A two-time cancer survivor attempted to board an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Charlotte, but was told she wouldn’t be able to fly unless she covered up her yellow hoodie which said “F- cancer.”
American Airlines is apologizing, saying its policies “prohibit clothing that displays offensive statements and inappropriate language from being worn on board” (so the passenger was breaking its rules) but its employees “should have taken the broader context of the message displayed on the customer’s shirt into consideration when explaining our policies.” So the airline’s employee was in the wrong for enforcing company policy – because the airline wishes to “reaffirm [its] support for efforts to fight cancer.”
I guess I just don’t know what to do with this, so I’m glad I don’t work for American Airlines. The airline’s policy says “Dress appropriately; bare feet or offensive clothing aren’t allowed.” Each employee is supposed to decide what’s appropriate, and the airline doesn’t back them up if they guess wrong.
Over the summer a passenger was kicked off of a flight for wearing an F-12 mask. This is a little bit more controversial of a message, perhaps (anti-police) but:
- it uses the same word.
- came right on the heels of the George Floyd protests (contest)
- the airline’s CEO has been wearing a Black Lives Matter wristband since last May
- American made Black Lives Matter pins available to employees
- And its message to employees to start the year highlighted George Floyd,
. This past year served as a vivid reminder of how far we have yet to go in our quest for justice and equality. After the murders of George Floyd and other Black Americans, we redoubled our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion as an airline.
So if employees are supposed to ‘take context into account’ when enforcing these rules, should they allow someone to wear an F-12 mask? Will it depend on the employee, with each one interpreting ‘context’ differently?
To be sure this is tough in a world of evolving standards, especially where the airline isn’t providing clear direction and training to employees. They want a policy so they can enforce it in egregious cases, but that risks backlash when it’s enforced in ways that offends groups, too. The lesson here seems to be it’s up to the employee to enforce rules based on whether they think the twitter mobs will approve.
Should this sweatshirt be allowed? Should an employee, following the airline’s dress rules, know to allow it?