While American Airlines is busy feuding with its unhappy pilots, Southwest Airlines is dealing with the PR fallout from yet another customer who had an unpleasant run-in with the airline's self-appointed clothing police.
A woman who only gave her first name, Avital, told the website Jezebel that she was traveling from Las Vegas to New York on June 5. She submitted a photo to the website of what she said she was wearing that morning -- a black sundress, Birkenstocks, a plaid shirt and a scarf around her neck. While she was printing her boarding pass, an airline employee informed her that her outfit was "inappropriate," and unless she covered up her cleavage, she wouldn't be allowed to fly.
Avital ignored the agent and boarded her flight. As she told the website, "I didn't want to let the representative's Big Feelings about my breasts change the way I intended to board my flight. And lo and behold, the plane didn't fall out of the sky...my cleavage did not interfere with the plane's ability to function properly."
Avital completed her flight without incident. According to a spokesperson for Southwest, she then contacted the airline on June 11 to tell them how displeased she was with her treatment (especially considering, she told Jezebel, that the guy in front of her was wearing a t-shirt with "an actual Trojan condom embedded behind a clear plastic applique," which no Southwest employees apparently had any reservations about.)
Southwest also released a statement saying that they apologized "as a gesture of goodwill." They added that their employees are responsible for "the safety and comfort of everyone on board."
"We do our best to promote a family-centric environment, and we count on our customers to use good judgment and exercise discretion while traveling," the statement added.
As the Jezebel link points out, and as Salon explored last year, Southwest may be a little overzealous in their policing of customers' wardrobes, body size, and behavior. Two women in 2007 had similar experiences to Avital -- one was escorted off the flight for the shortness of her skirt, while the other was merely made to cover her breasts with a blanket. Southwest customers have also lost their seats for PDA-ing with their girlfriends (L-Word actress Leisha Hailey) or, in the famous case of Kevin Smith, for being too fat.
Given how much negative press the airline has gotten for these incidents, we wondered if there'd be any talk of re-training their employees to handle some of these situations differently. If someone is merely large-breasted and trying to get to Buffalo, is it really a Southwest employee's duty to intervene?
Spokesperson Brandy King told us there's been no new employee training or communication about handling wardrobe incidents. But, she added, somewhat obliquely, "Obviously anytime there's any customer situation where a customer feels uncomfortable, our leaders from all levels discuss whether there needs to be internal communication or some type of internal approach to our employees."
King added that there was "no documentation" of the incident with Avital, and "no irregularity," meaning that the woman was able to fly as scheduled. King said that the company refunded her ticket solely because she contacted them. "We had a very pleasant conversation," she said.
King also explained that a Southwest employee's power to approach a customer who is, in their view, dressed inappropriately, comes from the company's Contract of Carriage.
"Like most airlines, there is general verbiage in our contract of carriage that addresses the appropriate clothing or attire for traveling," she said. "Again, it's pretty general: lewd or obscene, obviously we don't want to expose other customers to those types of representations."
King says that other than those general specifications, Southwest has no specific dress code, and no plans to implement a more specific policy. She also couldn't tell us whether Southwest has a policy of trying to approach customers about their "unacceptable" attire or demeanor before they board their flight. Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, for example, had already boarded his flight when a Southwest employee approached and told him he'd be kicked off the plane if he didn't pull up his saggy pants. He didn't. He was.
"Our customers sometimes have no touch-points with our employees" before getting on the plane, King said. "They check in on a kiosk, there's no employee there, and then get on the aircraft."
Or perhaps their clothing's acceptability level suddenly plummets as dramatically as a risque neckline. "As you know, an outfit can look very different from one second to another," King told us. No, actually we didn't know that. That fast, really? Wait, what does that mean?
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"Depending on how it's being worn, pulled, or how the clothes are falling on their body," she explained. " In other words, I can't say that a customer conversation regarding dress would happen before --- I couldn't say that. We don't have a dress code policy. So it's very - it's very hard to answer. We don't have a dress code policy other than a contract of carriage. You're running down a trail that's putting me in situations that aren't happening."
We pointed out that we were calling about actual situations that had happened. King replied again that she had "no documentation" of the incident with Avital. Of the short-skirt incident in 2007, she said, "That wasn't the top part." Meaning breasts.
In other words, future flyers, it's not that Southwest's policies regarding your breasts (or skirt, or fatness) are arbitrary, capricious, rather silly, and a baffling waste of time and resources. It's simply that your clothes may "look very different from one second to another."
Vigilance, everyone. Constant vigilance.