Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How to Dress for an International Flight

Back in the old days, people would dress up for a flight. Traveling by air was novel and expensive. With the entry of Southwest Airlines (the Greyhound of the Sky), all that went out the window. Today, walking through the airport, you see all manner of super casual attire.

I recall, on my first international business trip, I ran into one of our engineers at the airport. He and I were flying to Tokyo to attend the same meeting. I was dressed in Dockers with a button-down shirt (trying to look like an international marketing guy). He, on the other hand, was dressed in nylon shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt. He looked as if he were about to run a marathon, so I asked him if he was headed someplace to workout. I was assuming that he was a big international traveler and knew the in, maybe there was a gym at the airport that I knew nothing about. He responded (with a hint of defensiveness) that he was about to take a long flight and wanted to be comfortable. "Comfortable?" I thought. "You are almost naked. We are flying in business class. We are going to spend the next 12 hours in a BarcaLounger. How comfortable do you have to be?"

Once we got on the plane, my greatest problem was staying warm. My Dockers and loose cotton shirt where plenty comfortable enough. Of course, I still see Japanese businessmen in a full suit; never even loosening their tie during the 12 hour trip. I guess it is what you are used to. If I am comfortable enough to wear something for 9 hours in the office, then I am comfortable enough on a 10 - 12 flight. You do not have to go to extremes.

Here is my advice, "Don't worry about it." Wear something you would not mind wearing around the house all day. If it is uncomfortable to wear at home, do not wear it on the plane. If you are inclined to get a little cold, bring a sweater and wear long sleeves. Keep your shoes on if you can. Your feet are going to swell and your shoes are going to be hard to get back on at the end of the flight. However, if your feet start to hurt, take your shoes off. Don't suffer the whole flight with aching feet. Just leave yourself a little time to shove your fat feet in your shoes before the plane starts to empty out.

One more comment concerning your shoes. Since 2001 when Richard Reid tried to blow up an American Airlines flight with a shoe bomb, passengers have been required to remove their shoes and have them X-rayed when passing through security. I have seen various road warriors scoff at passengers who wear shoes that must be tied when going through security. The thinking is you are going to have to untie your shoes, run them through the scanner then put them back on your feet and retie them. These road warriors feel like this inconvenience can be avoided by wearing loafers. That is fine if you are not traveling for business, but I need real shoes to wear with my suit. As far as I am concerned, you go through a little bit of inconvenience at the airport by wearing lace-up shoes, but then you have the shoes you really need for the rest of the trip. I think the whole shoe issue is a pretty minor inconvenience compared to all the other things I have to do (put my liquids in a quart bag, pull my notebook computer out of the bag, leave my pocket knife and scissors at home, have my bag re-X-rayed if I fail to empty out other assorted electronics that capture the attention of the screener, etc.) Besides, on an international flight, I find that lace-up shoes are easier to stuff my fat feet into when I arrive at my destination.

Once you are in the airport, take the stairs if you can instead of using the escalator. It will help to move the blood out of your feet and back into the rest of your body.

But here is my best tip. If you are traveling on business, have a clean shirt and a sports coat handy. Brush your teeth, shave, and put on a fresh shirt about an hour before you land. Then wear the sports coat through customs. If you indicate on your emigration form that you were overseas on business, the customs agent will tend to leave you alone. Especially if you look like an experienced business traveler. Customs will usually wave you on and not waste time digging through you bags. Of course, having about a dozen pages stamped in your passport further convinces the customs agent that you are an international business traveler.

However, if you are traveling with family, I have no advice for you other than to get your paperwork in order, be efficient and alert, and maintain a reserved but friendly and polite attitude. Chances are you will make it through with no issues.

James Snider is an international marketing professional with 15 years experience in the semiconductor and high-tech industry. He was the industry lead for global FireWire marketing at Texas Instruments, Philips Semiconductor (now NXP) and the 1394 Trade Association.
Snider is actively searching for the next great thing to market into a worldwide success. 

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