Several US airlines have been refusing to let ticketed passengers board planes based on how they’re dressed. Being told to change their clothing or not fly, some passengers said they felt unreasonably discriminated against.
One woman was confronted by an airline employee for showing too much cleavage on a Southwest Airlines flight, the Associated Press reports. Another passenger was forced to cover up her T-shirt with a shawl because it showed a four-letter curse word. In the second case, the woman, who is a pro-choice activist, said her T-shirt was questioned because it bore a pro-choice slogan.
On a US Airways flight, an African-American footballer- playing for the University of New Mexico-was kicked off the plane and arrested for refusing to pull up his low-hanging pants, while a Caucasian cross-dresser was allowed to board a plane wearing little more than women’s underwear. In light of both cases, the American footballers lawyer, Deshon Marman, suggested racism might have been involved. The prosecutor thus declined to file charges against the college student.
“You can’t let someone repugnant like that (the cross-dresser) on the plane and single out this kid because he’s black, wearing dreadlocks, and had two or three inches of his underwear showing,” said attorney Joseph D. O’Sullivan. “They can’t arrest him for what someone perceives to be inappropriate attire.”
Rules regarding passenger dress codes are often vague and hidden in the small print of an airline’s “contract of carriage,” which are agreed upon when a passenger buys a ticket.
The US Airways contract states that passengers who “may pose a threat to the comfort and safety of other passengers or employees” may be denied the right to board. Additionally, all passengers “over the age of five and barefoot, or otherwise inappropriately clothed” can be ordered to leave the plane.
The small print does not mention any specific dress code. US Airways spokesman John McDonald told AP that “inappropriate” clothing is based on whether or not other passengers or employees are affected. Since no one complained about the cross-dresser until after the plane had landed and pictures circulated on the Internet, he was allowed to remain on the flight, McDonald said.
“It’s not an issue of a dress code, it’s one of disruption,” he said.
Other flights have equally unclear guidance terms regarding dress code. Delta Air Lines states that it has the right to remove passengers “for the comfort or safety of other passengers or Delta employees.” Southwest Airlines prohibits boarding of passengers “whose clothing is lewd, obscene or patently offensive.” United Airlines bans those who are “inappropriately clothed” or barefoot. The contracts do not have criteria for the highest allowed hemline or the lowest neckline and do not mention curse words on T-shirts as criteria for being kicked off a plane.
“If people are paying the price for their tickets, they should be able to wear what they want,” corporate lawyer Leigh Ann Epperson told AP.
Airlines are private companies and are therefore able to make their own rules and decisions regarding proper attire.The First Amendment, which protects free speech (including slogans on T-shirts), does not apply to rules set by private companies.
Airlines reserve the right to deny boarding to anyone they consider inappropriately dressed – an act that is at the discretion of employees’ individual interpretation of their airlines’ contract.