American Airlines Passenger Forced To Hide ‘Palestine’ Sweatshirt On Flight From New York

A passenger on board American Airlines flight 2829 from New York JFK to Phoenix was called out by flight attendants over their political sweatshirt. The sweatshirt apparently said “Palestine.” It also appeared to define Palestine… more broadly than Gaza, the West Bank, and parts of East Jerusalem.

The airline is now being called “rascit” (sic) because they made the passenger turn their sweatshirt inside out in order to fly “jus bc it said Palestine.”

The passenger says that they were given the choice to “remove [the] sweater” “flip it inside out” or “be removed by law enforcement” They say they complied because they didn’t “know[… their] rights” Crew expressed concern over how other passengers feel about the clothes, while the passenger asked, “what about my feelings.” They were told that it isn’t permitted since it’s political.

From the photo of the passenger’s boarding pass, I see that they were a basic economy passenger. Basic economy doesn’t include wearing political attire. That costs extra.

Personally I’d love to see politics-free flights, since this seems to be the level of discourse we get.

Most of the messaging on the Mideast is way too simplistic. You want a two state solution? Great. What would you suggest that Ehud Olmert’s 2008 proposal, which the Palestinians rejected, did not include? Are there people willing to make peace? The position of Hamas, and even more militant factions of Fatah, have not been willing to accept anything that preserves Israel as an independent state. And years of terrorist attacks launched from what would be that state make it harder and harder for Israel to give up territory. At the same time, it’s not clear what destroying Hamas will even accomplish, because what rises up in its place?

Meanwhile, American’s policy on passenger attire says “Dress appropriately; bare feet or offensive clothing aren’t allowed.” They want a policy so they can enforce it in egregious cases. American really doesn’t have consistent standards on this so each employee uses their judgment, which varies. Is the sweatshirt offensive? For a departure from New York, maybe? I wouldn’t have made an issue of it.

I find that most gate agents and flight attendants are doing their best, given lack of clarity, and just want a peaceful flight and to head off any hassles. People from all sorts of backgrounds, viewpoints, and experiences come together inside of metal tubes – and employees bring their own biases to bear – and sometimes those collide.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Well this is absurd. Can AA assure me that they’d take the same action against anyone wearing clothing with Israel’s flag? Otherwise this is bigotry and xenophobia at its finest. The entire crew of this flight should be fired without any pension or compensation.

  2. I doubt the flight attendants noticed that the map might have included in Palestine areas beyond the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.

    I suspect they were reacting to the word “Palestine”. I doubt the flight attendants would known the difference if it was a map of Utah instead of Palestine.

    I doubt the flight attendants would have booted someone with an “Israel” T-shirt. In fact, if a flight attendant tried to do that, the flight attendant would have been labeled as an anti-Semite.

  3. Wearing a t-shirt like this is the concretization of wearing a proverbial chip on one’s shoulder, but and are functionally the same. The very point is provocation, and airlines have a very easy to understand interest in avoiding that inside of their cabins.

  4. Re: Mak – How would this be a “chip on his shoulder”? Palestine is a recognized state by the UN: 139 of the 193 UN member states have recognized the State of Palestine (Israel is recognized by 165). So…how is it a provocation? Unless you are saying someone wearing a shirt saying “Israel” should be treated the same way? (You can bet AA would be labelled anti-semitic.)

    And if you are worried about people with chips on their shoulders, then a great many sports team logos could be banned too. Aside from a slogan of hate speech or profanity (which Palestine clearly is not), any form of expression of a shirt is arguably free speech.

  5. I don’t see a map in that picture, but the named cities are enough to see it’s calling for the destruction of Israel. Some would certainly find this offensive, I think they made the right call.

    And it certainly isn’t about race. Crying “racism” when it clearly isn’t makes me doubt the rest of your position.

  6. @Mak, that’s exactly what I was thinking, and I agree.

    In this climate, it’s equivalent to a shirt reading, “I bet you can’t punch me in the face!”.

    Political feelings aside, the flight attendants have a duty to ensure an orderly and safe cabin. Doing so here, they earned a rascally ‘rascit’ label, which seems to be the price of admission for doing your job these days.

  7. Big advocate for free speech but airlines have an interest in reducing potential for controversy on its planes, no? Was the message on the shirt inflammatory in some way? Obscene? It’s a tough call

  8. @kimmiea – what “lawsuit”? Airlines are PRIVATE businesses. There is no “right to speech” on them.
    he person that published the story is wrong when they say their cousin didn’t understand their “rights” since they have none if they want to fly. They are able to establish rules on what people can and can not wear. Right now support for the terrorists that murdered 1500 Israeli citizens and started this entire war is controversial and airlines have every right to tell people they can’t wear that shirt. Support for Israel is much more common in the US and wouldn’t cause a problem.

    Just like an airline could stop someone from flying wearing a tshirt with the N word or an Arian Nation slogan but could allow someone to fly with a BLM support shirt – it is ENTIRELY up to the airline what they feel may be a problem among passengers on a plane.

  9. They did it because these people nowadays don’t know how to act on a plane and somebody would’ve caused a fight over it, so it was the smartest thing they did !!

  10. Good God, nobody is so ignorant as to wear a shirt that names either Palestine or Israel on an airplane ride. Someone must have made up this story … such gross stupidity is difficult to believe. Oh, but WAIT … maybe he’ll be famous for 15 minutes; maybe he’ll get interviewed on TV. Maybe he’s not ignorant after all, maybe he’ll not be famous.

  11. I support Israel and still find AA’s actions troubling and disquieting. It’s a name on a shirt. Not any different in principle than a Trump or Biden tee-shirt. Is AA threatening to wearers of those with police intervention?

    More often than not I agree with your take Gary. Not on this.

    “I may not agree with you but will defend you’re right to say it”. When did America become a place where citizens don’t support this? An absolute sad commentary on where our culture and values have gone. We have lost our way as a country.

  12. This is a conflict where more bombs were dropped on women and children in the past month than the US had dropped in Afghanistan in a year. Just be mindful of that please.

    The flight attendant would not have done the same if it was an Israel shirt with the entirety of Gaza and Palestine off the map. This was certainly anti-Semitic of AA (google the definition of anti-Semite before you try to claim anti-Israel = anti-Semite).

  13. How many people have been removed from airplanes for wearing MAGA hats? Isn’t that a political message?

  14. Lmao what an idiotic take and a lame attempt at genocide apologist from someone who clearly has no understanding of the region’s history (or present.)

  15. All you have to do is imagine the reaction of arabs / muslims and their radical left supporters if someone was kicked out for wearing an “Israel” shirt – they would be applauding the airline for it’s “stance against genocide” or some nonsense like that LOL

    Love it when bolsheviks get a taste of their own medicine. Banning him from flying the airline (“consequence culture” as they call it) if he resisted to comply would have been perfect to see. Too bad he complied.

  16. A lot of people have no clue how much “cancel culture” and racist discrimination, intimidation and even assault has been hitting Muslims, Arabs and Palestinians and their supporters in the US during the last several weeks. And hotels and airlines have been in on the discriminatory action.

  17. Will they restrict someone for flying with attire that says Portland? Even if someone defined Portland as a way of engaging in cartological aggression, still no good reason to restrict the attire. From the river to the ocean, Portlanders should be free to wear attire saying Portland and even showing Portland lands.

  18. Doug,

    Who knows what your obsession is with me, but if you want to hang out with your fellow travelers who are obsessed with me and stalk me, you should seek company with moderators on FT.

    AA won’t ever ban me. Actually no US airline will, but you keep imagining your dream if it makes you sleep better at night.

    Now where can I find a shirt that says Portland, OR and Portland, ME.

  19. jBelkin,

    There is a Palestine in Illinois, Texas and West Virginia. There may also be a Palestine in North Carolina.

  20. If that Oakland council meeting video thing is not some fabricated or selectively edited to misrepresent video, then it seems like the Oakland area has far more colorful and bizarre characters than any place needs.

  21. @ Loren. Poor you. You wouldn’t know Timbaktu from your city, on any map. Why expose your ignorance about world geography?

  22. British Airways threatened to remove me from a Business Class flight from London to Dubai back in 2010 when I had a ‘Toxic Air’ T-Shirt on ! Nothing political unless you are an Airline CEO/Senior Management. The BA terminal 5 manager of the time said I could remove the shirt and replace it or not travel ! Airlines do not wish get embroiled in either Contaminated Cabin Air or political statements for fear of having to take responsibility and offending other passengers

  23. For as many MAGA hats and tshirts I’ve had to endure, this is pure prejudice. Nothing about that shirt is political unless you support the erasure and genocide of Palestinians. That looks like a shirt you’d get after a trip abroad, not a matter of protest. So unless the flight crew and American Airlines argues the existence of Palestine and Palestinian people, this is pure profiling and prejudice. This passenger deserves an apology.

  24. The funny thing is that people have become experts on the Middle East. Have any of you commenting on the post ever been there? Did you live there?

    Have you ever studied the history of that region? It seems not to me. That region, even before the British mandate and UN partition, was inhabited by 12 tribes, mainly the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah. The language was Hebrew and Aramaic.

    Therefore, the use of clothing probably showed a map WITHOUT ISRAEL, which in the end, whether you like it or not, is like saying that they should exterminate and erase Israel from the map.

    Would someone wearing a t-shirt showing Islam dominating the American map, or London be normal?

  25. Do shirts and sweatshirts saying Londonistan count?

    Would someone wearing a T-shirt showing all of the West Bank and Gaza as being Israel be normal?

    Now, where can I find a t-shirt that has Greenland being defined and perhaps shown as part of the US? Will SAS deny me travel because of such a shirt unless and until Trump gets his wish to buy Denmark off the Danes?

  26. CMT says “I support Israel and still find AA’s actions troubling and disquieting. It’s a name on a shirt. Not any different in principle than a Trump or Biden tee-shirt. Is AA threatening to wearers of those with police intervention?

    More often than not I agree with your take Gary. Not on this.”

    I second this. Enough is enough with all of this sanctioning. We still (apparently) have certain freedoms in this country and neither AA or any other company needs to limit such freedoms due to political bias. And to all of you saying this is a safety issue. I call BS. NO ONE has the right to physically assault someone else for something that is being worn or said. If that happens you arrest the offender, you do not go after the victim regardless of how offensive you find their message to be.

  27. @GUWonder:
    > Do shirts and sweatshirts saying Londonistan count?

    > Would someone wearing a T-shirt showing all of the West Bank and Gaza as being Israel be normal?

    The thing is the Palestine symbol is about ethnic cleansing, not merely what political entity is in control. Hamas doesn’t just want the territory, they want to expel or kill every Jew in it.

  28. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. Headed to the store this very second for a Palestine shirt so that I can sue the balls off of AA, become filthy rich, and donate 100% of it to the cause for Palestinian liberation.

  29. Make it make sense, Gary. The day before you published this article, you wrote a piece accusing Delta of political bias for enforcing the two carry-on limit, an explicit airline regulation, on a man holding 4 bags who happened to be wearing a Republican Party pin. Yet the next day, you show indifference about an AA flight attendant threatening a passenger with removal for wearing ‘political’ clothing, an act that does not violate any AA policies and would likely be protected free speech.

    His sweatshirt wasn’t any more provocative than a MAGA hat or BLM pin. Free speech only works if you protect all speech, not just sentiments you agree with.

  30. > Basic economy doesn’t include wearing political attire. That costs extra.

    So, If he was in first-class or business-class seat, there was no problem?
    I really don’t get it.

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