A woman who was told she could not board her flight due to the way she was dressed has received an apology from Southwest Airlines after the video of the encounter went viral online.
In a detailed thread on Twitter, Kayla Eubanks shared with her followers the events she said took place at LaGuardia Airport on Oct. 6 as she attempted to make her way from New York to Chicago while wearing a black halter top.
She told BuzzFeed News that staff at the boarding gate refused to let her on her scheduled flight because she was in breach of the airline’s dress code.
“Lewd, obscene, and offensive — those were the words of choice,” said Eubanks.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for the airline said that it had apologized directly and issued Eubanks a refund as a “gesture of goodwill.”
The 22-year-old explained that she would have typically gone for a different look for the airport, but on this occasion, she chose to wear a halter top and did not imagine that it would be an issue.
“Generally I wear, like, T-shirts, sweats, or whatever to the airport, but it was supposed to be like 77 degrees in Chicago when I landed. It's only an hour-and-a-half, two-hour flight.”
Eubanks said that after dropping off her luggage and making her way through the airport, she arrived at the boarding gate where a member of Southwest Airlines refused to allow her on the flight.
In footage shared online, Eubanks can be heard clarifying with staff that the reason she wasn’t being allowed through the gate was her halter top. She responded by asking the member of the airline staff to produce the policy, which the worker was not able to do.
“I was initially shocked, then I was very annoyed because this is discriminatory. I literally cannot remove these from me, I'm a woman, and they’re mine, I can't leave them at home, I can't detach them so for you to tell me that my body part is offensive, I don't know what you want," said Eubanks.
“I've seen men on planes shirtless. I've seen them with tank tops where I can see their nipples on the side — not to make it about other people, but I've seen a lot of other things on planes.”
According to the airline’s policy, the dress code advises customers to: "Dress to impress. While Southwest’s dress code is relaxed and casual, you will be expected to present a clean, well groomed, and tasteful appearance."
The airline did not provide clarity on what could be considered a breach of the dress code but shared that it did its best to “promote a family-centric environment.”
The statement said that customers were expected to “use good judgment” and “exercise discretion” while traveling, but with regards to the specific policy on dress code, the airline said that “each situation is very different, and our employees are responsible for following our Contract of Carriage.”
Following a back-and-forth exchange with airline staff, Eubanks was finally able to board the flight on the requirement that she wore a shirt loaned to her by another member of the staff.
Eubanks was critical of the inconsistencies and vagueness in the policy that nearly resulted in her being unable to travel.
“It seemed like everything that was going on was based on personal biases, and I just don't feel like that's appropriate," she said. "If there is a policy, then let that be the policy for everyone, every day, don't let it be, Oh, this person is working, so you can wear this on this day, but the next day you can't wear it because somebody else is working. The employees were on completely different pages.”
In response to the company’s apology and refund, Eubanks said a more appropriate gesture would be for the airline to revise its policy and develop a clearer line for what was and wasn’t acceptable rather than leaving it up to employee interpretation.
“I think they need to update the policy. I think it needs to be nondiscriminatory. I think that as a woman, specifically a Black woman, my body is constantly policed and over-sexualized, and that's not fair to me," Eubanks said.
“I think they need to take the initiative and figure out what they deem is or isn't acceptable and let that be the standard across the board, period.”