Flight suits

Should airlines be able to decide whether passengers' outfits are too provocative for flying?

By Catherine Price
September 14, 2007 5:41PM (UTC)
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I don't know about you, but over the past few years, I've become very conscious of what I wear when I fly. Ideally, I want slip-on shoes, no belt or metal jewelry, a bag that it's easy to get my laptop out of without holding up the entire line, and a couple of layers so that I can adjust to the temperature of the plane. But apparently now I've got more to worry about: According to the Associated Press, two women have complained that employees on Southwest made them cover up on recent flights, asserting that their outfits were too provocative for flying.

Setara Qassim, 21, claims that a Southwest employee approached her to ask if she had "a sweater to go over her green halter-style dress" on a recent flight to Burbank, Calif., according to the AP. She says she told the flight attendant that if Southwest cared what its passengers wore, it should publish a dress code. (Southwest says it has no record of her complaint.) And just last week, 23-year-old Kayla Ebbert says, she was pulled aside and asked to readjust her skirt and sweater before being allowed on the plane.


OK. So first of all, as the AP reminds us, in the 1970s Southwest referred to itself as "the love airline" and dressed its stewardesses in hot pants. Strange, then, that it has suddenly become the fashion police. Second, since the picture accompanying the article is of a plane, not a skirt, it's hard to gauge how outrageous these women's outfits really were -- but I suspect that compared with what one sees on an average New York subway car, they couldn't have been all that shocking. (Has anyone ridden a Coney Island-bound F in July? The only thing more dramatic would be for the women to have shown up for their flights in the nude.)

Regardless of what your personal views are toward modesty and dress, the bigger point is this: Why should an airline be telling people that they're showing too much skin? I agree that some summer outfits out there are fleshier than I'd care to see, but I also think it's a person's right to decide what he or she is going to wear. And besides, anyone who has ridden a plane knows that overactive air-conditioning systems mean that even the most stubborn people in halter tops are probably going to be forced to cover their shoulders at some point during the flight. My suggestion? Focus more on what people really care about on planes, like not having to beg for an extra bag of peanuts, or giving people seat assignments (does anyone else hate that about Southwest?). And if passengers' outfits are truly offensive, just crank up the air and hold back on the blankets. On their next flight, people will bring sweaters by choice.

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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