Friday, April 03, 2015

Not Safe For Flight

Last week one Daniel Podolsky was flying via Southwest from Dallas to Chicago, returning from the SXSW festival, where he'd picked up a T-shirt for the Comedy Central sitcom Broad City.  The plane was diverted to St. Louis due to bad weather.  When he tried to reboard, the gate agent stopped him.  His shirt read "Broad Fucking City" and as long as he was wearing it he wasn't allowed on the plane.

He claimed he would have changed but it all happened so fast that suddenly he was off the flight. The video of his interaction with the agent suggests it might have been more than that:

Worker: Can you change the shirt?
Podolsky: Nope.
Worker: Can you put the jacket on and leave it on through the flight? Can you put the shirt on inside out?
Podolsky: Nope.
Worker: Is there anything you can do not to display the shirt because at this point we can’t allow you to go.
Podolsky: I have freedom of speech.
Worker: I know you do...
Podolsky: Really it’s not bothering anyone.
Worker: I can show you in our contract of carriage that you can’t wear any shirts that say offensive...
Podolsky: Can we take a poll?

In this case, I think both sides are wrong.  Perhaps this is a regular policy of Southwest, consistently enforced (and Podolsky got on the earlier flight because his jacket partly covered his shirt).  But is it that big a deal?  Note Podolsky could wear this shirt in the airport where, even though it might cause some discomfort (like many other T-shirts, even ones without profanity), it didn't exactly cause a panic.  For that matter, if someone swears while on the plane, it may be offensive to some, but I would hope the pilot wouldn't ground the craft and kick the guy off.  (And don't airlines occasionally show movies with this sort of language?)

Airlines, backed by the FAA, have often abused their authority by somewhat arbitrarily deciding they don't like someone's attitude.  In this case, they might have gone too far--even if a poll, such as this guy wanted, might have shown general disapproval. For that matter, though there was a back-and-forth, I wonder if the agent really made clear to this guy he'd be off the flight soon, or was the gate agent so annoyed by Podolsky's failure to respect the authority of Southwest that he was out before he truly had time to take in what was happening.

That said, the guy acted like a jerk.  He does have freedom of speech, but he's flying on a plane run by a private company that can enforce its own standards of customer comportment. (And did Podolsky fail to notice all the security measures around airports?  They take who's allowed on planes quite seriously.)

Even if he thought Southwest was being unreasonable, he should have done the mature thing and acceded to their demands--just as he would to, say, "no shirt, no shoes, no service" at a store.

He did remove the shirt and board a later flight.  It would have been a lot more fun if he stood on principle--he'd be the free speech martyr who lives in St. Louis airport.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

On a plane everyoneis sitting face forward in little cramped spaces. Who can see T shirts. The airplane is a common carrier and doesn't/shouldn't really have the rights of a private party to arbitrarily decide who to provide service to.

3:18 AM, April 03, 2015  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

I think it is precisely because they are a common carrier that they have a right to manage the public space to maximize the comfort of their passengers.

If someone smell's bad, the airline can refuse them access to the plane (or give them perfume?). If someone is repeatedly voicing obscenities (of Allah Akbar), they can remove them from the plain. That's two senses, I don't see why visual offenses are different from aural or nasal.

Now, if someone has tourettes, then the airline might have to make special accomodations (have them sit with the pilots in the cockpit (-: ). But a shirt - clearly it's the passenger's obligation to comply with policies, especially if they are written and applied to everyone.

And a poll is no sort of answer. A common carrier must cater to the lowest common denominator (or perhaps I should say highest common sensibility). IMHO, this goes for headphones that are audible due to excessive volume as well, even if it's a song that a majority of the people on the plane like.

7:53 AM, April 03, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A shirt isn't the same as a smell or a sound since most won't see it and those who do can easily look away.

It's not the common carrier so much as the fact that airplane rules are set by the FAA, which federalized everything and creates a kingdom for the people who are allegedly serving us--I'm surprised they haven't given pilots the right to marry people yet.

9:25 AM, April 03, 2015  

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