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 week’s 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 there’s 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 they’re 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 don’t 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.

We’re 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. I’m sure that’s right behind the law of primacy or something. I’ve 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 didn’t think much of it, but by the third or fourth time, I was wondering…isn’t anybody going to clean this guy up a little? It’s not like they didn’t 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 didn’t 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 CNN’s 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 they’ve 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 wasn’t obvious to the casual viewer was that the sim isn’t 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 Casado’s style of dress makes a little more sense, although not much. It didn’t 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 you’re 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 that’s not the case. I think I still remember how to tie a tie.

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Comments (45)

When I was a young (23-24) GA entrepreneur and CFI "hotshot", in 66-67, I ALWAYS dressed in either a business suit or slacks/sport jacket AND tie. NO jeans A-2 jacket, white silk scarf or "I'm a pilot look". WHY? My student/customer base was largely business people, white collar upper/mid- management executives, small business owners, etc. They WERE professional and I, by being well dressed and groomed, INDENTIFIED with them.

Naturally, my contemporaries (pilot buddies) thought I was way "over the top"! But guess who was earning $10-12K+ as a CFI, and having "quality" serious professional student/customers?

Posted by: Rod Beck | April 20, 2014 9:18 AM    Report this comment

Paul, the only time I've seen you appropriately dressed was when you had about 8 stripes on each shoulder. A tie too if I recall. I think I actually made an effort to tighten up my circuits because of all those stripes :-).

You're all appropriately dressed. You wear neat clothes that are appropriate and comfortable to spend all day in and around aircraft, and often outdoors.

I'm the sloppiest dresser I know but never when flying. It's a time to tighten everything up and dressing neatly and tidily is part of my routine for getting into a neat and tidy mindset. I reckon I do it for passenger confidence too.

Posted by: John Hogan | April 20, 2014 10:43 AM    Report this comment

And one more thing; "class" is 24/7 - you either have it or you don't. I personally define class as; " a sense of appropriateness." I noticed this dudes casual "dress" initially and thought, "he had a rough night"; but the second time around and on national TV? Does/did Mr.Casado have "class" - no wonder he was relieved!

Posted by: Rod Beck | April 20, 2014 11:18 AM    Report this comment

No doubt, Casado needed to be more formal. His dress code did not project confidence in his aptitude and skill as a pilot., but the network was slow in reacting. The investigation is a serious matter yet the presentation had leanings into a dog and pony show at times.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | April 20, 2014 2:12 PM    Report this comment

So Casado is 'cleared' to report in the sim with his attire by the suits and later fired by the suits for his attire. Obviously, the wrong person got fired. Hope they can straighten that out...

I didn't find his clothes distracting or unprofessional for the assignment when I saw him at 11pm or such odd hours. And Paul's garb is just right to me for the positions he plays. It's about the same as my presentation every day at work, too. I did use a tie once, though, for a splint for a kid who broke her leg on a swing set, so they can be occasionally useful.

Of course there is the conservative look and the business casual and casual and such categories. I'd say also there is a river that divides things somewhat, too, that runs down the middle of the country. Whenever I cross that mighty Muddy to appear at a consortium or seminar out East, I always pack one of my Jerry Garcia ties in my bag, just in case.

Posted by: David Miller | April 20, 2014 3:32 PM    Report this comment

I promised that in 2014 I would have an opinion about anything. Challenge the masses I told myself. So Dave, I admit I do not wear ties now but I did during my other life - I still value a dress code, out of deference for a person or occasion, therefore I still have ties and suits, both black, good for baptisms, weddings, court dates and funerals - including mine. By golly, I've even picked the shirt and tie I'm going down with. Casual or solemn occasion I am ready and will dress accordingly. If ties were good for the 60s and 70s then they should be good for the 2010s. The MH370 is a sad event and needs reverence - proper attire would show respect and professionalism.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | April 20, 2014 7:30 PM    Report this comment

Rafael, oh Rafael...

Did you just use the press coverage of the MH370 debacle in one sentence with the words "respect" and "professionalism"? Uhh, Ohh! May the un-gracious and hate-loving Odin strike me in the head on this sunny Easter Holiday for disagreeing with you, but here I go...

One could have placed an over-medicated 8 year old in front of a Microsoft Flight Simulator (15 Inch SVGA screen) and it would have been the equivalent of feeding pearls to a group of wild bores in the mud. The general populace couldn't tell the difference between a 777 Simulator and a game of PONG on a ATARI, much less use any of the gobbledegook discussed to make a clear picture. Media coverage of this complete disaster was an accident, start to finish.

There's the Lesbian and Gay Pilot Community, which is terribly upset and forces the change of an articles headline using someone's personal aviation acronym used to keep seaplanes safe (FAGS - Flaps, Airspeed, Gear, Seatbelts - google it, but sit down before you read the story!!!) and this kid is fired for being dressed like a human being in a simulator? I mean, seriously?! How many fat couch potatoes did he offend and embarrass? Looks like a sad joke to me.

I swear, if my copy of airplane wasn't so old and scratched, I'd watch the film just to be sure I type my last sentence completely correct: "Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines!" Simulators are imagination tools, the screams from the rear are not real and they don't hurt you the whole time they are killing you, virtually. You can fly them safely in your underwear and rest assured that only your imaginary passengers will really get offended.

I used to work in a luxury car dealership that had a simple rule on the dress code. "Don't out-dress your customer, up-sell them." People buy from people, and a turd in a suit is still a turd.

Posted by: Jason Baker | April 20, 2014 8:14 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Miller: you obviously don't indentify with the importance of "first impressions" in your line of work. Like I said, "class" IS a sense of appropriateness"! Disagree all you want - "appearance" HAS $$ off for me in all my business ventures AND personal relationships in the NJ/NY metro area! Perhaps if Mr Casado were a "CFI" or duster pilot at Vern's Flying Service in West Podunk, MT, his "dress" wouldn't mean a hill of beans!

Posted by: Rod Beck | April 20, 2014 8:38 PM    Report this comment

Jason, you are just too funny. Apparently Casado offended the one guy with the tie and with the capacity to fire him. I agree that the press has made a mockery of the MH370 search and has been inaccurate and sloppy. So why add to the mess by not dressing at least under business casual norms.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | April 20, 2014 9:09 PM    Report this comment

Oh me goodness! Call the fire department. We just started the whole Mr. X and Mr. Y professionalism [redacted] swinging contest again and now things are going to get all so damn serious in a fluff n puffing hurry. How sad. Ever flown on a Maldives Air Taxi Otter?

Now CFI's and agricultural application pilots are suddenly to be categorized beneath a simulator jockey, despite the fact that both likely make more money and have more excitement prior to their second cup of coffee, than this poor guy made and had during the whole press coverage ordeal we had to suffer through. Minor peoples and commonality condemned for life, for their strategic lack of professional attire. A well dressed turd is a better turd.

Professor Dr. Paul Bertorelli: I hope for you that you had the mental acuity to have written this article in a suit and with a tie on! Professional journalism starts and ends with you. If not, we'll find out and get someone in the upper echelons of AVweb to zero in on your dress-code.

Posted by: Jason Baker | April 20, 2014 9:49 PM    Report this comment

I know you mean well, Rafael, so keep those suits handy. Eventually, you may get a lot of money on Ebay for them when they are finally out of style ... And, I have to admit, my sport coat and tie can right the appearance for me on the occasions that I am happy at a funeral and sad at a wedding... :)

And for Beck, three words. Sorry, four. Toronto mayor Rob Ford. A suit and tie, class AND appearance all in one sublime package, no?

Posted by: David Miller | April 20, 2014 10:49 PM    Report this comment

Man, just don't seem to get any respect here. Tough crowd!!!

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | April 20, 2014 10:57 PM    Report this comment

Oh Dear Lord, the fashion police have arrived, aren't we sartorially challenged safe anywhere?!

Posted by: Richard Montague | April 21, 2014 7:19 AM    Report this comment

I'm a retired B747 FE and also an experienced CFII. I firmly believe that the young flight students wearing white shirts and ties important because they will wear them for the rest of their professional careers as pilots.
I also believe that pilots should never wear shorts or open footwear, its also advisable to wear non synthetic clothing that does not melt on the skin in the event of a cockpit fire.

As for casual dress in the sim, its industry standard (in the USA), this is the time when one abandons the uniform and dresses casually.

Posted by: Michael Young | April 21, 2014 7:22 AM    Report this comment

Mike; I think "casual" is somewhat subjective; frankly, casual ISN'T the appearance of an unbuttoned T-shirt in ANY professional environment; sim or no sim - simply a matter of pride and self-esteem!

Posted by: Rod Beck | April 21, 2014 8:12 AM    Report this comment

I'll often ear a Flight Suit - even in a Cessna 150. Part of - IM SAFE - I use it as a mental exercise in divorcing myself from the day to day stressors and saying to myself - "Flying only - nothing else". You can laugh all you want - but the "Young Eagles" patch on the shoulder of a flight suit sure gives a lot of confidence to parents entrusting their offspring to you. I don't complain when offered discounts in hotels either.......

Posted by: Graeme Smith | April 21, 2014 8:24 AM    Report this comment

A few years ago the 142 schools dropped the jacket and tie requirements for instructors because clients started complaining that they were too stodgy and overdressed. Incidentally the clients were showing up for $50,000+ type ratings in flip flops and shorts. Standard dress is now khakis and a polo shirt. I think that's reasonable, especially when conducting a sim session at 4am on Christmas Eve. Even with a dress code some clever pilot always manages to circumvent the rules; especially at the regional airlines. Nothing instills confidence like a 20 something pilot wearing a rumpled shirt with the epaulets on backwards, shades on indoors, ear buds in, sporting a pair of crocs, while toting a backpack.

Posted by: SHANNON FORREST | April 21, 2014 8:56 AM    Report this comment

During the CNN coverage my spouse was notably annoyed by the farm hand dress code of the sim instructor (he doesn't LOOK like he could fly anything), while I gave him a pass assuming he was probably a techie that spends his life soldering wires under the panel and surviving on pizza in the lab at 3 am (hence the bedraggled appearance). Nothing really surprises me anymore.

Now I have to listen to "I told you so" at least 700 times, so maybe there actually is hope for society :-)

Posted by: A Richie | April 21, 2014 9:32 AM    Report this comment

Now that the wind has stop blowing and it's safe to come out, I say;

Rod, jerk is spelled carefully where I come from. Two Ks is just too strong and please $top you ab$urd me$$aging.

Jason, make it a point to dress with sartorial elegance next time you fly as you strike me as a sandals and shorts kinda CFI.

Dave, I am betting that you'll be wearing a tie, just like I will, during all customary occasions - a sport coat is OK but no white socks.

Paul, it's OK, few dare your wrath - don't change. Please continue to report from Aero while surrounded by talented Czech chicks - who cares about ties, logoed polo is good. You're da man!.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | April 21, 2014 9:39 AM    Report this comment

Oh brudder! Much ado about nothing. Ol' Willie would roll over in his grave.

Where I live and practice law, "very casual" is plenty OK at the office--clean jeans and a clean button-type, open collar shirt. If I show up wearing slacks and a jacket and tie, everyone knows I'm going to court, because that's still expected--my "uniform" tells on me. Sure, there are some lawyers in town who customarily wear jackets and ties daily, and some even wear suits, but that's them, not me.

Now on to instructors. When I was instructing 30 odd years ago, dressing neatly was expected--what many would call business casual today--slacks, open collar shirt. Some even wore ties--as I would only if I was still dressed for a court appearance. Today in the same environment, my "very casual" would fit right in.

Times change. Was Casado under-dressed? Offensive is in the eyes of the beholder. So to some, he was; to others he wasn't. His mistake was displeasing his boss, not the few spectators who were offended. He violated one of the cardinal rules of employer/employee relations: dress according to the predilections of the person who can fire you.

Posted by: Cary Alburn | April 21, 2014 10:06 AM    Report this comment

Rafy; My reference to "jerk(k) WASN'T directed to you - get my drift? Personally, to each his/her own on what's appropreiate. And in BUSINESS, you'll atttact the people to you intitailly based on FIRST impression(s) who wish to do buisne$$ with you whatever your business is. Since most respondents here appartently aren't in the "public" eye, the importance of apperance is mote!

Posted by: Rod Beck | April 21, 2014 10:48 AM    Report this comment

Rod, please dial it back a little. There's no need to direct animus toward anyone here. that's why we have newsgroups.

Please help us out here.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 21, 2014 11:35 AM    Report this comment

Gotta love the new poll.

"Jason, make it a point to dress with sartorial elegance next time you fly as you strike me as a sandals and shorts kinda CFI. "

I prefer surrounding myself with normal human beings but of course in my daily line of activity frequently interact with individuals who have to, or feel the need to adhere to certain dress codes. To each their own, I guess.... I'd say I've been around airplanes for most of my life and so far have yet to meet a pilot who's level of professionalism (or how such persons were perceived in terms of professionalism) was determined by (a) the size of their logbook (b) their attire or (c) the number of hieroglyphs behind their names. After the number of deaths I have counted, neither of the above changed the outcomes of their deadly crashes. I can personally attest to having met quite a few turds in suits, many of whom couldn't afford the candy bar at the gas station and the fake Rolex didn't help with financing anything either. Shine and smoke is not the base of good business.

I would personally find it an act of hypocrisy to evaluate Casado's level of professionalism based on his dress-code. We apply those same rules to many sectors of aviation life and see where it gets us. A million dollar salary with a suit and tie, but still, no integrity? Hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, and a suit, and one hires security to face their membership. I'd invite such characters to come off the high horse for once and stop pretending. Life is too short for stuff like this.

The public's perception of pilot professionalism isn't perturbed by dress-code, why else would passengers enter an airplane flown by two teenage style, chewing gum- chewing, candy crush playing "dude's" living on $15K/ year and living out of a Walmart backpack? I can see how someone sitting in an airliners cockpit is supposed to be in uniform but dress code is only part of a professionals tool bag. How many turds in suits do you know who sport all the things you'd expect, except they lack human compassion, tact or style or maybe all of it?

Think about it the other way... Who was Casado's supervisor/ manager to let him step in front of cameras during this hapless press coverage event, in this kind of dress? Was he the only one around? How did all the other sim instructors dress? Who selected him?

Wanna make an example, apply the firing ax right there. As a Manager, my rule was that the buck stops with me. Be fair and stop judging people you don't know diddly about for what they wear, say or think. To me it looks more like someone had some beef with Casado. Casado shouldn't and didn't really shame anyone in Canada, Bieber already does all that and he's cruising on.

Posted by: Jason Baker | April 21, 2014 12:37 PM    Report this comment

Hi Paul: Point taken and NO offense; however, I'm only responding as to what I see as inappropreiate (a few) comments - as bold or direct as my replies may appear.

Posted by: Rod Beck | April 21, 2014 12:53 PM    Report this comment

Look around you next time you're doing something at any of the large FBOs, Cutter, Signature, Millionair, etc. You can tell who the pro pilots are. When I was one flying others, I dressed the same.

With regard to my personal flying activities, my Dad taught me that I should be prepared to walk 50 miles if I had to put it down somewhere. So, no shorts, no short-sleeve shirts and good shoes. The desert is cruel. Parka and hat in baggage.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | April 21, 2014 1:33 PM    Report this comment

I'll second that the desert is cruel, so be prepared.

This appearance subject is an interesting one, and if I may be allowed a slight deviation from Mr. Casado and his appearance, to speak in defense of a fellow pilot who is receiving 700 verbal lashes as we write and might need a counterpoint...

If the pronoun in the phrase "(he doesn't LOOK like he could fly anything)" was changed to she, it would reflect the surveys that continually show a solid majority of the flying public to not trust a woman pilot when they fly. There are many walls built over the decades from fear and ignorance that now need to crumble, but this one might take some time.

Of course, A Richie, if a long, solo cross-country would work better ... have a great flight!

Posted by: David Miller | April 21, 2014 1:39 PM    Report this comment

WWBHW? What would Bob Hoover wear?

Posted by: Richard Montague | April 21, 2014 1:39 PM    Report this comment

Next time I find myself in a 777 sim, I'll have the combat boots, camouflaged pants, helmet and survival pack ready. This way, if I have to put down in the Indian Ocean or somewhere like that, I'll be prepared. I agree with Dave. Our society hasn't yet mastered seeing a woman in the pointy end of an airplane or equal pay for any other profession for that matter and here we are huffing and puffing like old steam locomotives about someones dress in a simulation device. Better chuckle and move on quickly before the truth starts hurting.

Posted by: Jason Baker | April 21, 2014 1:59 PM    Report this comment

Hey Dave, I think you misunderstood my post. My spouse was only reacting to Mr. Farm Hand's B-777 cockpit attire (I personally didn't care; I thought the "pilot" was maybe a senior simulator technician). It had nothing to do with whether it was a woman or man, flying or not. But flying...that's always better!

Posted by: A Richie | April 21, 2014 2:26 PM    Report this comment

"WWBHW? What would Bob Hoover wear?"

A white jacket and a straw hat.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 21, 2014 2:36 PM    Report this comment

Unless there's something behind the scenes to which we're not privy (like, did he defy instructions to dress nicer?), this is a stupendously stupid move by his employers.

Think about it: they could have attracted plenty of customers who were interested to fly in the same sim and with the same instructor that they saw on CNN. Instead, they're now the jerks who fired the guy who explained things to them on CNN.

As for Casado's attire, it didn't bother me in the least.

Posted by: MICHAEL KOBB | April 21, 2014 2:42 PM    Report this comment

You know what bothers me the most about cockpit attire? Polyester. Don't wear it or let your passengers do so if you can help it. Not only does it permanently fuse/melt into the skin in a post-crash fire, but sliding in and out of cockpits on dry winter days makes for a fine ignition source for any stray fuel vapors. Cotton may burn, but it falls away. Not fun to think about, but it may save your life.

Posted by: A Richie | April 21, 2014 2:54 PM    Report this comment

No prob, A.R. I seem to be having trouble lately saying what I mean on these threads.

I know your post wasn't about gender, but evidently I did assume something important about another's gender incorrectly. Apologies.

Posted by: David Miller | April 21, 2014 3:14 PM    Report this comment

It seems to me that almost ALL here are making reference to "piloting" positions where dress and attire may vary based on the "code" of the employer. Agree or disagree; I was taught to look my BEST (appropreiate) from depression era parents no matter WHAT the occasion; like having enough fashion conscious sense not to wear white socks with a tuxedo to a wedding or a t-shirt and shorts to my nephews college graduation. And that folks, IS my final answer.

Posted by: Rod Beck | April 21, 2014 4:43 PM    Report this comment

Thank you Rod.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | April 21, 2014 5:04 PM    Report this comment

Thank you Raf.

Posted by: Jason Baker | April 21, 2014 8:33 PM    Report this comment

Thank you Jason

Posted by: David Miller | April 21, 2014 8:51 PM    Report this comment

Good night Jason, Dave, Rod.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | April 21, 2014 8:58 PM    Report this comment

No, thank you Dave! Good night Raf, Dave, Rod, Paul and of course Mr. Hoover!

Posted by: Jason Baker | April 21, 2014 9:03 PM    Report this comment

And in the immortal words of Porky Pig (Mel Blanc); A-be, A-be, A-be: that's ALL folks! Couldn't resist!
Ok, your have to settle for the "Travel Short" tonight - have another Judy Fruit?

Posted by: Rod Beck | April 21, 2014 10:16 PM    Report this comment

He should have worn one of those Sporty's print T-shirts that says, FAA mission statement: We're not happy until you're not happy.

Posted by: Matthew Lee | April 21, 2014 11:11 PM    Report this comment


I think your Catholic school upbringing is showing.

I might still be able to knot a tie riding no hands on a 10 speed while late to class.


Posted by: DANIEL CHANG | April 22, 2014 6:03 AM    Report this comment

I have no problem with instructors or instructor-wannabees wearing epaulettes or ties or wing-tipped shoes or any other feign of "professionalism." My only issue is with those who sport such bling as a substitute for actual flying and instructing capabilities. Sadly, I've encountered all too many such souls during my tenure. Wearing a "pilot costume" doesn't make you a pilot, any more than hanging a stethoscope around your neck makes you a physician.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | April 22, 2014 9:01 AM    Report this comment

The "Dress Code" poll is telling. Extremes are out.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | April 22, 2014 9:24 AM    Report this comment

Professional attire is a plus, but comfort is also important. I'd rather have a cool CFI than a schweaty mess. Also, sandals are out if you plan to use the rudder pedals.

Posted by: Dana Files | April 25, 2014 12:20 PM    Report this comment

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