Southwest Airlines’ track record of high customer satisfaction has one Achilles heel: the airline, writes Jezebel‘s Katie J.M. Baker, “has become synonymous with people getting kicked off flights for ridiculous reasons.”
The latest victim: a passenger named Avital (Jezebel did not print her last name) who took a Southwest flight from Las Vegas to New York earlier this month.
Southwest has long made headlines for its controversial overweight passenger policy (which led to an infamous tweet-attack by filmmaker Kevin Smith, as well as a pending lawsuit by blogger Kenlie Tiggerman). And late last year, actress/musician Leisha Hailey complained that it was homophobic to kick her and her girlfriend off a flight for making out. In a 2007, the airline was criticized for several allegedly prudish responses to the way female customers were dressed.
According to Baker, Avital, a “self-described large-chested woman,” was boarding her flight wearing “a comfy cotton dress, a loose open flannel shirt and a colorful scarf when a gate agent informed her that her cleavage was “inappropriate.”
She called the Southwest agent’s bluff, refusing to button up her flannel shirt, and unlike other Southwest customers (including Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, for wearing underwear-revealing baggy pants), still got to take the flight.
Even so, a Southwest spokesperson told Jezebel the company offered an apology and a goodwill refund, while still reserving the right to promote a “casual and family-focused atmosphere onboard our aircraft and in our airports.”
As Baker recounted, Southwest had two similar incidents in 2007—one where the passenger was escorted off the flight, and another where she had to cover herself up with a blanket (so there’s still one way to get a blanket when you fly commercial).
Southwest’s contract of carriage (PDF) states the following:
Comfort and Safety. Carrier may refuse to transport, or remove from the aircraft at any point, any Passenger in any of the circumstances listed below as may be necessary for the comfort or safety of such Passenger or other Passengers and crew members: (i) Persons whose conduct is or has been known to be disorderly, abusive, offensive, threatening, intimidating, violent, or whose clothing is lewd, obscene, or patently offensive.
Obviously this language leaves a lot open to personal interpretation. Avital feels the airline singled her out, and she pointed out another passenger was wearing “a shirt with an actual Trojan condom embedded behind a clear plastic applique.”
Avital said she won’t fly Southwest again, but wants to see the airline come up with a clearer, more consistently enforced rule, instead of only tackling the issue when someone like her complains to a media outlet like Jezebel.
One style of dress that almost surely wouldn’t “fly” today: a Southwest flight attendant’s uniform from 30 years ago: