The Dress Code Bites

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Back when I was actively flight instructing and overseeing a small FBO flightschool in Connecticut, I used to think that how a CFI dressed mattered a lot. I still think that, but perhaps deleting a lot. This came to mind with this weeks news report that one Mitchell Casado, the plaid-wearing sim instructor CNN used in its non-stop coverage of the MH370 story, had been fired. Ostensibly, part of the reason for his dismissal was his…umm, casual sartorial habits. I suspect theres more to the story than that, but it does raise the issue of how pilots ought to dress and how instructors ought to present themselves, if not to TV audiences, then to customers.

I used to do the shirt and tie thing, but got out of that habit because I despise ties as the most useless clothing accessory ever invented. Besides being uncomfortable, ties are impractical in the cockpit and more so at lunch, where theyre bound to collect the salsa or act as an unintended bib. But cutoffs, jeans and open plaid shirts over white t-shirts go too far in the opposite direction, so I settled on business casual; suit-type slacks and a polo shirt or sweater will do fine. Here in Florida, CFIs run the gamut of dress, but I dont see many wearing shorts and flip-flops. I never wear shorts in an airplane because I worry about the fire risk. Cotton or non-synthetic pants give you at least a little protection.

Were beginning to see an influx of foreign students in Florida again and I saw a gaggle of them walking down the street to lunch yesterday, all in white shirts and black ties. Please, someone go ahead and entertain me as to how this improves learning by demonstrating seriousness. Im sure thats right behind the law of primacy or something. Ive never been good at that sort of theoretical musing.

But back to Casado. This guy was on CNN practically 24/7 when the news network was driving its ratings with wall-to-wall MH370 coverage. The first time I saw him in basic Gangsta casual, I didnt think much of it, but by the third or fourth time, I was wondering…isnt anybody going to clean this guy up a little? Its not like they didnt have time, as CNN was driving the sim coverage onto live air three or four times an hour for three weeks. Claudio Teixeira, owner of UFly, whose 777 like sim CNN was using, said Casado shamed Canadians by dressing so poorly.

A little strong, maybe, but why didnt the owner insist on a wardrobe change? Or CNN? Even for the crummy little web videos we do, I have people change clothes, remove hats and sunglasses and generally try to keep them from embarrassing themselves.

While CNNs coverage of MH370 was annoyingly overplayed, the 777 sim coverage was, in my view, good television. Those brief glimpses showed a general audience how airplanes work, how automated theyve become and what the crew might have been seeing. One thing they did which I found interesting was to simulate fuel exhaustion to see how the sim would behave. There are worse things to do with air time.

Television always involves some sleight of hand and what wasnt obvious to the casual viewer was that the sim isnt the level D, motion-based equipment used to train professional pilots, but a flight experience device open to the general public. Think of it as an amusement ride and Casados style of dress makes a little more sense, although not much. It didnt occur to me to examine this until the news story that he had been fired appeared. I suppose like others in the aviation audience, I was wondering what flight organization would put up that level of unprofessionalism and the answer is probably none.

The takeaway? Not much of one, except if youre instructor or professional pilot, pause to ask how you might look to others. I think my slacks and polo shirt are okay, but let me know if thats not the case. I think I still remember how to tie a tie.

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