I am not educated enough about the law, corporate policy, ticket disclaimers, and the like, to comment on the legality of this episode. I will, however, say that I will never, ever, ever fly Southwest or patronize any company under the same corporate umbrella.
This was a blunder of epic proportions. When you think it becomes your responsibility (or even right, I'm not sure what you think and won't opine) to regulate attire, that is the day that I choose to fly elsewhere. I have flown almost 200,000 miles on your airline in less than two years. This may seem disproportionate (again, I don't know), because of the number of cities you fly between, but it just so happens that my business travel fits with your existing routes.
Now I will spend that money elsewhere. It might be wise for you to consider how many fans you have won with this decision. I belittle no one, and don't intend that here, but if the occasional mother of three or Christian that nearly advocated beheading balances out the loss in fairs you are suffering I would be very surprised. (You can do the math, but I think the loss of my business alone is easily more than 20 times all of the positive comments thus far.)
And to those who have commented in support of this action, think hard about what you are saying. While I disagree, I won't argue about how you feel about someone you consider scantily (or even inappropriately, you choose your adjective) dressed. The question is, should an airline prevent you from flying because of your choice of clothing? Who makes these decisions? What if someone doesn't like the way you are dressed? It's easy to sit back in your chair and think, "that will never happen, because I don't dress THAT way." But you're missing the point. How do you know that someone else won't feel that way? What if a zealous fundamentalist were making decisions that day? For you pious commenters, consider this. There are religions with great numbers in their ranks that disapprove of seeing legs below the knee or arms below the elbow. That means you can't wear LONG shorts. There are religions in which women are not allowed to show anything but eyes and hands. What if that person were on the judgement button the day you fly?
Don't you see what a slippery slope this is? You have to stop and think and realize that you may not like something... you may HATE something... but do you want judgements being made against you based enirely on whim, and even someone else's opinion of morality? I repeat, you may consider yourself to be the most moral person you know, but there is another in this world who disagrees.
I would not have felt compelled to continue writing, beyond helping Mr. Lusk gauge the impact of this incident by reporting the loss of my business, if I wasn't so surprised and disappointed that anyone at all feels that Southwest did the correct thing. This is not based on dissenting opinion, as Mr. Lusk was correct to point out in the reply to Kim Wells above. I would have been completely fine with posts that vehemently scorned the passenger's choice of dress, but recognized that arbitrary decisions like this are incorrect.
Southwest, please publish examples of what we are, and are not, allowed to wear on your airline. Maybe you will reach the morally outraged and cotton lobbyists and carve out a nice little niche for yourself. Perhaps we can then enjoy flights on other airlines with a reduced fear of sitting next to another passenger who feels it is correct to bar travel because they "don't like" something about a customer.
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