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The American Airlines t-shirt debate

Many are upset that a woman called O. was publicly berated and detained by American Airlines staff for wearing a t-shirt the staff members found offensive, causing her to miss a connecting flight and end up late to pick her daughter up. While I can kind of see where they’re coming from, I am not really all that angry about it.

Call me a prude, but I don’t want to see the f-word on somebody’s shirt while I’m using a mode of transportation frequented by people, adults and children, from all over the world. I don’t particularly want to see the other things listed as examples in the article, either:

I have been on flights with men wearing tatoos [sic] that demean women, and t-shirts that advocate violence against women, that demean women, that treat Obama with racist derision… What someone wears on their body is their business. Whether or not you would wear that t-shirt is not the point. It is not for American Airlines to decide what is politically okay or not.

Actually, as American Airlines is a private company selling a service, they can pretty much do whatever they want, so long as they don’t violate FAA regulations. People are free to not use AA if they disagree with their policies…one of which, as noted here, is that passengers can be ejected at any time for the following reason:

Are clothed in a manner that would cause discomfort or offense to other passengers

Now, I can’t guarantee that list item wasn’t added in the aftermath of this particular incident, but even if it was, so what? It’s the company’s prerogative. And it’s your prerogative to decide whether or not you think that’s wrong, and whether or not to use the company’s service.

I don’t think the employees handled the issue well. They could have pulled the lady aside and quietly asked her to turn the t-shirt inside out or cover it with the shawl, as suggested in the article. It certainly wasn’t necessary to cause her to miss her flight–assuming she cooperated with their request.

And there’s the rub. We only have her side. We don’t know that she was simply victimized here, or if she became argumentative. We don’t know if the captain mentioned AA’s policy to her during that conversation, or said anything else. (The article also draws some conclusions about the event that don’t seem to be represented in O.’s writeup.) This sort of ambiguity is why I hesitate to make snap judgments about things like this…especially when they don’t really matter so much. No one was hurt or killed here.

My main takeaway is this: if her shirt had said, “If I wanted the government in my womb, I’d have sex with a senator!” it wouldn’t have bothered me. If that language had bothered AA, I would be troubled. I think the inclusion of the profanity was what made it offensive, not the political message. It’s possible I’m wrong, but due to the inclusion of profanity, it’s impossible to actually know.