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Southwest's Revealing Incident

John Deiner

Another flying conundrum has been cast upon us: How revealing is too revealing when it comes to air travel?

Southwest Airlines recently tried to evict passenger Kyla Ebbert from a San Diego-to-Tucson flight because she was "dressed inappropriately," Ebbert told the "Today" show's Matt Lauer on Friday. Ebbert, a Hooters waitress, is a 23-year-old college student and was stunned. If you want to see the outfit causing the commotion, plus video of her NBC appearance, check out this report.

After questioning what part of her outfit was questionable, Ebbert said, she was told "the whole thing." According to the report, "A compromise was finally reached when Ebbert promised to pull up her top, which wasn't showing cleavage to begin with, and pull down her tiny skirt. "

When asked for comment, the airline sent this statement to the network: "Southwest Airlines was responding to a concern about Ms. Ebbert's revealing attire on the flight that day. As a compromise, we asked her to adjust her clothing to be less revealing, she complied, and she traveled as scheduled. When a concern is brought to our Employees' attention, we address that situation directly with the Customer(s) involved in a discreet and professional manner. Fortunately, as an airline that carries approximately 96 million Customers a year, these situations are extremely rare."

Now it appears Ebbert is hiring a lawyer, blah blah blah (oh come on!!!). And she noted that a Southwest attendant actually complimented her outfit on the way home from Tucson.

I have to give Southwest some props here, folks -- I mean, at least the general idea was a good one, though standards on appropriate dress are all over the place. I'd hate to have to make that judgment on a regular basis. (On a recent Southwest flight I was on, two attendants warned some guy sitting near me to put away his Playboy magazine because it was inappropriate for a family flight. He put it away, muttering a bit, but there were kids on the flight wandering around and I could see the attendants' point.)

Any thoughts on this? Should Southwest be judging whether people are dressing too suggestively? Would you have said something to her?

By John Deiner |  September 10, 2007; 1:12 PM ET  | Category:  Air Travel , John Deiner
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Well, I saw the outfit and was surprised that it got her in trouble. IMHO, it was more tacky than it was revealing, but then those kind of clothes just aren't to my taste. I guess I didn't realize that airlines (especially casual Southwest) had dress restrictions beyond the obvious keep-the-parts-covered type. Do restaurants do the same thing? Public transportation? I'm constantly shocked to see what people run around in (or not in), but figured it to be just another one of their "rights."

Posted by: thinking out loud | September 10, 2007 2:30 PM

the outfit didn't look to bad to me. I have definitely seen more revealing; the decision may have had to do more with her hooters attitude or personality. I dont know, i wasn't there.

Tell you what, if this happens on a flight I'm on; i will sit aisle to her window and hold up a blanket to curtail ogling. Deal? deal!

Posted by: J-Mart | September 10, 2007 2:55 PM

Isn't Southwest the airline of that "Airline" show? I remember one episode when the manager had to approach one guy waiting at the gate and ask him to go change because he, uh, was kinda lettin' it it all hang out, if you know what I mean. He protested that he wasn't hangin' out, but the employee who was interviewed just said she got a complaint and so she had to act on it. He grumbled a lot, but eventually did go change.

Posted by: T. | September 10, 2007 4:03 PM

And who is the arbiter of what is appropriate? I feel uncomfortable with an airline making these judgements. On the other hand, where can people get cues on dressing appropriately for an occasion?

Posted by: db | September 10, 2007 4:18 PM

I just think it's funny that the company that used to have stewardesses dressed in, what was it, hot pants and boots, is going to get all hoity-toity about some Hooter's employee's attire.

What happened to "Luv?"

Sure, she looked tacky. Have people looked around at the average attire on flights these days? Ick.

But I don't think she deserved the boot for it.

Posted by: Sheila | September 10, 2007 4:19 PM

Do your job and stop trying to conform everyone else to your sense of decency.

Fly the damn plane and shut up.

Posted by: do your job | September 10, 2007 6:38 PM

Yet they won't ever kick off the uncontrollable crying screaming wild children - who disturb EVERYONE!!!!!

This airline attendant was trying to impose her own sense of decency, not trying to prevent a disruption.

Posted by: Babies... | September 10, 2007 6:41 PM

Southwest, the Walmart of the airline industry.

Posted by: Liz | September 10, 2007 6:54 PM

So many fliers dress like they will be gardening or working out at the gym. Hey it's a free country, but do so many people have to be slobs so often? As a private company, Southwest could have a dress code as long as it was racially discriminatory, but the easy thing is to go with the flow. If this woman wants to dress so she could receive a pelvic exam, and another guy wants to give his guys some fresh air, well viva la France.

Posted by: Folger | September 11, 2007 6:55 AM

Hey, I don't want anyone flashing their panties in front of my children, I think SW was totally justified, but should have told her it was b/c her skirt was way, way too short.

Posted by: anon | September 11, 2007 11:54 AM

I wonder what it says in the Southwest contract of carriage about clothing or dress? Seems like leaving it up to the FA's to make the call and enforce their own personal versions of the rules is just asking for a lawsuit.

Posted by: mccxxiii | September 11, 2007 12:12 PM

A guy *grumbled* about having to put away his playboy??? Forget kids - I'm an adult and I don't want to have to sit next to someone looking at naked ladies!

Posted by: h3 | September 11, 2007 5:13 PM

Now maybe they'll get the people who let their flab squish out of their clothes dress in something that fits. Not all inappropriately dressed people are as hot as the waitress.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 11, 2007 9:44 PM

I saw her Myspace photo before it disappeared from her space. Pretty reveiling!!! She definitley likes to show herself!

Posted by: steve | September 12, 2007 3:24 AM

I saw the Today show interview, and the girl's outfit was neat and clean. She was dressed "appropriately" for someone her age. That said, I am sick of people walking around public places dressed like total slobs. (People in my neighborhood walk to the community pool in their bathing suits -- it's NOT the beach!) You should dress comfortably for a flight. I think the airline has every right to refuse people to board their flight, same as a restaurant could refuse to seat someone dressed inappropriately. I don't know if posting "appropriate dress" guidelines on their website opens another can of worms though.

Posted by: tk | September 12, 2007 12:01 PM

The airline was trying to do something that her mother was incapable of doing-teaching her there are consequences to outlandish behavior. Anyone who saw her sit down after she displayed her dress on the Today Show would understand the attendant's decision. The bigger question is why is the Today show wasting its time giving Ms. Ebbert a forum for her actions

Posted by: ftt | September 12, 2007 12:17 PM

I don't think it should be up to the crew to decide what dress is and isn't appropriate. By the time you're boarding a plane, it's too late to do anything about how you're dressed. If the industry feels the need to have standards, let the airPORT make the decision and have someone be the 'fashion police' before baggage is out of the flyers control.

Posted by: Donna | September 12, 2007 12:24 PM

Has your column or the Today Show given any space and time to the Jena 6 situation in Louisiana? Are you or The Today Show aware of it at all? Have either of you given any recent space and/or time to the still suffering victims of Katrina? Take a camera down there to see how the people are still suffering. That woman on Southwest dressed for attention and now she is getting it from everyone. I don't care about what she or anyone else wears. I know you are a travel column, and the topics I mention may not be appropriate, but please please don't follow the media in giving this woman any more time like I just did. Naturally, I don't want to have to look at her brain through her skirt on a flight or anywhere else, but in the realm of things that are going on in our world, she is so so low on the list. Thanks.

Posted by: Carrie | September 12, 2007 1:54 PM

So the Travel column of the Washington Post should be covering hate crimes in Louisiana? How do you figure that, Carrie?

Posted by: h3 | September 12, 2007 2:33 PM

I was recently on a (non-SWA) flight to NYC on which there were two teenage girls (flying sans parents) wearing outfits that were barely more than bikinis (one's derriere was half out of her ultra-mini-shorts). It was pretty clear to all that neither of the young women were wearing undergarments. I was embarrassed for them , but they clearly knew what they were doing and flaunted it Paris & Britney style. The men oogled (I watched more than one security agent spend a lot of time looking), women's mouths were agape; these two were clearly a distraction. Should they have not been permitted to fly? I don't know, but their mothers never should have let them out of the house in getups like that.

Posted by: guest | September 12, 2007 2:37 PM

I realize that in this day and age it is quite difficult for the airlines to handle all the passengers totally correctly at all times. Southwest is my usual airlines because of the places that I frequent. I have had great flights, uneventful flights and frustrating flights, because of great or not so great flight attendents. And I think they probably overreacted on this one, kind of like the attendent on another airlines that kicked off a passenger because she was breatfeeding her baby. Hang in there everyone, and remember it's really all about safety.

Posted by: Shelley | September 12, 2007 2:46 PM

Some clarification, logic and a request:
Clarifying: the attendant received a complaint, not acted on his own.
And, Yes, airlines DO have dress codes (check their complete rules and regs) and have since their conception. Ignorance of that fact is not an excuse. Ideally laws are meant to promote CIVILITY. She was and continues to be uncivilized.
Logic: Miss "Look! My Brains are in my Thong" wants to be the center of attention and is now twisting the truth. The outfit she wore on TV isn't in the same position as on the plane. Check it out - can that skirt be pulled down? She tearfully claims the attendant "yelled" at her, and everyone heard - while they were outside the plane. Huh? Logic tells me she's being untruthful.
Request: I'd like to hear from someone else on the flight (not those busy fantasizing).

Posted by: Cynthia | September 12, 2007 5:05 PM

My life is interesting enough that I don't have to worry about someone else's attire. I find it interesting that Southwest's claim that someone complained about this woman's attire only surfaced AFTER the media backlash. Get a life, folks, and mind your own business. Just another of a long list of reasons I'm willing to pay $150 or more to avoid flying the cattle-call hypocrisy (remember those hotpant-clad attendants?) that is Southwest Airlines.

Posted by: plet39 | September 13, 2007 10:44 AM

I was waiting to board a Delta flight at LAX. A man strolled up to the counter, fat guy in a tshirt. He took off the tshirt and lovingly swabbed his sweaty rolls of fat with it. With my luck, he'd be my seat mate. Delta had refused my first class status, so I bumped myself up by paying an extra $200 bucks. It was worth it. But bye bye Delta.


Posted by: margot Kernan | September 13, 2007 11:33 AM

I was waiting to board a Delta flight at LAX. A man strolled up to the counter, fat guy in a tshirt. He took off the tshirt and lovingly swabbed his sweaty rolls of fat with it. With my luck, he'd be my seat mate. Delta had refused my first class status, so I bumped myself up by paying an extra $200 bucks. It was worth it. But bye bye Delta.


Posted by: margot Kernan | September 13, 2007 11:33 AM

Based on what I read about this story, I think that the airline went completely overboard. First, based on the pictures posted on the Internet, there was nothing extremely revealing in her outfit. Besides, wasn't she going to Arizona where the temperatures were in the 100s? What would people have her wear??

Moreover, who has appointed the airline to be the fashion police? Just because one passenger complains does not mean that they can kick someone off. I've flown with plenty of people of both sexes, whose clothing struck me as odd. I am sure some thought the same about my "Futurama" t-shirts. That does not mean that everyone has to get off the plane to placate everyone's fragile sensibility.

If you are offended, don't stare.

Posted by: Gene | September 13, 2007 6:42 PM

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