline when the airline was enforcing rules that the employee should have communicated to the buddies is probably a good reason to fire the employee.

    • @JazzyL: You know, if the other two passengers the brothers befriended were ALSO on buddy passes from someone, now that would certainly be a different matter as you point out. The thought crossed my mind.
      @B-Rad: I’m simply saying (as @steve does after you) that suing the airline and bringing media attention to it will certainly result in action to the employee as they are responsible for ensuring their “buddies” know the rules.

  11. totally ridiculous law suit. even if the white & Filipino are on buddy pass, it still does not constitute discrimination. it should be a case of poor enforcement of policy. just because they are black does not mean a discrimination. if so any one can pick out any aspect of their ethical/professional/biological/you-name-it identify & make a case out of it.

  12. The airline has established a dress code for those who wish to enjoy the privilege of flying non-rev on a deeply discounted buddy pass. If you don’t want to follow the dress code, buy a full fare ticket – simple as that.

  13. Why stop at having a dress code for the Buddy Pass? Why not put in what races, sexes, sexual orientation, weight limit, etc can use the buddy pass.

  14. This is a long standing policy with most airlines that I can remember, including back in the days of Pan Am. These guys should politely apologize for their mistake, withdraw their suit, apologize to their US Airways friend, their US Airways friend should apologize to them for forgetting the policy, their US Airways friend should apologize to US Airways, they should thank US Airways for the use of the buddy passes, they should apologize to their attorney, their attorney should apologize to them for not asking if they were on buddy passes, and everyone else should drink a beer.

  15. I’m not shocked that this happened. I rarely ever travel in business attire in F. I’m alomost always in a pair of gym shorts, tshirt, and sometimes a hat (mostly on int’l or transcon). I’ve had many comments said to me and two that stick out “Oh, you got upgraded. It must have been you’re lucky day” or “Can I please see your ID to verify your baording pass and seat assignment”. Really and ID to verify my boarding pass from the FA? All of these were on United. The FAs generally apologize to me when they find out I’m on a paid F or upgared Y ticket (1k status), granted I’m in my mid 20s. It’s sad that they treat all these people differently based on how they look.

  16. When I fly first it is usually long flight Sweats and hoodies is my ideal flying clothes Loose and Comfortable.

  17. I have flown twice on buddy passes. A dress code also applies to coach. Why would anyone use one and not be respectful of their “buddy”‘s job and the tremendous favor that was done for them???

  18. “It’s sad that they treat all these people differently based on how they look.”

    Isn’t that how most of the world operates ? Suit-n-tie gets you bowing and kowtowing, while hoodie-and-jeans-below-your-boxers get you the full background check.

    It is this stupid insistence of “political correctness” that gets the country in so much trouble. They prefer to screw the hell out of 98 people so 2 people won’t be inconvenienced.

  19. I often think about flying in athletic shorts and a hoodie to see how I get treated. I think it would be fun to do that on one of my F trips and see what they do. Maybe if I get upgraded on one of my flights this weekend I’ll give that a shot. In jeans and a hoodie up front I have always been treated great, but the few times I have worn a suit I was treated… differently.

    And back on topic… I don’t see how this is discrimination. There are rules, they were not followed. As far as I’m concerned, the biggest settlement these two guys should get is US Airways not countersuing for legal fees.

  20. As to the employee being fired, I certainly hope not. The humiliation should suffice as any due punishment.

    The lawyer, on the other hand should be forced to pay all court and legal expenses. This has all of the outward signs of a money grubbing lawsuit, using the nations collective guilt about racial matters.

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