Memo to Southwest Air: Women’s Bodies Are OK

If you fly, of course you hate to fly. As if air travel isn’t repulsive enough these days, Southwest Airlines has found a new way to make passengers angry.

Southwest tried to boot a shapely 23-year-old college student off a flight recently because one person complained about the way she was dressed. A customer “service” (there’s an oxymoron) supervisor named Keith told San Diego passenger Kyla Ebbert that her miniskirt, high-heel sandals, and sweater-over-tank top (over a bra) was “inappropriate” for a family airline.

After berating the woman and telling her to go home, change, and catch a later flight, Keith relented, after which Kyla covered herself with a blanket, magazine, and an embarrassed frown. When she landed in Tucson, she called her mom, photographed herself, kept her doctor’s appointment, and got back onto a return Southwest flight in the same outfit—without any trouble—and flew into her 15 minutes of fame. Next stop: The Today Show!

They cleverly told the story showing just her face, until the dramatic moment—ta da!—in which we see her wearing the same outfit in which she was humiliated… like, totally humiliated. And indeed, we see a very attractive woman wearing a very skimpy outfit—the exact outfit one sees on women in Safeway, on airplanes across the country, and on sitcoms every night.

The usually hip Southwest uncharacteristically defended the service rep and their vague policy regarding “obscene and patently offensive” displays. They didn’t say why the smelly, armrest-hogging lady next to me or the butt-cracking, loudmouthed guy across the aisle last week were allowed to travel unmolested, while they molested the rest of us passengers.

It’s a stupid story, and everyone over-reacted (“humiliated?” C’mon). But there are two serious Sexual Intelligence lessons here:

1. Why is cleavage and a little panty “offensive,” while other stuff isn’t? Oh, it’s that sex thing again! And why is anyone who is put off by a little of this or that looking at this or that? Why does everyone else turn away from stuff they find disgusting or ugly, but somehow anti-sex people just can’t seem to turn away from sexy displays or words? Whose problem is that?

2. People uncomfortable with sex complain when they see reminders of it (remember, Ebbert wasn’t having sex in the plane, she just showed the outlines of a sexy body)—but when sexuality is censored, people comfortable with sex don’t. And so the people running the country think there’s a lot of erotophobes, and very few erotophiles.

So here’s your chance. Want to tell Southwest that hassling someone just for dressing sexy isn’t your idea of a “family airline?”

* Call the airline: (800) 435-9792; or
* Write the VP for customer relations, at jim.ruppel@wnco.com; or
* Go to Southwest’s blog on the subject,
http://www.blogsouthwest.com/2007/09/07/a-different-perspective/#comments.

By the way, don’t miss the impressive hypocrisy of the Today show—tsk-tsking Southwest for being so squeamish, while playing the adolescent game of “we won’t talk about sex directly, but we’ll use an exploitative angle to discuss it whenever possible.”

And don’t forget that Morality in Media is watching this episode as well, deciding whether or not to complain to the FCC that it’s too sexy. Ebbert apparently showed a tiny bit of panty while crossing her legs when the show ran live, but Today edited the taped version for the rest of the country. Nice to see the Republic is safe again—on the ground, if not in the sky.


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