Traveling in Uniform, Part 1

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?


  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

    1. @ 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”!

  6. 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

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

          1. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    1. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

    1. 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.

  11. 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.

    1. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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…

  14. 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.

  15. The 1990s regulation forbidding uniform wear was a counterterror measure in tge wake of a TWA hijacking in which US Navy personnel were executed. Whether the author buys it or not remains irrelevant. The changes to the 1990s prohibition wasn’t meant to remind civilians that “we’re still a nation at war.” The it was prohibition was removed because deployed Soldiers moving down range or returning from theatre didn’t have civilian clothes to wear. In the early days of Iraq and Afghanistan Soldiers would scramble to buy cloths in the ether to meet the DoD mandates.

    Current Army regulati9ns “allow” the wear of civilian garb on commercial flights. As a rule, Soldiers SHOULD only wear civilian attire when flying domestically UNLESS they are traveling down range or returning from down range.

    If your wearing your uniforms just to get at the front of the line while boarding your military ID is sufficient.

    1. @ J Wilson – As a serving member, I can guarantee you that there was a period in the early part of the war where the CSA wanted to get the message out to the public that “we were a Nation at war”. That’s a fact and well documented. The sentiment was understandable, but it was a PITA for those of us traveling.

  16. If you were being retired after 35 yrs. and you are coming home do you have to wear uniform? And he is flying. From seria

    1. If he is on active duty and coming back from a deployment, he may be required to wear a uniform, but normally we do not wear uniforms for security reasons. Retirement would have nothing to do with it. Technically, it is impossible to retire while deployed to a conflict/war zone.

    1. @ Yvonne – That’s not my middle name. You didn’t send money to that imposter on Facebook did you?


  17. Hi Glenn I am a friend from Georgia I’ve been talkin to a guy on Hangout that claims to be you I don’t know if you know they are using your picture and your profile for a scam I was very hurt by this person pretending to be you when he started wanting money 2 get his portfolio out of Afghanistan I knew it was a scam then so I deleted this person that’s pretending to use your your name and your profile a friend in Georgia

    1. @ Jessie – This has been a problem for the last five years. This guy has ripped off countless women. The Army will tell Facebook to take down the fraudulent site, but then FB allows him to put up a new one the next day. Please spread the word to others not to be a victim of this scam.

  18. What do I think of Service Members who wear the uniform in order to get attention and free perks? It’s embarrassing. It’s like the socially awkward college freshman who attends a frat party for the first time, thinking that hanging with the big boys is going to get him laid. It’s like the cheeseball flexing his stringy biceps for 15 minutes in the mirror at the gym, thinking it impresses the ladies. It’s like the young adult with a full neckbeard and a big old pot belly dressed up in a Halloween costume and going door to door, asking for free candy. It’s like the check-out clerk at the cash register asking how much tip you want to add to your final bill because they grabbed a Coke from the fridge directly behind them and handed it to you. It’s pathetic.

    As someone who has served 30 years (and counting) it’s completely cringeworthy when I see Soldiers travel in uniform with absolutely no reason to justify their choice of travel attire other than an obvious desire to score a free upgrade. It tells me they’re desperate for attention; that they’re still deep in the process of growing up; that they think nothing of riding the coattails of a longstanding institution, rich in history – joining not because they are true, blue-blooded American patriots, but because they wanted the benefits (college tuition, cash bonuses, a leg up in the civilian world, etc.). It tells me they lack honor and integrity, not just because traveling in uniform is against regs (unless traveling to/from a combat zone), but because they’re most likely the same slackers and soup sandwiches you see every morning showing up to formation 5 minutes late, who can barely pass HT/WT or a PT test, who are constantly getting counseled or flagged because they can’t meet the standards, who are screwing off during duty hours because they’re either lazy or incompetent or both… and they think nothing of taking advantage of the unwitting civilian who can’t distinguish between someone who actually serves and someone who just “wears the uniform” to collect a pay check. Make no mistake, there is a difference.

    The Soldiers worth their weight in salt would never do this. Never. When accepting perks from businesses, the worthy ones have much more couth. It’s one thing to discreetly receive a free checked bag at the airport, or a 10% discount at Home Depot when it’s a perk given to all service members without it being rubbed in the faces of civilians as they walk by you on the plane. It’s something entirely different when a slick sleeve or a BOLO is given a first class upgrade solely because of the outfit he chose to wear that morning. If you believe people don’t see the game you’re playing, think again.

    For those who believe it isn’t hurting anyone, you’re wrong, you’re part of the problem, and you’re exactly the kind of person I described above. You’re not the only one who serves (or who has served). There are millions of us, most who have probably served longer than you, been on more deployments than you, put in more hours than you, seen more sh*t than you, sustained more injuries than you, and are ashamed of your egregious entitlement. We see you. You don’t see us. That’s because you’re clueless. There are millions more family members out there who see you, too. And the contractors. And the savvy business men and women who have never served, but are capable of looking at your slick sleeve and recognizing you’ve never even been to a combat zone. Or who are familiar enough with the regs to know you’re not following them (bringing your worthiness of an upgrade into question). They see your actions, and they scoff at you. Thanks to the lousy example you set, they begin to develop the impression all service members are leaches, and they become resentful. Civilians are sick of seeing all the free perks given to military because people like you abuse it. And that will eventually lead to the dissolution of all perks given to Service Members. Your actions, especially while in uniform, are a reflection on the Service as a whole. And when you overtly hold your hand out for perks you haven’t earned any more than half the other people on that flight (as they’re all service members or veterans, too) you’re an embarrassment to both yourself and the uniform. GTFU.

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