Seven-time “American Ninja Warrior” competitor Maggi Thorne is no stranger to flying on Southwest Airlines, now traveling the country as a motivational speaker, but something unexpected happened on a recent flight.
On a midday Southwest flight from Omaha, Nebraska, to Orlando, Florida, she says she was “shamed” for her outfit by a flight attendant and told she might have to cover up. The flight attendant told her she, “didn’t think I was appropriately dressed,” Thorne said. Thorne posted the story to X, the social platform formerly known a Twitter, on Friday with a photo of her outfit: an athleisure crop top and loose, high-waisted pants.
Thorne refused to cover up and reported the incident to another flight attendant after looking for and failing to find a passenger dress code policy. Thorne also said she messaged a friend, who happens to be a Southwest flight attendant, and asked her if she was aware of any such policy, to which her friend responded no. Initially, the second flight attendant said there was a policy for appropriate dress, but the situation diffused and Thorne was able to travel to her destination uninterrupted.
Other similar incidents involving Southwest have been reported in the past. Melinna Bobadilla claimed last summer that she was removed from a flight for defending a “young woman being shamed and harassed by an employee for wearing a tank top that was deemed too revealing,” she said in a viral tweet thread that has since been made private.
In October 2020, Chicago woman Kayla Eubanks said she was stopped from boarding her flight for her attire and that, after demanding to see the policy that allowed that, the gate agent could not find the policy but would not relent until the flight captain loaned her a T-shirt. The Independent reported on the event, which was also posted to X.
There are more, and the vast majority of incidents like Thorne’s happen to women.
While other airlines have come under fire for attire-related incidents, notably American, United and Alaska Airlines, Southwest appears to make headlines quite often for its interpretation of appropriate attire.
Chris Perry, a representative for Southwest, said in an email that “Southwest does not have a customer dress code policy.”
However, Southwest’s guide to traveling on a guest pass states travelers should “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.”
Other airlines have similar clauses in their ticket fine print.
Delta may refuse to transport passengers “when the passenger’s conduct, attire, hygiene or odor creates an unreasonable risk of offense or annoyance to other passengers.” United singles out “passengers who are barefoot, not properly clothed, or whose clothing is lewd, obscene or offensive.”
American’s contract says, “Dress appropriately; bare feet or offensive clothing aren’t allowed.”
The vaguely-worded policies leave much room for interpretation. In the case of Southwest, Perry said: “Our employees are responsible for following our contract of carriage.”
Many have responded to these incidents on social media and beyond, calling out the disproportionate effect attire policies seem to have on women.
Incidents such as what happened to Thorne are rare in the grand scheme of things, but they are not without a lasting impact.
“[I felt] shamed, embarrassed,” Thorne said. “I was definitely singled out, so I was frustrated.”
She also took issue with the fact that the flight attendant did this in front of other passengers and not in private.
“It wasn’t discrete.”
Southwest has filed a formal complaint with senior leadership on Thorne’s behalf, but there is no specific policy on recourse for passengers like Thorne who feel they have been unfairly judged for their dress.
Southwest’s contract of carriage says, “A passenger who is so refused or removed is without further recourse to the carrier for any damages claimed by passenger, including the refund value of any unused portion of their ticket, and may be liable to carrier for costs and damages.”
In the case of Eubanks, whose Twitter post received over 40,000 likes, Southwest refunded her fare “as a gesture of goodwill,” according to The Independent.
“I haven’t previously had any issues,” Thorne said. “I was in disbelief.”