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Are Airline Dress Codes Too Extreme?

Do airlines have the right to ban passengers from planes because of what they’re wearing? That’s the debate raging right now, after the Associated Press published this story about draconian airline dress codes.

According to the report, a number of passengers have been removed from flights due to questionable wardrobe choices in the past few months, including an American Airlines passenger wearing a shirt with a pro-choice slogan and a Delta flyer with a T-shirt that read, “Terrists [sic] gonna kill us all.” (The guy wearing the terrorist shirt claims the misspelling was meant to be satirical.)

Tales of passengers’ travel plans foiled due to tasteless T-shirts and plunging tops have been circulating for years. Offensive garb takes many forms. Recently, we reported on a woman who was kicked off a Southwest flight for wearing a low-cut dress and a guy who had to leave a Spirit plane because his pants were too saggy. It’s standard for airlines to give flight attendants the leeway to play fashion critic at the boarding gate. A Southwest spokeswoman told the Reno Gazette-Journal that the company can deny boarding to anyone wearing “lewd, obscene or patently offensive” clothing; this obviously leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

Kenneth Quinn, an aviation lawyer, told the AP, “It’s like any service business. If you run a family restaurant and somebody is swearing, you kindly ask them to leave.”

But is it? Leaving a restaurant is not akin to forfeiting a flight. According to the AP, airlines will usually refund passengers’ fare if boarding is denied because of inappropriate clothing. (Sometimes a flight attendant will just ask a passenger to cover up.) But it’s undoubtedly a humiliating experience to be judged too offensive to fly in front of fellow passengers, not to mention horribly inconvenient to have to rebook a flight.

With no standard, pronounced policy on what is and what isn’t appropriate to wear in the air, carriers are leaving passengers at the mercy of flight attendants who might not share their taste in statement tees. And, as everyone knows, power (not saggy pants) leads to corruption.

What’s your opinion? To read more and join the debate, see our op-ed.

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