Flying an aircraft is similar to commanding a ship. It is important that passengers know who is in control of the craft. The flight crew needs to command respect and authority from passengers, especially during emergency situations. Hence, for airlines to distinguish the crew from ordinary passengers, pilots were made to wear customised uniforms.

But it wasn’t always so. Before the 1930s, they would turn up in brown leather bomber jackets, silk scarves, gloves, khaki pants, boots and so on. The pilots came equipped with such heavy gear to protect themselves from harsh weather conditions as cockpits at the time were left open and unheated.

This changed after Pan American Airlines introduced navy-style apparel, according to a flight training company, AeroGuard. Today, cockpits are inside aircraft, and the uniforms are modern and smart.

According to, each airline has a unique uniform design for its pilots, some more subtle than others, though generally similar.

What does the uniform consist of?

A typical pilot uniform consists of a jacket which is usually decorated with the airline’s wings to help identify the individuals as pilots. A name badge is also included along with stripes to indicate the rank of the pilots, says. Four stripes indicate the rank of a Captain; three for a Senior First Officer; two for the First Officer. There are some variations on this depending on the airline. There are also variations in airlines on the qualifications deemed necessary for the ranks — in some cases a position depends on the time served, whereas in some others, it may be based on total hours of flight time. The additions to the jacket — wings, name badge and rank indicators (through epaulettes) are usually also found on the pilot’s shirt.

The material of the trousers usually matches that of the jacket. Shoes are typically plain black, made of leather and without any intricate patterns.

Why do pilots wear caps?

Head gear is not a part of all airline uniforms. Pilots in low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and easyJet do not wear caps, but aviators in most legacy carriers such as British Airways, Qantas, Emirates and American Airlines do.

Many believe that caps, like a uniform, draw recognition, authority and denote professionalism.

(Sources: AeroGuard; Compiled by K Giriprakash)