A major airline is issuing an apology to a Black woman after staff refused to let her board her flight because of her halter top. “It’s the constant policing of women’s bodies for me,” passenger Kayla Eubanks tweeted while a Southwest Airlines employee spent thirty minutes trying to find the passenger dress code policy. Only after her tweet went viral did the airline issue an apology.
Eubanks, 22, was traveling from New York to Chicago, where the weather was expected to be in the high 70s. Like most airline passengers, she decided to dress for her destination and opted for a halter top. Eubanks made it through security without an issue but was stopped at the gate when her boarding group was called. A single Southwest employee’s subjective opinion combined with an outdated dress code policy turned her otherwise routine flight into a fight for women’s rights.
Thanks to social media, Eubanks was able to live-tweet the entire experience and expose the airline for its sexist, racist policy.
Staff held her at the gate for so long, it delayed the flight for all passengers on board. Why? It took the staff over 30 minutes to find the dress code policy they were so eager to enforce. Eventually, Southwest Airlines told Eubanks that her top was too “lewd, obscene, or offensive” to be allowed on the plane. “I was told that passengers may look at me in my attire and be offended,” she said in a tweet that has since gone viral with over 50k likes.
While this isn’t the first story of a woman being detained for sexist policies, Eubanks recorded her interaction with staff and has become an example of how to advocate for yourself. The flight attendant pictured above told Eubanks that she must cover her breasts in order to board the flight. Eubanks refused, demanding to see the policy. While she waited, the flight attendant told her that they’ll have to put her on another flight if they don’t find the policy in time. “Why do I have to be put on a different flight because y’all can’t find a policy that y’all are enforcing—dress code for customers who pay to get on your planes?” she asked. The woman completely ignored her.
Soon after, the captain approached her, joking “They’re hating on you because you’re looking good, is that right?” Without missing a beat, Eubanks responded emphatically, “I don’t take this lightly at all.”
The only way Eubanks could board her flight is if she put on a loaner shirt from the captain.
She immediately takes it off once they’re in flight, in protest. On the ground, two white male supervisors pull Eubanks aside to tell her, “If you choose to wear that again and try to fly on [Southwest Airlines], you won’t.” Eubanks tries to ask him a question but he cuts her off and challenges her, saying, “Try it. Try it.”
“I just don’t understand why I’m being policed,” she told them. “Who are my boobs offensive to? Which is it? Is it ‘lewd, obscene or offensive’?” Eubanks demanded. “It could be all three,” the employee responds, adding that her top reveals “quite a bit.”
“So should I leave them at home? My boobs. Because I feel like if I didn’t have them it would be fine.”
Since her string of tweets went viral, Southwest Airlines has formally apologized to Eubanks and has issued a travel credit. For Eubanks, that’s not enough. She wants to see a policy change that would prevent bias from ruining other passengers’ trips.
Most of us have been conditioned to accept that women’s bodies should be policed and regulated. They shouldn’t.
Eubank’s story is, unfortunately, nothing new. From middle school dress codes to state-wide legislation, girls and women’s bodies are regulated in ways the opposite sex seldom experiences. Even in progressive states where women are allowed to go topless, there are vulgarity clauses that regulate women’s behavior and not men’s. For example, men dance topless at the beach without question, but if a woman did that, it could constitute her arrest.
More importantly is that, like nearly every other law in the book, Black and brown people are more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for ‘crimes’ that white folks get a pass for. “I’m an ex flight attendant. This is a bullshit policy that is applied arbitrarily. Spring break young white girls wear dukes and bikini tops. No one blinks an eye,” tweeted one @IAmThe47 in support of Eubanks. There is no shortage of studies that document the hyper-sexualization of Black women in our society.
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