Flying Naked: What Happened to Airplane Civility?

Did you hear the one about the naked fliers? No, this isn't a joke, it actually happened this summer: There were these two fellows -- one on US Airways, one on Southwest -- who felt compelled to take off all their clothes in midflight.

Must have been disconcerting for the other passengers (especially on the Southwest flight -- pretty hard to ignore a 300-pound naked guy in your midst). And yet, my first thought upon reading this was: fashion.

Hear me out: Back in the early days of flying, you got on a plane, dressed to the nines -- sometimes tens, even.

VIDEO: A flight is diverted after a naked man refuses to cover up.

If you're too young to remember that, all you have to do is take a look at a recent episode of Mad Men to see the kind of elegance I'm talking about: men on planes wore suits, women wore dresses, and flight attendants looked crisp and professional (not to mention young and pretty but in those days, that was a job requirement).

I invite you to take a good look at your fellow passengers on your next flight: try to find someone not sporting denim or shorts or sneakers. That's not necessarily a dig -- it's just our culture: on an airplane these days, every day is "casual Friday."

Video: Nude association tries to set skinny dipping record.

So how did we go from "natty" to "naked"? Or, from tasteful to tacky -- in just a few short decades? I think we can lay this at the feet of one man in particular -- a British knight.

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Anyone remember Laker Airways? The long-defunct airline was the brainchild of the UK's Freddie Laker (the Queen added the "Sir" later on) -- and the carrier ferried folks across The Pond for rock-bottom prices.

This made Europe possible for many Americans in the '70's and early '80's, especially the nomadic young -- most of whom didn't own ties and thought wingtips were part of a parakeet. It was the era of grab-a-backpack-and-go, and a time when everyone wanted to look cool, not suave.

Oh, there were a few fashion holdouts -- take D.B. Cooper, for instance. Cooper -- no one knows his real name -- was at the center of one of the enduring mysteries of the 20th century. We still don't know what happened to this man who demanded $200,000 before bailing out of a Northwest Orient 727 back in 1971 but, the guy could dress. Witnesses said Cooper wore a dark suit and tie, a "neatly pressed" white shirt, and a mother-of-pearl tie pin. He may have been a mad man for real, but the guy had style.

Alas, onboard attire has been dumbing-down ever since, and the backpackers aren't the only culprits. Enter the miniskirt -- cute, yes, but pretty darned casual -- especially when made out of paper. That's right, paper. A 1967 Time Magazine article praised the virtues of paper dresses -- cheap, chic and disposable -- they never made it as resort wear, despite predictions.

But regular, fabric minis did gain a foothold -- along with their more whimsical cousins -- remember when Southwest Airlines dressed its flight attendants in neon-orange hot pants? Pretty funny, considering that just a couple of years ago, Southwest nearly booted a passenger because she was wearing a skimpy skirt.

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