Airlines give many reasons for refusing to let you board, but none stir as much debate as this: how you're dressed.
A woman flying from Las Vegas on US airline Southwest recently says she was confronted by an airline employee for showing too much cleavage. In another case, an American Airlines pilot lectured a passenger because her T-shirt bore a four-letter expletive. She was allowed to keep flying after draping a shawl over the shirt.
Both women told their stories to sympathetic bloggers, and the debate over what you can wear in the air went viral.
It's not always clear what's appropriate. Airlines don't publish dress codes. There are no rules that spell out the highest hemline or the lowest neckline allowed. That can leave passengers guessing how far to push fashion boundaries. Every once in a while the airline says: Not that far.
A Qantas spokeswoman says the airline doesn't really set dress rules but the airline does apply the general convention of asking all passengers as a minimum to wear a T-shirt, shorts - not swimwear - and footwear.
Fortunately, the spokeswoman says, there is very rarely a problem.
"It's like any service business. If you run a family restaurant and somebody is swearing, you kindly ask them to leave," says Kenneth Quinn, an aviation lawyer and former chief counsel at the US Federal Aviation Administration.
The American Airlines passenger, who declined to be interviewed, works for an abortion provider. Supporters suggested that she was singled out because her T-shirt had a pro-choice slogan.
A spokesman for American Airlines says the passenger was asked to cover up "because of the F-word on the T-shirt". He says that the airline isn't taking sides in the abortion debate.
Recently, Arijit Guha, a graduate student at Arizona State University, was barred from a Delta flight in Buffalo, New York, because of a T-shirt that mocked federal security agents and included the words, "Terrists gonna kill us all". He says the misspelled shirt was satirical and he wore it to protest what he considers racial profiling.
"I thought it was a very American idea to speak up and dissent when you think people's rights are being violated," Guha says.
The pilot thought it scared other passengers.
American and Delta are within their rights to make the passengers change shirts even if messages are political, says Joe Larsen, a First Amendment lawyer from Houston who has defended many media companies.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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