A woman was kicked off her flight after the airline said her outfit was inappropriate, but she thinks it had more to do with the color of her skin. The incident fueled a debate about what constitutes appropriate attire for a plane. Did hers push the limit or was this a racist claim? You tell us.
Dr. Tisha Rowe, a family physician, was flying from hot and sunny Jamaica to an almost equally warm Miami with her 8-year-old son Chase when her cool clothing choice caused a problem. According to the Texas doctor, an American Airlines flight attendant asked to speak to her, briefly removing her from the plane because her outfit was “inappropriate,” the New York Times reported.
Dr. Rowe said she was escorted off the plane by a male attendant, who she described as black, and then spoken to by another black employee while she stood on the jet bridge. She was allegedly told she could not reboard unless she covered up because the romper she was wearing didn’t provide adequate coverage. She said she was then given a blanket to cover herself before being allowed back on the plane, according to Inside Edition.
Identifying as African-American and Caribbean-American, the 37-year-old Houston family physician, who founded a telemedicine company in 2014, said she was humiliated in front of her son as she was asked whether she had a jacket and told, “You’re not boarding the plane dressed like that.” But, Dr. Rowe thinks it had more to do with the color of her skin than how much of it was showing.
Frustrated, Dr. Rowe shared images of her outfit on social media and made many posts across multiple platforms about the ordeal. “American Airlines just told me I couldn’t board the flight without putting a jacket over my ASSETS. My shorts covered EVERYTHING but apparently was too distracting to enter the plane,” Dr. Rowe wrote on Facebook. “We are policed for being black,” she furthered.
“Our bodies are over sexualized as women and we must ADJUST to make everyone around us comfortable. I’ve seen white women with much shorter shorts board a plane without a blink of an eye. I guess if it’s a ‘nice *ss’ vs a Serena Booty it’s okay,” Dr. Rowe continued in her scathing post, blasting the airline for the treatment she deemed unfair and felt was fueled by the color of her skin.
She was also allegedly lectured about not making a scene or being loud when she was finally permitted to return to her seat, covered with the blanket, and her son was traumatized by the incident. “Chase is in tears with the blanket they asked me to wear to my seat over his head and will never forget this experience,” Dr. Rowe wrote. A photo of her son, appearing upset on the plane as he gazed out the window, accompanied the post.
“Had they seen that same issue in a woman who was not a woman of color, they would not have felt empowered to take me off the plane,” Dr. Rowe said. “In pop culture, especially black women with a body like mine, they’re often portrayed as video vixens. So, I’ve had to deal with those stereotypes my whole life.”
According to Shannon Gilson, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, the company apologized and issued Dr. Rowe a refund. “We were concerned about Dr. Rowe’s comments, and reached out to her and our team at the Kingston airport to gather more information about what occurred,” Gilson said. “We apologize to Dr. Rowe and her son for their experience and have fully refunded their travel. We are proud to serve customers of all backgrounds.”
This isn’t the first time an airline has grappled with similar complaints. In 2017, United Airlines faced criticism for barring two teenage girls from boarding a flight because they were wearing leggings. That same year, the NAACP issued a national travel advisory, warning black travelers that they could be subjected to “discriminatory” or “disrespectful” treatment by American Airlines, citing a series of incidents where black passengers were removed from flights or bumped from first class.
The NAACP lifted the travel advisory in July of 2018 after the airline agreed to provide additional training for its 130,000 employees, adopt a new discrimination complaint resolution process, and do an inclusion gap and diversity analysis of the company.
More recently, the airline said it planned to hire a chief inclusion and diversity officer and establish an office for “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Derrick Johnson, the president and chief executive of the NAACP, said they would be monitoring the airline’s response to Dr. Rowe’s complaint, adding that they felt the airline has “begun to make progress.”
According to Geoffrey Berg, Dr. Rowe’s lawyer, his client is considering litigation against the airline. “They wanted credit for the apology and said, ‘This is not how we want our airline portrayed,’ which tells me they are prioritizing their image above their actions,” he said.
Dr. Tisha Rowe has gained plenty of support online. “How else should one dress … from Kingston to Miami? Sweats? Jeans? Turtleneck? 3 piece suit? Floor length skirt? … You policed her curves. Shame on you,” one social media user wrote. Those hoping to get answers about the dress code from the airline didn’t find much.
The conditions of carriage posted on the website only make a brief reference to a dress code. “Dress appropriately; bare feet or offensive clothing aren’t allowed,” it reads. The guidelines have been criticized for being vague and open to interpretation, leaving room for “discriminatory” decisions. So, what constitutes appropriate attire for a plane? You tell us.