A little over a month ago – on October 30 – a couple were traveling from Key West to Las Vegas. On their first flight segment Swati Runi Goyal was asked to change her shirt or get off the flight.
“The man said, ‘Your shirt is offensive. Do you know what that means?’” Goyal said. “I said, ‘I’m a foreign-born minority woman, I understand ‘offensive,’ and this shirt is not offensive.’”
Customer service came on board the plane. Her husband was wearing two layers of clothing so he gave one to her, covering up her shirt, and they were allowed to fly.
The offending shirt? It said “Hail Satan” and established in the year 666.
— Tyler Hughs (@TylerHughs) December 6, 2019
She’s not a satanist but “is a member of the Satanic Temple” which I take to be something like the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, not an actual religion but an ironic one meant to criticize Christianity (or, more charitably, “[t]he Satanic Temple is a nontheistic religious organization that has become known for its activism on issues such as separation of church and state, free speech and religious freedom”).
When she complained after the flight American’s response offered, “[o]ur flight attendants have a responsibility to all passengers in our care, and we must sometimes make difficult decisions associated with the application of our policies.”
On twitter she got the rather generic “discrimination has no place at American Airlines”
However Buzzfeed quotes American’s Ross Feinstein offering, “We apologize to Ms. Goyal for her experience, and we are reaching out to her to understand what occurred.” Now, I take this not so much to apologize for what American did but for what the woman feels she experienced, and doesn’t offer a conclusion on what happened – since they still have to investigate that. However the passenger reports she was offered a refund for her and her husband’s tickets.
The co-founder of The Satanic Temple isn’t accepting the apology.
Note to anybody wishing to book me as a speaker: I refuse to fly @AmericanAir . Yes, they apologized, but if the crew thinks it's okay to refuse service to a member of The Satanic Temple, they may also think it's okay to open a door mid-flight or serve ground glass as a snack.
— Lucien Greaves (@LucienGreaves) December 6, 2019
I actually wouldn’t have a problem with an airline that offered a clear, concise and easy to understand dress code. American’s rules say passengers must “[d]ress appropriately; bare feet or offensive clothing aren’t allowed.” It’s hard to know ex ante what’s permitted or not.
In contrast a rule that says “no satantic symbols” and “no bare midriffs” or that chose even to say “no visible tattoos or piercings” I’d be alright with, customers would have fair notice not to fly the airline. That would require, though, that we stop protecting airlines from competition so customers would have a choice.
In fact if competition were legal in the airline industry, a dress code that said ‘our flight attendants will decide whether you can fly, applying standards that will vary from flight to flight’ would even be acceptable because anyone unsure whether they’ll pass muster would just fly someone else. In a competitive environment such a policy – as appears to have been enforced in this case – would mean sacrificing revenue.