F-Word on a T-Shirt: Does American owe an apology for denied boarding?

The F Word

Jodi Jacobson, Editor in Chief of RH Reality Check, which is (in their own words) an “online community and publication serving individuals and organizations committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights” wrote an article yesterday about a woman that was denied boarding because of the shirt that she was wearing.

The woman, identified as O in the piece, was traveling on American Airlines and making a connection in D.C. to another American Airlines flight.

She wore a T-shirt that was printed “If I wanted the government in my womb, I’d f*ck a senator (edited: it was actually spelled out).”

It must have gone unnoticed by staff when she boarded the first flight:

I was one of the first groups to board (did not pass by many folks). I was wearing my shawl just loosely around my neck

But at the end of the flight the Captain asked to speak with O

When I was leaving the plane the captain stepped off with me and told me I should not have been allowed to board the plane in DC and needed to change before boarding my next flight.

She didn’t know what to do. Her baggage was already through-checked and changing her shirt without spending money wasn’t possible, she called an attorney that advised her to cover it up with here shawl.

Upon boarding the now rescheduled flight with shawl covering my shirt, my ticket dinged invalid. I was pulled to the side while the gentleman entered some codes into the computer and then told, “it was all good.” I did finally arrive home to pick up my daughter an hour and a half later than scheduled.

American’s Condition of Carriage is pretty clear. Under “Acceptance of Passengers Section 6-f:

American may refuse to transport you, or may remove you from your flight at any point, for one or several reasons, including but not limited to the following:

Are clothed in a manner that would cause discomfort or offense to other passengers.

Ms Jacobson sees it differently:

“You can’t take that message that your body is your own anywhere. Because in the United States today…(t)hat is ‘offensive,’ ‘insulting’ and ‘not for public consumption’.”

At least according to American Airlines, which apparently has not heard the term freedom of expression

American Airlines owes a huge — and public– apology to O.

And she’s started an online petition at Change.org

American Airlines: Apologize for kicking O. off her flight for “offensive” pro-choice t-shirt.

I’m not indifferent to politics, though I’m not much of a partisan and I vote for candidates on both sides of aisle, and I generally avoid political discussions, but it seems to me:

That if O felt so strongly about the message on her T-shirt, then she should have called around to the various airlines asking if it would be okay for her to wear it on a flight.

And…American has a responsibility to all their customers and it’s not inconceivable that may passengers would have been offended by the T-shirt.  They were enforcing the rules, which O had already accepted.  I’m not surprised that she was denied boarding.

So I’m wondering what you think?  Share you thoughts in the comment section and/or vote in the reader poll.


So who owes the apology?

View Results

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Photo: The F Word opens Friday Oct 17, 8pm with a panel discussion on Saturday Oct 18, 1pm.
Credit: Alan Woo on Flickr


  1. AA needs to get out of the business of figuring out which t-shirts offend what passengers and concentrate on better customer service.

  2. As a mom, a female, and a traveling passenger with my children usually I would be offended seeing that on a t-shirt. She should have known better and believe it or not, your message can be clear and effective without the use of vulgar language. Also, I am liberal and pro-choice however, there is a limit on the freedom of expression when it comes to creating distress or discord in a crowd of people.

  3. Creating distress and discord in a crowd? What world do you live in? I guess all civil liberties fly out the window once you board a plane.

    Yes it may be considered vulgar but most civilized citizens know how to deal with it–it’s called ignoring vulgar behavior.

  4. Not even close. AA definitely should have denied boarding. However, I’m a bit more split because it seeked to deny her boarding on the second leg of a flight.

    The comments of Ms Jacobson show that she is very self-centered and just doesn’t get it. It wasn’t the message – it was the way she expressed that message.

    I’m a staunch first amendment supporter (and also a lawyer) but there are limits.

    And for that matter – this isn’t a first amendment issue. She was perfectly free to express her opinion in whatever way she wanted. No governmental entity took action against her for her statement. A private company did.

    People forget that the first amendment only protects your right to express yourself. It does not mean that you can express yourself however you want without any consequences anywhere.

  5. she could have just turned the shirt inside out. That’s what you had to do back in high school if what you wore was offensive. Also, she may not need to apologize, but she definitely shouldn’t complain about being denied boarding. Civil liberties or not, if there are rules, and you accept those rules, you must follow them. If you get called out on it once in a blue moon, then chalk it up as a loss and move on. Quit complaining, lady. You were “inconvenienced” because you screwed up, simple as that.

  6. She wore the shirt because she wanted attention. If that word is used in movies, children are not allowed to see it, therefore, it should not be allowed in public. It is not allowed on public TV, or billboards and signs.

    On a side not, I was at an Major League Baseball game not too long ago and there was a man with F*** tattoed on his forehead in about 2 inch letters. He was a 30 something man with a woman and child. I wonder how frequently he flies?

  7. While I understand the woman’s political position and sentiment expressed, I don’t think that was the right place to express it and in using those particular words on a t-shirt. Had she said that same sentence on Facebook and blasted it across the internet universe, it would be more acceptable there to get her point across.
    I’d like to see O call around and find THE airline that would allow her to wear that same t-shirt on their flights. Don’t like the rules made by private companies then you’re free to roam about elsewhere. Try a train next time, lol

  8. Yes Victor. I live in the same world as you. Ignoring behavior doesn’t make it go away and Yes, our civil liberties are pretty much out the window as soon as we go through TSA screening, for the sake of homeland security. I probably would have ignored it, being that I am a civilized person, but still. Use better taste, cover it up or don’t wear it.

  9. Would like to add a third option to the poll:
    American has the right to refuse service and should not apologize. O should not apologize to the other passengers for exercising her right to free speech.

  10. I am pro-life and would take offense at a shirt such as O’s; however, she should have had better since than to wear such a vulgar item in the first place. It seems that all we know find ourselves in a culture where we see how low we can go to get noticed. If O has that opinion, there are better ways to express it than she chose. She really just made an issue of just how class-less she is.

  11. It’s very simple: AA is a private company, the planes are their property, they can they deny boarding of their property. They do so to maintain a certain level of comfort and order.

    Any of us can deny boarding of one of our children’s friends in our car (what’s with pants down to the knees?!). People can continue to express themselves (vulgar or not) somewhere else. It’s their right, just go do it in public property.

    On a political note, people like O, taint a belief or opinion with ignorance, creating an unnecessary stigma associated with the topic.

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