American Airlines has faced some egregious controversies in the past, but this one is perhaps the most absurd: On June 30, a doctor from Texas named Tisha Rowe was ordered off a plane and allowed back on only after she agreed to cover herself with a blanket. Her offense? She was dressed in a romper.
Rowe, who is African American and Caribbean American, described the incident both on social media and in a recent interview with the New York Times, explaining that she feels her race was a factor. She told the Times that she had boarded her flight from Jamaica to Miami with her eight-year-old son when a flight attendant asked her to come to the front of the plane.
“She poses the question to me, ‘Do you have a jacket?’” Rowe explained. “I said, ‘No, I do not.’ I’ve been given no explanation as to why I was taken off the plane. So finally she says, ‘You’re not boarding the plane dressed like that.’ Then they started to give me a lecture about how when I got on the plane, I better not make a scene or be loud.”
Rowe shared photos of her outfit on Twitter. Social media users quickly agreed that there was nothing wrong with it, especially given that she was on a hot summer vacation. (As the Times points out, on the day this happened, there was a high of 94 degrees in Jamaica and a high of 89 in Miami.)
An airline policing what women wear is ludicrous, but the situation is even more frustrating in light of how ambiguous the airline’s stated conditions of carriage are. Online it includes a brief reference to dress code that read, “Dress appropriately; bare feet or offensive clothing aren’t allowed.” Rowe's outfit contains no “offensive” or symbols, and it’s unclear what’s so inappropriate about a summer romper in the heat. Moreover, it seems enforcement of the airline’s policies is a matter left to the discretion of flight attendants, which leaves a lot of room for bias.
“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,” Rowe told the Times. “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.”
She added later in a Facebook post, “We are policed for being black. 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 ass’ vs. a Serena Booty it’s O.K.”
Amid the public outcry, America Airlines released an apology and said it had refunded Rowe. “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,” a company spokeswoman 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.”
However, an apology might not be enough. Rower's lawyers shared that she is weighing a lawsuit, telling the Times, “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."
This isn’t the first time an airline has been caught in a scandal over what women wear in flight. In 2017, United Airlines got heat after it stopped two teenage girls from boarding a plane after an agent said the leggings they were wearing were inappropriate. But the racial implications of what happened to Rowe make the situation even more troubling. And hers is not an isolated incident for American Airlines. In 2017 the NAACP issued an advisory for black travelers and warned them that they could encounter "discriminatory” or “disrespectful” treatment, noting that many black passengers had been moved out of first class or taken off flights completely. American Airlines said it would start a nine-month top-to-bottom review of its diversity and inclusion policies in 2018, but clearly they have more work to do.
Originally Appeared on Glamour