Do you do it?  Why or why not?  We are past the years when we were required to travel in uniform in order to remind the public that we were a nation at war.  Now it is optional for most military members and dependend primarily on mission and commander’s descretion.  I am going to address the legal aspects of traveling in uniform in this column and next time discuss the moral issues.

Legally, a commander is at his or her descretion as to whether to require you to travel in uniform or even forbid you to do so.  In the 90’s it was thought to be a counter-terrorism measure to forbid the wearing of the uniform on a plane.  I never bought this argument as it is pretty easy to pick out a military guy or gal even when they are not in uniform – the haircut being the most obvious thing for the guys.  I was OK for a while when the rules went out in 2003 or 2004 that required us to wear uniforms – except they were damn unconfortable on long flights!

The plusses and minuses in my view:

+ The airline staff, from CSA to pilots, fall all over themselves to thank you for your service as well as many other travellers.

+ Freebies can come your way.  Everything from free upgrades to free drinks (watch out on those) not to mention boarding first on several airlines.  Continental started this in 2009 and it has translated over to United after the merger.  Other airlines are known to do so, but I haven’t found them to do so consistently.  Alaska and American being the most frequent.

+  Airports are starting to give service members access to TSA Pre-Check so speed you through processing.  Even without that, many airports in military towns allow you to go through security with your boots on.

+ When you land, you are ready to go to your meeting or whatever duty awaits you if you have to work that day.

–  Wearing the uniform on a long flight is not too comfortable, especially the boots.  While technically not allowed, I usually loosen my lacesand stick my feet usder the seat in front of me.  Bad for circulation not to do that!

–  Getting through security can take a while when you have to remove your boots, blouse, and belt and the stricter airports.

–  Your uniform doesn’t exactly look the best after sitting on a long flight.  Niether do you if it is a eleven hour red-eye and you arrive with beard stubble.  Embarrassing.

– Many think that you should not drink while in uniform, although I can find no regulation against it.  If someone out there has definitive information about that, please let me know.

Lastly, I just completed the Senior Leaders Legal Orientation Course at the JAG school in Charlottesville, VA.  While they confirmed my reading of the JTR on upgrades, an interesting situation came up.  If you know you are flying in premium class, you are forbidden from wearing your uniform.  However, if you arrive at the airport and get a battlefield upgrade, then it is acceptable.

So tell me what you all of you do and what are your views in traveling in uniform?

Posted by glenn | 31 Comments

31 responses to “Traveling in Uniform, Part 1”

  1. Alan Fowler says:

    I am a Navy JAG Officer. I have never traveled in uniform. In fact, my commands have generally recommended that we don’t in uniform for the CONs that you identify, including two more: (1) that we can be targets (which I always found unlikely on domestic flights) and (2) that well-intended citizens may hold us up, etc. when trying to think us for our service, etc.

    I have never heard of a regulation that we must travel in uniform, but I may have missed it, relying on my command’s own direction on the same topic.

    I don’t know of a regulation that prevents drinking while in uniform. I think the applicable regulation/ UCMJ article speaks to prohibiting drinking while on duty. For liability purposes, official travel would probably be considered to be “on duty.” But, I think it’s a gray area with regard to consuming alcohol or other matters.

    I agree with the school’s direction regarding not wearing a uniform when we know, in advance, that we’ll be upgrading to a premium fare. I think the JER speaks to this.

  2. Mike says:

    I left a conference late once and didn’t have time to change back into civies. Took the opportunity to grab a last minute Tex-Mex meal near the gate at SAT. Sure enough someone paid for my meal. I was able to figure out that it was a young family. I thanked them profusely for their support and pinned one of my skill badges on the young son’s shirt.

    My battlefield upgrade cleared and I was enjoying an orange juice when sure enough the young family boarded steerage. I felt like such a jerk and swore, as long as I have a chance at an upgrade, I will never fly in uniform again.

  3. Zeke says:

    I’m a civilian but I do have friends and family in the military and I have access to BDUs. While I don’t intentionally pretend to be active military, I sometime wear the BDU (most often the pants only and a tshirt) when flying. I do make a point to tell people I’m not in the military when they bring it up. What’s your thought on this?

  4. pmv says:

    Retired several years now, and when I was in we could only travel in full service dress uniform. The thing I disliked about travelling in uniform was setting off all of the alarms at security (thanks to all of the badges/metal dongs/etc on the dress uniform).

  5. Sean says:

    Did use spell check when you wrote this article? Niether?

  6. Charles says:

    Sir, per the new version of AR 670-1, effective earlier this year, Army personnel are not to travel in ACUs on commercial flights unless traveling to or from a combat zone. Specifically it says:

    Personnel on official travel and traveling by commercial travel means will wear the service uniform or appropriate civilian attire. Soldiers may wear the combat uniform on commercial flights only when deploying/redeploying or on rest and recuperation leave to and from the combat theater. However, Commanders may authorize service or utility uniforms for Soldiers when traveling by commercial travel for emergency leave or casualty assistance duties.

    As for drinking in uniform, there is no regulation against it. However AR 670-1 does state:

    Personnel may not wear the combat uniform in off-post establishments that primarily sell alcohol. If the off-post establishment sells alcohol and food, Soldiers may not wear the combat uniform if their activities in the establishment center on the drinking of alcohol.

    • glenn says:

      @ Charles – You are absolutely correct in the change with the new 670-1 (although all the talk is about women’s hairstyles and tattoos). My CSM and I have had to correct a number of Soldiers we have seen in the airport over the last couple of months. It is a real pain too as I know I am often dashing to catch the flight after whatever meeting I had while TDY. But as they says “them’s the rules”!

  7. Pv2 whitesides says:

    I am leaving ait wednesday i have to report to my unit immediately when i get home to inprocess and prepare for predeployment training. My company commander is requiring me to wear my acu uniform home when i get home i will drive to where my unit is stationed then once i sign in my family wants to take me to dinner it will be later so i wont have time to change out of uniform what do i do

    • glenn says:

      Well, I am sure that a diligent Sergeant Major who collars you in the airport will understand once you explain.

    • David says:

      I graduatd AIT in DEC 2013 and was required to wear ACU’s home. Regs are regs, but there’s still the command’s discretion.

      • Charles says:

        David, that wasn’t against the regs back then. The new AR 370-1 prohibiting travel in ACUs except to/from a combat theater came into effect 01 April 2014. And no, a commander does not have the discretion to waive an Army Regulation unless the regulation itself gives the commander that right.

        • glenn says:

          @ Charles – It is actually AR 670-1, but you are correct that a commander does not have leeway to change it.

          • Charles says:

            Mea Culpa sir, I knew the correct reg in my head and still typed it wrong. Then I copied and pasted it and didn’t check myself a second time.

  8. Charles says:

    David, that wasn’t against the regs back then. The new AR 370-1 prohibiting travel in ACUs except to/from a combat theater came into effect 01 April 2014.

  9. Bradley says:

    Hi guys. Pre 9-11 Soldiers weren’t allowed to in supermarkets, resturants while in uniform. The policy was inforced because I got caught buying milk late one night while on DS duties. Service members needs to understand that some people might take the opportunity to hurt you and on the other hand they want to thank you. The big issue I’ve observed today is that we (Soldiers) are participating in national events, (Football games, NASCAR racing) in the ACU’s. This past Monday Night Football game, Soliders were out there with Patrol Caps and berets.

  10. Adrian says:

    I’m leaving my personal leave after AIT soon…do I fly in ACUs or civis

    • Charles says:

      Adrian,

      Per AR 670-1 you should travel in either civilian attire or Service Uniform (Class A/B). Civilian attire is probably better for Force Protection reasons, particularly for international travel.

  11. Adrian says:

    I’m headed to Korea

  12. Mary says:

    I don’t think anyone should fly in uniform unless they are escorting a body home or under direct command orders.

    My family and I were flying on vacation from Austin to San Diego once and a guy (with his entire family) was in uniform. Of course the flight attendant showered the family with free food and beverages meanwhile we had to pay, which is fine but we are the same military family just didn’t wear the uniform. Definitely not jealous but you could tell there was no legit reason this guy was wearing his uniform on what appeared to be a family vacation.

  13. Brandon says:

    I’ve been in the USAF 18yrs, and have worn my uniform maybe twice on commercial flights. I enjoy the privacy of not being recognized as a member of the armed forces and enjoy melding in as a member of the public. Its nice the businesses recognize military members in uniform, I don’t seek out that recognition or benefits. I find it awkward and somewhat embarrassing to even ask in such a public environment.

    FYI – military members and GS civilians can get a known traveler # for TSA precheck from the TSA website now to bypass normal TSA lines.

    • Ryan says:

      The known traveler number for TSA precheck is actually your DOD ID number on the back of your CAC. No need to visit the TSA website, just input that number when booking flights online. Or you can tell the travel agent if booking on the phone, or it can be added after you’ve already booked.

  14. Dee says:

    Lose the uniform and put on the civies. For real. Most clowns that I know who wear the uniform on flights do is strictly for the potential first class bump (with the exception of recruits or returning warriors). If you’re a senior E or an O you have no place wearing the uniform while flying.

    • Tee says:

      It’s not anyone’s business when or why a person wears their uniform as long as it is in regulation and not breaking any UCMJ regulations. How does it really hurt you if someone gets upgraded for wearing their uniform? Personnel have earned the right to wear the uniform. It’s not my style to wear my uniform outside of work or special occasions nor is it my business to judge others as long as it’s not harming anyone.

      I do appreciate businesses that do honor my brothers and sisters in arms past and present. I often ask to see if they do indeed have discounts. They are there for us to use and I happily accept especially for my family. Digressing a bit but I appreciate Sea World/Busch Gardens for continuously supporting the troops when it wasn’t done by others and continuing for over 15 years that I know of.

  15. CW2 JOHN A. GARCIA says:

    I really not see any negative on the wearing of the uniform on a flight. Soldiers that have and are serving like to be thanked ny the community. It feels great to be thanked for serving or for placing their life on the line. Mygripe is as long as the meet compliance with hair cut and shaving accordingly. Of vourse also their behavior as to how they communicate with others while waiting for the flight.

  16. Army FirstClassPrivate says:

    What about going to memorial/ceremony in utility uniform? Supposed to link up for a vietnam memorial here on leave. Don’t feel like changing into uniform in a bathroom…

  17. Chuck Dunbar says:

    As the proud father of an active Marine, the notion of wearing your uniform makes you a target is absurd. If anything, it is a deterrent to a threat. I notice that generally, most other branches of service do wear uniforms when flying commercial, and I gladly give up my better seat for them I can’t say I’ve seen a Jarhead in uniform when flying but feel that by not wearing the uniform, they potentially give up perks like pre-boarding, and other potential courtesies. The airlines should recognize this and allow all active duty military members pre-board by simply showing ID, regardless of being in uniform or not.

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