Dress codes for airport business class lounges in Australia: What you can and can't wear

Back in 2015 Qantas kicked a hornet's nest when it decided to enforce its own dress code that applied to the airline's business and first-class lounges.

Under the heading "Dress guidelines" on its website, Qantas warns "Our team will decline entry if some items of clothing are too casual or inappropriate." The list of no-go items features thongs and bare feet, head-to-toe gymwear, beachwear, ugg boots, clothing featuring offensive slogans or images and "revealing, torn or unclean clothing."

The reaction from some quarters was instant boilover. Spat dummies littered the social media playpen floors. Because an adult was saying that some things are not okay to wear in an airline lounge. Imagine. Ever seen five-year-old kids go feral when told they couldn't wear their batsuit to school?

Sex worker Estelle Lucas was an early casualty of the new ruling when she was shunted with a premature evacuation from the Qantas Club in Melbourne for wearing thongs.

"I alternate between designer high heels and thongs," said Lucas. "I had three pairs of designer heels, which were sent off into the carousel when I checked in."

Burnishing her sense of outraged entitlement, Lucas tweeted "It would have been appropriate if staff outside the terminal were told to keep an eye out for [Qantas Club] members unaware of the dress code before they checked their luggage," she said. "They could have pre-emptively informed me then, when I could have changed my footwear. I did not notice any signage outside the terminal."

Later that same year, English cricket captain Kevin Pietersen was no-balled trying to enter the Qantas first-class lounge wearing thongs. "Muppets" he howled on his Twitter feed. "Thongs are an institution in this great country! GET A GRIP!"

Note that the wearing of these items does not bar you from getting on board the plane. Thongs, boardies, athleisurewear – welcome aboard, have some bubbles, enjoy your business /first class flight. But in the lounge, afraid not.

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I'm all for it. Dressing to fit the occasion signals to the world that you know what's appropriate. Clubs and bars often have dress codes. So do some restaurants. Weddings, funerals, parties – you dress for the occasion, so why not an airline lounge? That Bintang singlet you scraped off your bedroom floor that morning says to me the wearer probably cuts a few corners - such as basic hygiene. So I don't want you dipping your paws into the buffet and putting your hoofs anywhere near the soft furnishings.

The latest chapter in the dress code saga stars Eva-Marie, a fitness model red-carded on the grounds that she was wearing top-to-toe sportswear when she tried to enter Qantas' Melbourne business lounge in mid-January. Eva-Marie copped the ban with a mild protest and some grace but then came the kicker. In a follow-up tweet she noted "Clarification: This is NOT a dresscode issue, I support a businesses right to enforce equitable dresscode standards. However, My husband was allowed in no problem wearing this. While I was kicked out wearing this. My issue is that standards should be equitably enforced."

This was accompanied by a selfie of Eva-Marie in her skin-tight workout gear and another of her man wearing shorts and a T-shirt that definitely, 100 per cent belonged in the gym. Fair point, Qantas should have booted them both. But there's a problem because Qantas regulations stipulate top-to-toe gymwear as grounds for exclusion, and hubbie's t-shirt, well that's something you wear in the gym but also everyday streetwear.

Qantas is unusual in that the airline spells out what is not acceptable wear in its business lounge. For most airlines, the rules of what will get you booted are opaque. "Smart casual" is the usual yardstick for admission.

Admission to Virgin Australia's business lounges is governed by the airline's "Lounge rules", and near the top of the list, lounge guests acknowledge "I am required to meet the minimum dress standard of smart casual attire at all times." That gives lounge crew some leeway but feedback suggests a similar dress code as Qantas'.

United Airlines terms and conditions for admission to its United Club lounges state "During your visit to a Lounge, we ask that your attire and conduct be consistent with the environment." Also, chewing tobacco is a no-no, and "Laying on the floor or placing feet on the furniture is prohibited in all Lounges," so hooray for that. Although it boggles the mind that folks need to be told.

American Airlines' Admirals Club lounges require "that your attire and conduct are consistent with a professional environment." Further, "Any conduct that is deemed by American to be inappropriate, undignified, disruptive, abusive or violent is prohibited." Note that word "undignified" - seldom heard since propellers disappeared from planes.

Middle Eastern and Asian airlines that service Australian ports are generally more coy.

Cathay Pacific has a Lounge Etiquette page with the polite injunction "Please ensure your attire and conduct is consistent with a professional environment, and refrain from causing offence or disturbing fellow passengers."

Singapore Airlines doesn't specify what is or is not expected of its lounge customers. I once spotted Todd Sampson in the Singapore Airlines business lounge in Singapore Airport wearing a t-shirt, pretty standard wear for the advertising guru, now a member of the Qantas board. It could get interesting though, if he was to wear the t-shirt with the message "Tuck Frump" that he once sported on The Gruen Transfer. Especially travelling in the USA.

Emirates is also vague, but one Traveller editor witnessed several Australian passengers swanning about the Emirates lounge at Los Angeles International sporting shorts and thongs.

What do you think about airport lounge dress codes? Should they be enforced or should passengers paying for a premium seat be allowed to wear whatever they like? Post your comments below.

See also: The rules of what you can and can't wear on a plane

See also: The rules of what flight attendants can and can't wear

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