A passenger on Southwest Airlines was denied boarding for wearing lewd, obscene or patently offensive clothing. But the incident presents some mixed feelings for me.
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A female Southwest Airlines passenger was initially denied boarding due to a policy prohibiting “lewd, obscene or patently offensive” clothing by a gate agent. The passenger challenged the denial and requested the policy from the gate agent who attempted to look it up and present it. While the agent was looking up the policy, the passenger began to record the incident, releasing it on social media. Ultimately, the captain offered a shirt to allow her to cover herself, board and make it to her destination.
Y’all I was KICKED OFF my @SouthwestAir flight because my boobs are “lewd, obscene and offensive.” I was told that passengers may look at me in my attire and be offended. The attire in question: https://t.co/tOAxZsFDU5 pic.twitter.com/S9W9gFXpg6
— Kayla Eubanks (@UziSuzy) October 6, 2020
Acceptable In Public
The passenger’s top would have been acceptable in most areas of the public. Yes, it’s obvious that her top would have been acceptable at the beach or a swimming pool, but that’s not all. As one commenter on Matthew’s post accurately mentioned, this outfit would be acceptable at most restaurants.
However, some restaurants require men to wear a jacket or tie. Some bars won’t allow hats, opposing team jerseys, or certain colors of shirts.
Some of her comments ring hollow. She states at one point in one of her videos (all available in the linked post above) that her nipples aren’t showing, therefore it’s not offensive. That’s a pretty easy argument to dispel. Most agree that solely covering the nipple is not appropriate in public; those that disagree are in a very narrow minority. But her top was not nearly as revealing as that.
It’s always the airline’s choice. They are a business and are entitled to set their own standards (as exact or inexact as they like.) While their staff couldn’t find the rule in their system, Matthew pointed out that it’s in the contract of carriage which is accessible on the carrier’s website – the passenger could have shut off her live feed and searched it herself.
However, Southwest’s language is intentionally vague. What one person finds offensive is completely subjective. Southwest has left this choice up to staff, rather than an outline of every acceptable and unacceptable item. Being too specific would handcuff staff and force legalistic arguments at the gate that may be unnecessary.
Some commenters on Ms. Eubanks’ Twitter feed had suggested that she was travelling on a Buddy Pass (discounted/free travel for friends/family of Southwest employees) which has separate but equally vague requirements. The passenger clarified she paid for her ticket so instead would be subject to the contract of carriage.
If the customer feels that their clothing wasn’t “lewd, obscene, or patently offensive” she has recourse.
- The passenger can file a complaint with Southwest customer support.
- The passenger can try their case in the court of public opinion on social media.
- The passenger can choose not to fly with the carrier.
- The passenger can file a complaint with the DOT, sure to grab the carrier’s attention or;
- The passenger can sue for damages.
This guest chose option #2 though they may try any of the others as well. I doubt the passenger would be successful in court or with the DOT. As she chose to try her case in the court of public opinion, results have been mixed. Some agree that she shouldn’t have been denied boarding, others think that Southwest was right to initially turn her back.
The airline may also choose to discipline the employee (if they disagree with her assessment), terminate her, compensate the passenger, or commend the employee if they agree with her decision. As loose as Southwest has left their guidelines, their gate agent should be commended for calmly handling the situation as should the pilot for his attempt to resolve the situation.
I don’t think it was so clearly “lewd, obscene, or patently offensive” sufficiently enough to deny the passenger boarding. That said, the customer agreed to subject themselves to the determination of the acceptability of her ensemble at the gate when she bought the ticket. Due to the lack of clear guidelines, both the employee and the passenger were right. From what we can see of the garment, the passenger didn’t feel it was a violation and I think that it’s possible to see it from her perspective. But she also agreed to be subjected to the gate agent’s discretion.
What do you think? Was the gate agent, the passenger or both of them right? Do you find it lewd, obscene, or patently offensive? If so, which one – the passenger would like to know?