Woman Forced Off American Airlines Flight for Pro-Choice T-Shirt

Is the F word a security risk?
Publish date:
May 24, 2012
abortion, pro-choice, offensive t-shirts

Judy McIntyre and the sign that inspired the t-shirt slogan.

Our story begins in early March, when Oklahoma state senator Judy McIntyre attended a pro-choice rally meant to bring attention to Oklahoma's heinous "personhood" law, and carried a handwritten sign that read, "If I wanted the government in my womb, I'd fuck a senator."

Pretty badass, right? It's a punchy slogan, and like punchy slogans are wont to do, it has begun to show up on T-shirts.

According to the good folks over at RH Reality Check, it was one such T-shirt that got a pro-choice activist kicked off an American Airlines flight yesterday. Well, sort of. The flight was about to land when a flight attendant approached the woman and asked if she had a connection to make. She did. Then the flight attendant informed O., the T-shirt-wearing lady, that her shirt was offensive and that she would need to speak to the captain before disembarking the plane.

When I was leaving the plane the captain stepped off with me and told me I should not have been allowed to board the plane in DC and needed to change before boarding my next flight. This conversation led to me missing my connecting flight. I assumed that because I was held up by the captain, they would have called ahead to let the connecting flight know I was in route. Well, upon my hastened arrival at the gate of the connecting flight, it was discovered that they did indeed call ahead but not to hold the flight, only to tell them I needed to change my shirt. I was given a seat on the next flight and told to change shirts.

Due to the fact that my luggage was checked, changing shirts without spending money wasn't an option. I consulted a friend with a law background who told me covering with my shawl would suffice. Upon boarding the now rescheduled flight with shawl covering my shirt, my ticket dinged invalid. I was pulled to the side while the gentleman entered some codes into the computer and then told, "it was all good." I did finally arrive home to pick up my daughter an hour and a half later than scheduled.

Certainly I can see how some folks could think wearing a shirt that says "fuck" on it in any context might be considered offensive and inappropriate for public consumption. However the fact remains that the captain apparently decided to "punish" O. after her flight had already been completed -- and when ostensibly the task of alerting her to the problem and preventing her from boarding the plane in the first place should have fallen to the gate attendants, and not O. herself.

The offending shirt. Image via RH Reality Check.

There was nothing to be gained by purposely delaying O. from her connection -- did the captain think he was gonna shame a woman in a "fuck" T-shirt into obedience, really? -- or by telling her connecting flight to leave without her. It seems obvious that no one was seriously concerned that her T-shirt might blow up the plane. All that delaying O. accomplished was to make an example of a woman for expressing her politics in an unapologetic and in-your-face way.

Making the story even more interesting is the apparent fact, as told to O. herself by the captain, that nobody else on the flight complained about it (according to O., her seatmate even complimented her on her choice of apparel). Indeed, only the original flight attendant seemed offended, and the whole ordeal seems to be to have been very badly handled in my opinion.

The problem could have been easily solved simply by explaining that American Airlines disdains profanity on T-shirts and could she please step into the bathroom to turn that puppy inside-out, but this was never offered as a solution. (Anyone who pushed boundaries with offensive T-shirts in high school is familiar with this routine, guys.) Instead, the decision was made to give her a hard time after the fact, for having gotten away with something O. didn't even know she was getting away with.

But what do you think? Do you agree that American Airlines was in the wrong (see this change.org petition if you think O. deserves an apology)? Or do you think O. is the one who made the mistake? Do weigh in, comment-wise.