Back when I first started mileage running at the age of 14, I remember I would always dress up to fly. It was a combination of a couple of factors. For one, flying was “special” to me. More importantly, though, as a young elite (at the time a 14 year old 1K), I wanted to avoid being discriminated against due to my age as much as possible. I had read a countless number of times on FlyerTalk about how poorly young elites are treated, and most of the people weren’t even “young” in my book (they were often 30+). So I would wear khakis, loafers, and usually a sports coat. And you know what? In seven years of being a top tier elite, I could count on a single hand the number of times I was discriminated against for being young.
Oddly, though, the trend has been reversed for me, that the older I get the more I get the “young elite” treatment. The problem is, I just can’t bring myself to actually dress up when I fly anymore. I knew it got bad when I left my mom’s house this morning to head to the airport and she said “where do you think you’re going dressed like that?” as if I was some 14 year old girl sneaking out at 11PM with a short skirt.
And I guess I should thank her, because perhaps a t-shit and sweats isn’t the most appropriate way to fly for 20 hours straight (though it certainly is the most comfortable, and makes for the most enjoyable full body pat down… or not). She convinced me to “dress up,” which nowadays means a t-shirt and shorts. Ah, the joys of being self-employed and working from home.
So I’m sorry for taking the “class” out of “first class,” but then again, there wasn’t all that much to begin with.
But the lesson here is simple. I actually do think people are discriminated against based on age when flying – but typically only when they don’t dress up at all.
I flew American from Chicago to Tampa a week ago, and I was queuing in the first class check-in line. American lets Executive Platinum members check in with international first class, so I got in the line, though I was the only one there. I always wait for the agent to gesture for me to come over, though despite her looking at me, I was ignored. After about a minute I said “are you available to help?” She snapped back “yes, but this is for first class and Executive Platinum members only; main cabin check-in is over there.” As soon as she saw I was in fact an Executive Platinum member she couldn’t have been nicer – “oh Mr. Lucky, we have upgraded you to first class and they’ll be serving dinner on your flight this evening, so I hope you enjoy.”
So that’s my conclusion. If you’re young and dressed business-like, I doubt you get discriminated against. If you’re young and dress like a slob (like me in the meantime), you’re in for a ride.
I’m a mess…