Southwest airlines: fashion police of the skies

First, they came for our toothpaste. Now, our tank tops?

Kyla Ebbert, 23, was recently escorted off a Southwest Airlines flight by a male customer service supervisor for wearing the outfit shown in this photograph. The college student and Hooters waitress was later permitted to return to the plane and take her flight, but only after she put up a fuss and adjusted her outfit:

“I asked him what part of my outfit was offensive,” she said. “The shirt? The skirt? And he said, 'The whole thing.' ”

"Keith" asked her to go home, change and take a later flight. She refused, citing her appointment. The plane was ready to leave, so Keith relented. He had her pull up her tank top a bit, pull down her skirt a bit, and return to her seat.

In this San Diego Union Tribune column, a fashion critic and a writer were asked for their opinion on Ms. Ebbert's outfit, and the way she was treated by Southwest:
Pascual detected sexism in the way Ebbert was treated, wondering if a man would have been asked to change clothes. Do men dress inappropriately? “I see butt cracks, a lot of butt cracks,” she said.

In its letter, Southwest said “there were concerns about the revealing nature of her outfit.” I called Hollye Chacón, the Southwest customer relations representative who wrote the letter, to see if we were talking about the same outfit.

“What exactly was being revealed?” I asked. She said yesterday she'd call back, but never did. That's pretty revealing in itself.

Link. (thanks, Bruce Schneier!)

Update: Manolo the shoeblogger points us to Southwest's own response to this at their blog: Link. They link approvingly to the website of an MSNBC producer who had this to say:

At first, when she appeared on the set, it didn't seem like her outfit was so inappropriate. It was clear that her skirt was pretty short, but it didn't seem worthy of getting a lecture from a customer service representative on how to dress. But when she sat down, we learned just how short that skirt was -- when she flashed our national television audience. Yeah, that skirt was short.
Manolo says,
Many blogs have found the images from the 1970s of the Southwest flight attendants dressed like the Hooters girls. Here is the NPR link, and the very amusing post from Feministing. And the Manolo' s commentary on this entire brouhaha: one, two. Also, if you wish to be disgusted, check out what many young and silly Arizona women are wearing: one, two. Compared to this, Kyla Ebbert is Donna Reed.


  1. I often times hate how litigious our society has become. However, in this case I hope that she sues the pants off of them.

  2. I hope she knows a lawyer and files harassment charges against Southwest. Seriously, people need to start suing for this kind of behavior to help put a lid on it. What’s next? I can’t wear my vintage Sex Pistols t-shirt because it says “Sex?”

  3. We thought the Taliban were bad….i would never complaint about the skirt is too short or the jean is too low, especially it being worn by a girl as sexy and pretty like her….
    Keith must be a jealous gay guy.

  4. I flown on Southwest nearly 200 times, and until recently, have had nothing but good things to say about it. But it is starting to become creepy.

    Two weeks ago my wife, kids, and I were on a Southwest plane that was about to take off. The pilot announced that our takeoff was going to be delayed 30 minutes. My wife took our youngest daughter to the bathroom. When they came out, the flight attendant chided my wife. My wife apologized meekly and sat down.

    Then, another woman got up and went to the bathroom. When she got out of the bathroom, the flight attendant became cross with her. Unlike my wife, this woman argued back, saying the pilot had told them the plane wasn’t moving for 30 minutes, and she really had to use the restroom.

    The attendant called the pilot to complain, and a moment later, the pilot announced that he was taking the plane back to the gate.

    When we got back to the gate, security people got on the plane and removed the woman. The pilot said that because he had to turn the plane back, we’d have to wait another hour.

  5. Would they (well, he, actually) have complained if a male had been accompanying her? Or four of her friends?

    She appears good looking from the few thousand pixels I see. Without being icky (I hope), I confess I’d look longer at Kyla than an octogenarian. But that’s for me to deal with, not Kyla.

    From my chair it seems a conflicted virile male chose to make his internal conflict a problem for the catalyst of that conflict. And I’m guessing that if there was another male, or a group of females, with Kyla, he wouldn’t have said anything. Just a guess.

    It’s nice Southwest stands behind their employees, but not this time, guys. I’d give Keith some time off in a swank locale to blow off some steam. He’ll probably come back to the job in a more relaxed state. In the meantime, pick up Kyla’s tab and welcome her back at any time in any publicly acceptable clothing she wishes.

    This is probably why I don’t run an airline.

  6. I think I know the problem. This is a different Southwest Airlines, based in southwest Afghanistan.

    You know who else hates shorts? That’s right: fundamentalist Islam.

  7. Kyla Ebbert was on TV this morning wearing the same gear. Didn’t take me long to figure out the issue. When she went to sit down they had to blur out her crotch!!! And I thought morning TV with Matt Lauer was live! So apparently her vagina was on show and thats why they kicked her off the flight.

  8. This all comes from the top — with a dip shit know nothing bully boy President in place, you’re asking for acountry full of dip shit know nothing bully boy service staff.

  9. I find it very interesting that while this young woman was on the Today show this morning showing off her outfit as her lawyer threatened to sue, she flashed the camera while sitting back down. They had to blur out the area, and this is after she tugged, pulled and arranged everything for maximum coverage as she was standing up.

    My guess is that while she was taking her seat she might have shown a little more than she wanted. Frankly, I think she should have left well enough alone and chalked it up as a lesson to dress more discreetly while traveling.

  10. Back in 2005 Southwest also booted a woman for wearing a “profane” anti-Bush t-shirt.


    That article contains the following regarding Southwest’s policies:
    “the airline’s contract with the Federal Aviation Administration contains rules that say the airline will deny boarding to any customer whose conduct is offensive, abusive, disorderly or violent or for clothing that is “lewd, obscene, or patently offensive.””

  11. Unbelievable… Just when you think it can’t get any worse!
    Agreed, if she doesn’t sue and form precedent for the future, I will be disappointed.

  12. “…to ensure the comfort of children and ‘adults with heightened sensitivities.’”

    Unbelievable! When did people gain the rights to not be offended? I’m getting farther and farther from ever setting foot on American soil, each and every time a case like this comes up.

  13. It’s pure arbitrariness. Same is with the fact that it s forbidden to dance in New York (what a joke). America turned into a fascist state. More and more states follow this example and they already do (eg UK). We all gonna end up in a globalized state, ruled by a fascist regime. One day they will control everything, the internet will fall last. Halleluja!

  14. To #8:

    Even if that’s true, SHE’S ON A PLANE! Everyone faces the same direction and the seats are tightly packed. How would anyone see up her skirt in those conditions unless they were making a real effort?

  15. To #8:

    Even if that’s true, SHE’S ON A PLANE! Everyone faces the same direction and the seats are tightly packed. How would anyone see up her skirt in those conditions unless they were making a real effort?

  16. I decided to boycott SW airlines long ago, after several highly unpleasant experiences flying with them (delayed flights, lost luggage, etc.) In every situation I found their staff (on the plane and in the airport) to be rude, irritable, unhelpful, confrontational, and often just flat-out mean.

    One time, on a cross-country trip that ended up being 15 hours longer than it should have, we were stuck on their plane for over 6 straight hours (on various runways, etc.) basically going nowhere. It was like we were held captive. There was NO food or beverage service the entire time because of turbulence (when we were actually flying) and other issues, and everyone was dying, and very irritable. At one point they changed flight crews, and the very first thing the head attendant said when she stepped on the plane was something like: ‘Don’t EVEN think of complaining to me right now, I’ve had a REALLY bad day’, with a ‘talk-to-the-hand’ type of gesture. I never wanted to strangle someone so badly.

  17. As someone remarked on another discussion – how is the mention about her being a Hooters waitress relevant here ? She wasn’t wearing her uniform when boarding the flight.

    Plus how about Southwest – they just had that big unpaid promo on CBS Sunday Morning last Sunday where they talked about in the past where their stewardesses were made to wear hot pants.

  18. @Webbie — it’s relevant, she identifies herself as such in the press she’s doing around this story. It’s in the story I cite, and I’m not repeating the fact in an effort to tar her, it’s just — that’s who she is and what she does for a living. If it were about me, it’d be Xeni Jardin, BoingBoing blogger and whatever, and in this case, it’s Kyla Ebbert, San Diego [name of school] student and Hooters waitress.

  19. So, where exactly is the Official Southwest Airlines Passenger Dress Code?

    Seriously. Schools do not keep their dress codes secret; they send it home with students on the first day, and now most post it on the internet. Many businesses have signs that say things like “No shoes, no shirt, no service”. Swimming pools have signs that say proper swim attire is required. If Southwest wants to hold customers to a particular standard, they darn well need to let us know what that standard is.

  20. What a lucky girl! She just won the Southwest lottery via a lawsuit. Maybe she will start a fashion business with her winnings!

  21. I’m sure the rednecks at Southwest clamop down on anything thing their unworldly little minds consider “indecent,” but, hey, even if she WAS showing her vagina, who gives a shit? This country is being run by spinsterish schoolmarms and self-righteous Jimmy Swaggart wannabe’s.

    Newsflash, Southwest: never in recorded history has anyone, child or adult, been struck blind by the sight of a vagina, breast, penis, or pierced bellybutton.

    Is travelling without underwear in bad taste and does it show bad judgement? Yes. Is it something to get upset about? Only in a fundamentalist theocracy like Amerikhastan.

  22. posted by Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz , September 7, 2007 11:23 AM:
    This all comes from the top — with a dip shit know nothing bully boy President in place, you’re asking for acountry full of dip shit know nothing bully boy service staff.

    OK, Firstly: Prostetic, this is the fault of the President? You’re completetly insane.

    Secondly: If they kick women that look like her off Southwest I am never flying that airline again. They sure don’t kick fat people wearing spandex off, I find THAT offensive.

    What I find far more offensive is the idea that some monkey with plastic wings has any authority over anyone by virtue of “security.” Unless someone is an actual threat or seriously disruptive, some twit steward or stewardess should have no say about it. I flew from Europe to America on a long, long flight with a family of gypsies screaming and kicking the seats in front of them, the airline did nothing.

    On catching a connecting flight recently, somehow I had to pass through security, TWICE! I had just gotten off a flight and when I told a TSA employee I’d been through security three times counting when I got on the first flight and I was going to miss my flight, the look and manner was implying that I was going to be arrested if I complained or failed to just shut up and take it. I missed my flight.

    I used to give the entry tests for TSA, most of those people are total morons. And somehow these ignoramuses and stewardesses are now INFINITELY powerful?! When the people working for TSA now were smoking weed in their parents basements, I was, unfortunately, familiar with terrorism. The “security measures” at the airport are complete show and completely useless. Recently a ban on more than 3 ounces of gel or liquids was imposed. Let me tell you, if you get 3 oz of the kind of explosives they are supposedly guarding against with this rule, you could take down the plane with no problem…

  23. Would they have said anything to a young male who was wearing his pants below his buttocks with his underwear hanging out? I don’t think so!!

  24. GO GET ‘EM, GIRL! I had a similar incident with SWA in Sacramento last winter, and I was wearing WAY more clothes than she was. I was so humiliated, especially since there were so many other women in the airport wearing a lot less than I was. Why were they OK but for some reason I was vulgar and obscene? I called customer service to ask exactly what is the cleavage policy, 1″? 2″? And told them I have a lot of male friends willing to volunteer to check women to make sure they are in compliance. I was told they have no such policy, and I got a $150 travel voucher.

  25. to all the people who think this was sexism, southwest had a tv show for one year, i think in 2000, called airline – and on it they show them refusing to allow a man to fly because he was wearing a miniskirt – with nothing on under it – and passengers complained. It may be prudish and puritanist, but it’s not sexist.

  26. I don’t want to be subject to the fashion police any more than anyone else. Assuming tales that she was flying with an obviously unfurnished basement are true:

    #1- Puritan or not, community standards are not in favor of exposed genitals pretty much anywhere Southwest flies. Argue that Americans shouldn’t be so “hung up” on these things, but that reaction isn’t at all surprising from the flight attendant. It wasn’t about the skirt.

    #2- Personally, I have no desire to spend several hours in a seat where someone has been bare assing it during the previous flight. That’s just gross.

  27. I’m so glad it’s cool to complain about every little annoyance and icky thing on flights now. Next time I fly, I figure I’ll be able to kick off about half the flight for “offending me” before they even have a chance to check the galley supplies.

  28. I was once barred from eating at a restaurant because my short-sleeved shirt left my arms visible. A woman already dining in the restaurant wore a top that revealed even more of her arms. Of course I raised a fuss, but I was not allowed to file a lawsuit. Naturally, I boycotted the restaurant from then on.

  29. I think to sue over this would be ridiculous. Sure, what SW did was a bit nanny state, but what a lot of people seem to be overlooking is that she was pulled aside, a compromise was met, and she stayed on her flight.
    For someone who whined about attention being brought to her on the flight, she sure is bringing a lot more to herself trotting around to all the media outlets.

  30. I don’t see what the big deal is. They probably just wanted to make sure she wasn’t packing a snuke in her sniz.

  31. #17, there’s a joke about only seeing the back of her head in there, somewhere.

    The bad-attitude power trip that airline employees have been on for the past few years has to stop. And if Southwest being sued for sexual harassment helps accomplish that, then more power to her.

  32. What’s next for Southwest airlines?
    Forcing a burka on all female customers cause 5% of the stock has been bought by an integralist found?!

    Anyway, I confess this story doesn’t seem really credibile almost from an european point of view: damn! Even the Pope would be happy to take a flight with Kyla…

  33. This reeks of the Christian fashion police to me. That flight attendant’s other job is denying birth control at the pharmacy.

  34. I saw women dressed like this, and talking on their cell phones, when I visited Auschwitz. No kidding. I found it offensive because it seemed disrespectful. I’m all for freedom of expression, but maybe there’s a line for appropriateness and consideration. How about one outfit for pole-dancing and another one for traveling.

  35. If she wanted a Lawsuit she should not have done the TODAY show spot. When she sat down the “Revealing attire” was there for the world to see. So much for any argument she had.

  36. I’d have been VERY happy to have her riding on my plane.

    I do wonder, however, if she was wearing panties. If someone got a “basic instinct” view, it would make sense they turn her away as inappropriately dressed.

  37. In oder to beat SWA i suggest all woman bombard the airlines by dressing in a provocative manner to the point that the airline will just give in and grow numb to it. Come on gals we can do ot let show up in gruops of four dressed in our skimpyest outfits!!!

  38. I’m sorry, but you “supporters” scare me. First she is so embarrassed she has to go on every talk show and relive the incident, oh please; secondly, she boards the the airplane a SECOND time in the SAME outfit to return to San Diego, very traumatized; thirdly, if you want an apology, show us photos of how you actually wore the outfit, don’t go on the Today Show and pull the shirt down to your legs and the waist line of the skirt down to your knees for the cameras, that’s misleading; and last but not least, get publicity on your own dime, leave the drama and lawyers at home (and your mom too). The customer service agent looked for a compromise instead of a dance pole, what a bad man. He had the audacity to think of the other 100+ passengers and address the issue. Take some personal responsibility and think of someone besides yourself.

  39. She was wearing underwear both on the plane and on the TV show. Why they chose to blur her out when she was wearing no less than any bikini-clad woman on the beach I have not idea. No pieces of genitalia were actually showing, so no she was not “showing her vagina” as someone said above.

  40. As 17 said – there’s no way someone could see up her skirt when she’s seated in one of those crappy airline seats. Unless she’s in first class against a bulkhead. And we are talking Southwest here, so that’s not an issue.

  41. There was a second young lady as well who was treated like this. With all the competition for flying, I hope this adversely affects Southwest airlines business.

    I can’t believe anyone would treat these young ladies like this. And reading here about the former stewardesses and hotpants—what hyprocrites Southwest Airlines is.

    These young women are wearing the same thing all young women are wearing. Like this lady’s lawyer said, if it was Paris Hilton, they would have showed her to her seat.

    How dare they embarrass these ladies like this.

    In a post 9/11 world, instead of focusing on safety, they focus on this. I hope the man who spoke to her gets fired and some others are canned as well.

  42. hey has Kylee ‘the dressed inappropriate passenger on Southwest Air gotten any offers from Playboy magazine?? I guess Southwest has made her into a celebrity of sorts.

  43. I wonder who the person was that complained? And where were they sitting? Also, I’ve seen much worse outfits at the mall or on the street. Obviously, SW isn’t and wasn’t concerned about her “comfort”. Needless to say, I won’t be flying SW Airlines anymore, sometimes saving a few bucks just isn’t enough! When will people pull that stick out of their butts?

  44. Number 44:

    You mean to tell me you believe that there were 100+ passengers ALL of which were complaining about her outfit? Her outfit, which can be seen on most female college students whether they have the body for it or not. Please, tell me you aren’t serious! You are one of the people who needs to loosen that stick up your ass. If you open your eyes to look around, you will see there are much worse outfits people are wearing. As #14 put it “When did people gain the rights to not be offended?” What happened to her rights to wear what she’s comfortable in? We are heading towards communism if we aren’t careful.

    Does this mean that if I complain about the screaming brat that’s behind me, they’ll kick them off too? Or the person that doesn’t bathe because of their religious beliefs?

  45. I am astonished at some of the arguments that I am hearing that are used to justify Kyla Ebbert’s alleged rights to wear whatever she was wearing. First of all, Southwest Airlines reserves the right to refuse service based on a someone’s clothes. It’s a very subjective call by the airline employees, but it’s nevertheless within their rights to refuse service. Second, the argument that there are hundreds of other females wearing the same type of outfit is irrelevant. Southwest could care less about the other females, unless they were attempting to fly in a Southwest airplane. Third, if you want to wear provocative outfits, you are going to attract attention, which can be either positive or negative. Personally, as a guy, I would have been staring at her and trying to get her phone number instead of complaining about her. Fourth, whoever posted comment #44 obviously has no idea what communism is. Fifth, I have no idea how Electrasteph (in comment #45) can say that Kyla Ebbert was wearing underwear on both the airplane and the show, unless Electrasteph was in the airplane and was able to watch through the censored blurr TV feed. Sixth, supporters of Kyla Ebbert should try to find out more about the story before shooting yourself on the foot. Try some of the airline pilots’ message boards where this incident was discussed.

    Lastly, this is a situation about someone who was embarassed by the fact that she brought negative attention to herself through her clothes (and good looks) by what we could label as a public reprimend. She was probably used to getting attention from guys (like myself) who would drool over her and shower her with nice gifts (and tips). Instead, she got reprimended, and is now looking for a quick score by setting Southwest up for a lawsuit. Her mother was quoted saying that it’s okay for her daughter to dress provocatively, because that’s what “99% of 23 year old girls who can dress” provocatively dress like. If you got it, flaunt it, right mom? Way to go mom. Obviously, if someone dresses provocatively, the intent is to provoke a reaction from the would be people looking at the person. Hey, she provoked, and she got a reaction — albeit not the reaction that she wanted. If she sues Southwest, I would be more than happy to represent Southwest pro-bono. I’d file a counterclaim for frivolous lawsuit, win the case for Southwest, and then settle the counterclaim for a date with Kyla!

  46. One more thing, if you think Southwest is attempting to impose its Christian morality on you, and you don’t like it, then don’t fly Southwest!!! Or buy 51% of the shares of Southwest stock, make yourself the CEO, and come up with a new regulation that all good looking women will not be allowed to fly Southwest unless they wear bikinis.

  47. I wear bright red lipstick because it brightens up my day or my short skirt while traveling because it has always been lucky for me. The way a person dresses may be an outer expression of the inner being or may have no significance at all. It may be the only dress in the wardrobe that now fits. It does not matter. It is what makes the world interestng and diverse. Moreover, what is offensive in one part of the world is not offensive in another.

    There are so many other important things we can focus our mind on. Let the good things be!

    Elizabeth, Mississauga, Canada

  48. Southwest Airlines did the RIGHT THING! I don’t want my kids to have to stare at some Hooter’s waitress crotch all the way home on the airplane. PUT SOME CLOTHES ON!!! Good lord, have some MODESTY! Act like a responsible, thinking human being and cover up your GENITALS!

    It is totally reasonable for an airline to require a MODICUM of decency! Plus, reports from other passengers indicate that she had her top yanked WAY down, exposing a lot of cleavage, and she had her skirt pulled WAY up, almost showing her panties *standing*. I mean, come on! Like I need that on a plane when I’m flying with my wife. Damn, I’ll get my ass kicked just for *being there* on the same plane with her.

    I think it is *reasonable* to ask people to cover up their genitals, butt and breasts — men and women, not just women. I’m not a prude, I love women, love their bodies, and I don’t think that seeing a nude body will scar children, but it’s reasonable to expect that humans show some respect for others by dressing with a little responsibility. Show some respect for yourself by dressing like you have a brain and aren’t trying to get laid in the parking lot.

    Southwest did the RIGHT thing!

  49. I wonder about women like poster #43, where is your head? I wonder if you’d dress like that sitting across from you *father* or your *grandmother*! Act like you have some sense and show some respect to those around you.

    People that are asking for her to simply cover up her genitals and so forth aren’t prudes, we’re just asking for some MODESTY!

  50. Just more reasons not to subsidize the airline industry. The increase in poor customer service in general is a direct result of the airline industry forcing out all competition through manipulation of federal legislation. The airline industry has playacted itself to become a necessity and forced the rail transit industry almost completely out of the market. With the price of fuel on the ever increase the demand for alternative travel will find it’s niche again.

  51. Ok so what was wrong with outfit? If thias is indecent then we are in for a lot of trouble, Just when was the last time you visited a mall or a high school? Much more revealing there and Noone enforces dress code.

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