Southwest thinks harassment is just hilarious

You know, I honestly didn’t think I could think any lower of Southwest Airlines. Then this happened.
Southwest has offered a faux apology mocking the women they harassed. Seriously. Company President Colleen Barrett released the following (obnoxious and perhaps further harassing) comment:

“From a Company who really loves PR, touche to you Kyla! Some have said we’ve gone from wearing our famous hot pants to having hot flashes at Southwest, but nothing could be further from the truth. As we both know, this story has great legs, but the true issue here is that you are a valued Customer, and you did not get an adequate apology. Kyla, we could have handled this better, and on behalf of Southwest Airlines, I am truly sorry. We hope you continue to fly Southwest Airlines. Our Company is based on freedom even if our actions may have not appeared that way. It was never our intention to treat you unfairly and again, we apologize.” (Emphasis added)

Charming. The “apology” was followed by Southwest promoting new reduced fares called…wait for it…mini-skirt prices:

Southwest Airlines today faces the bare facts and reveals the naked truth by issuing an apology to its Customers who have commented about its handling of a few who were dressed in revealing clothing. Poking fun at itself, Southwest has lowered its already skimpy fares to “mini-skirt” size of $49 to $109 one-way.

Wow, glad to see they’re taking sexual harassment seriously. Let Southwest know that harassing women isn’t a joke; here’s the number to their PR department (who came up with these stellar releases): 214-792-4847
Thanks to Janice for the heads up!

Join the Conversation

  • Taisa-Marie

    I SO wish I had long distance right now, I’d say some choice words to these fucktards (excuse my language, at least to the readers here).
    This is so blatant ‘haha, we are a big company and you are a peon’… I am normally not for lawsuits but this discrimination has happened more than once and then they do this? I hope they get reamed in court.

  • Leslie

    ew. this is gross. and truly upsetting. and now it has become the airline equivalent of “ladies night”.

  • sybann

    I support (or not) businesses whose policies match mine. I will NOT be flying Southwest again – ever.

  • manda

    Well, I guess flying out to see my friend next summer is going to be a little more expensive. I’m with Sybann – no more Southwest Airlines for me or the fam.

  • ProFeministMale

    Believe it or not, Southwest has corporate partners and other customers who are a part of a bigger corporation.
    I do believe in the power of the masses. Imagine what would happen if we were to all boycott Southwest and engage in letter-writing campaigns to these sponsors. A change can take place in this.
    Think of this is a milder version of the Imus fiasco. It’s all the same. If people got angry enough, Southwest will relent. This is, of course, not because it gives a shit about women’s rights, but that it gives a shit about its pocketbook.

  • ProFeministMale

    SWA also has a blog, and comments from idiots who “stand behind SWA” are pretty popular on the blog.
    I suggest readers make their way over there and voice our displeasure in addition to calling.
    Then again, what else do you expect from a company in Texas?

  • KarenElhyam

    Ick, and this is why I’m really, really rethinking my PR major…
    I mean, it’s really a tool more than a message, and PR can do good things, but Jesus, this is why I worry for the state of my soul.

  • ProFeministMale

    Well, shit, if I am going to tell you about SWA’s blog, I should have posted its link, huh?
    I am not sure if it has a moderator, but here it is:

  • Kimmy

    Okay, let’s not knock Texans just because Southwest is run by morons. Some of us are okay.

  • arbyarby

    Unless I missed something in this story, I don’t think you should refer to this woman as having been sexually harassed. I don’t recall anyone making sexual advances toward her.

  • Jessica

    Really? I would say publicly shaming a woman because of the way she’s dressed and refusing her service because of her perceived sexuality is absolutely harassment.

  • SarahMC

    KarenElhyam, I started feeling slimy during sophomore year or so (I was a PR major too).
    Don’t have a job in PR, so I guess things worked out OK.

  • ProFeministMale

    PR majors shouldn’t feel so bad. I think the PR people from Southwest got their degrees some Clown University, because I can tell you that no PR personin their right mind would ever send out such a press release. I really thought, at first, that the press release was a joke, until I saw it on SWA’s website.
    I used to work PR when I was in the Army, and I can tell you – we would never even jokingly think of doing something THAT stupid.
    Personally, I’d feel unsafe flying SWA knowing how stupid its employers are.

  • Shira

    Ugh, this is revolting. I just called southwest and let them know that I would not be flying with them because I found their actions and the subsequent apology so very insulting to the woman they harassed. I got a quick ‘well I’ll pass that info along kthxbye!*click*’ for my trouble, but you know what? Eff them.

  • arbyarby

    Jessica, I suppose we disagree. I would say that publicly shaming a woman because of the way she’s dressed–in the way it was does in this case–is not *sexual*. Nobody said, “Hey, baby, come on over here and give me a lap dance.” They asked her to change her clothing because they felt she was dressed inappropriately. That does not constitute “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” (wording from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at Calling this “sexual harassment” weakens the term, in my opinion.

  • TheSoyMilkConspiracy

    Ugh. Don’t read the comments on the Consumerist story.

  • buggle

    I just posted a letter on the SWA blog. Really mixed opinions over there, not surprisingly.
    I don’t know arbyarby, she was harassed, and it was because she was considered to be dressed in an obscene way (too sexual), so I think it could be considered a type of sexual harassment. After all, sexual harassment isn’t just limited to “hey baby give me a lapdance.” There are all types of ways to harass a woman, this male employee chose to do it in this way.

  • rlr260

    *sigh* Some companies will never get a clue.

  • arbyarby

    I just went back to the original story in the San Diego Union-Tribune ( This is what happened to Kyla Ebbert:
    1) She was asked to step off the plane by a male customer service supervisor, Keith.
    2) Keith “told her her clothing was inappropriate and asked her to change.”
    3) When asked what part of her outfit was offensive, Keith replied, “The whole thing.”
    4) Keith asked her to go home, change, and take a later flight.
    5) After Kyla refused, Keith “had her pull up her tank top a bit, pull down her skirt a bit, and return to her seat.”
    6) Several flight attendants apparently overheard this conversation.
    I do not think this constitutes sexual harassment. The fact that she’s wearing a teeny-tiny outfit does not in and of itself make it so. The fact that she was embarrassed does not make it so.

  • Jessica

    arbyarby, the eeoc definition is about workplace harassment. obvs this woman didn’t work for southwest.
    and the way they harassed these two women was overtly sexual–they objectified them and put their own warped views about sexuality onto them. not to mention the subsequent releases filled with sexual innuendo meant to mock her! seriously, give me a break.

  • UCLAbodyimage

    Reading over the debate between Jessica and arby, I admit I feel confused about whether this is sexual harassment or not.
    On the one hand, if a company/restaraunt has a dress code for patrons and the employees enforce the dress code (i.e., you must wear a suit, you can’t wear a mini-skirt, you must wear a shirt/shoes), this doesn’t feel like (sexual) harassment to me.
    On the other hand, what Jessica said: “they objectified them and put their own warped views about sexuality onto them. not to mention the subsequent releases filled with sexual innuendo meant to mock her”.
    So.. yea. I feel confused. It doesn’t feel like the sexual harrasment we typically think off (i.e., incessant commenting on a woman’s appearance), but it’s clear the employee was viewing her as a sexual object and evaluating her based on his (or SWA’s) beliefs about sexuality.

  • arbyarby

    I know the definition was about workplace harassment, but I didn’t have time to dig up a reputable definition that had nothing to do with the workplace. The fact is, “sexual harassment” involves harassment of a sexual nature. I don’t understand what definition of “objectify” applies here, and I don’t see how they put any views about sexuality on her. They spoke to her because they felt she was wearing too little clothing on one of their airplanes, perhaps because another passenger was made uncomfortable. I hate to blame the victim, but for God’s sake, she had had a breast enlargement four days earlier, and she is a waitress at Hooters. If she’s going to take advantage of her sexuality that way, she is offering herself up as an object.

  • armchairpinko

    arbyarby–No. Just no. A woman can have tits the size of Las Vegas and she still gets to be treated as a person. Nothing can *ever* take that away, not if she was table-dancing the night before, not if she was table-dancing at the airport; as soon as she boarded that plane, she shouldn’t be judged solely on the provocation others feel at looking at her, no matter how offensive they think it is to have boobs.

  • Jessica

    Sorry, arbyarby–no more comments from you.

  • Sappho

    Wait a sec. You’re really going to shut down someone’s comments on a blog for having “the wrong opinion?”????
    I really agree with armchairpinko about the way she was judged and the nastiness of SWA.
    But arbyarby is not being unreasonable at all to point out that this might not match our current legal standard of sexual harassment, and thus to allege it might weaken either your own stance or the meaning of the term itself.
    That’s certainly an arguable position, dug into a hole by the breast enlargement assertions, but is it so intolerable to be challenged on the interpretation of sexual harassment? It’s an ambiguous term….

  • sgzax

    Let me make a best guess on what prompted the banning of arbyarby…
    It wasn’t the argument, it was the sentence that starts, “I hate to blame the victim, but for God’s sake…” He kind of played his real hand with the rest of the comment.
    Maybe there’s an itchy trigger finger here, but that argument was just one more post away from “When women act like whores they deserve what they get.” At least that’s how it looked from my perspective.

  • ProFeministMale

    I don’t believe arbyarby’s comments are being shut down because of a disagreement in opinion, but rather, posting ignorant comments that are meant to get a rise out of people. I am sure we’re all for differences in opinions here, but this poster essentially said, “She dressed like an object, so should be treated like an object.”
    In my opinion, that’s what civil discussions end, and the ass-kicking begins. At least in this case, the poster was only censored.

  • Ayla

    attention: off topic rant
    I am getting really REALLY tired of the anti-south and (specifically) anti-Texas comments.
    I don’t think I have to explain why it’s silly and offensive to stereotype in that way.

  • Corey

    Oy to the vey…thank you, Jessica for using your editorial discretion and sparing us more of arbyarby’s ignorant, victim-blaming, horseshit comments which have NO place on a feminist blog.

  • Emmy

    Thanks for saying something about the anti-South stuff, Ayla. I had just logged in to say basically the same thing.

  • SarahMC

    Signing up to waitress at Hooters does not mean you’ve relinquished your rights outside of Hooters.
    WTF does her job have to do with… anything?
    The idea that if you do X for a living, you must be willing to do X for free outside of work as well.
    It reminds me of the “prostitutes can’t be raped” horseshit.

  • elizabeth199

    You can leave a comment on Southwest’s blog here

  • Rosasharn

    The comments on that blog are just disgusting.

  • neonvillage

    while i can’t garuntee it won’t make me fly southwest because of my financial situation and the good service i’ve had from them in the past, i still think this entire thing is ridiciulous. i just don’t understand why it happened in the first place.
    also, does censorship have it’s place on a feminist blog?

  • ankathry

    “The idea that if you do X for a living, you must be willing to do X for free outside of work as well.
    It reminds me of the “prostitutes can’t be raped” horseshit.”
    Very well said, SarahMC.
    Also, FWIW, I think “censorship” flies on any blog — it’s a blog, fer Chrissakes, and the content of the posts and/or comments are at the discretion of the blogger.

  • mdickens9

    First off, even if people disagree on SWAs actions as sexual harassment, it can clearly still be viewed as harassment. Of course the fact that the harassment had to do with her sexuality would lead one to believe it is sexual harassment if some people can’t make that leap then the least we can agree on is that it was inappropriate and offensive for a flight attendant of any sort to humiliate a person that way.
    If SWA can regulate customer clothing, what is the next step? Banning everything viewed as possibly offensive? If I show up on an SWA flight and I’m carrying my HRC backpack and I’m told that homosexuality is offensive and I have to cover it up, then I’m going to tell SWA to go fuck themselves because what right do they have to regulate my own expression? (or sexuality for that matter?)
    Also I think Jessica is fully within her rights and realm as the editor of feministing to refuse comments from a person that is posting things that are completely counterintuitive to the purpose of this site. (ex blaming the victim for the crime.)

  • Moxie Hart

    also, does censorship have it’s place on a feminist blog?
    When you’re being a douchebag, yes. Nothing good can come from the line, “I hate to blame the victim but…” It’s like, how many vile ways can you finish that sentence.
    “She wouldn’t have been raped if she weren’t such a slut.”
    “She’d be liked more if she weren’t such a damn ballbuster.”
    “But those damn black people should stop being so uppity.”

    And before anyone even says “first amendment,” Feministing isn’t the government. I wish it were, but it’s not. The women of Feministing are queens of their blogs and can ban whomever they want. I’m the queen of my blog and when some wanker starts being a jerk, they are gone so fast.
    If you don’t like it, then start your own blog and see how quickly you get trolled for having the audacity to be a feminist.

  • Keith Ellis

    “Of course the fact that the harassment had to do with her sexuality would lead one to believe it is sexual harassment if some people can’t make that leap then the least we can agree on is that it was inappropriate and offensive for a flight attendant of any sort to humiliate a person that way.â€?
    I mostly agree, but I, too, paused at Jessica’s reference to this as “sexual harassmentâ€? and my initial impression, not really changed by her response to arbyarby, that this is the sort of exaggeration that one makes when one feels strongly about something. The notion of sexual harassment was invented and codified into law as a response to the ubiquitous nature of inappropriate and stifling, sometimes frightening and oppressive, sexual come-ons and eyebrow wagging comments in the workplace and elsewhere. There’s something wrong with what Southwest did, and it does involve female sexuality, but it’s not really sexual harassment.
    However, the result of it is the same, psychologically. A woman is reduced to her perceived sexuality. I don’t know. Like someone else said, it’s confusing. There’s numerous ambiguities involved.
    After thinking about this for awhile, though, I’m left with a sense that the real problem is with a culture that’s still sexist, still sees women primarily as sex objects, and still puts limits on women that are not placed on men as a consequence of being seen as primarily sex objects. Those things set the stage for this incident.
    What makes me think that this incident is more a lightning rod for a roving amount of unfocused rage at this state of affairs and how women face this all the time (and especially familiar to many women is the oppression which result from the sexualizing of large breasts) than it is a specifically and unusually sexist offense, is the fact that I can imagine a version of this story where the woman involved dressed a certain way and was harassed for the same reasons where people here and elsewhere would not have complained…even though all the underlying sexism issues would be the same, even the inequality between the genders. For example, if the woman had changed shirts in plain view of everyone. A man wouldn’t have been targeted for this, but I doubt most people would be upset that SA objected to a woman actually being bare-breasted, though briefly.
    My point is that what makes this a lightning rod is that the particular standard that SA tried to enforce was largely anachronistic and because of this the incident got a lot of initial attention. But the underlying issues are what gets people really riled up (rightly so), even though those things are not particular to SA.

  • BluePencils

    One thing that I haven’t really seen mentioned in this case is that these days, arguing with a flight attendant can get you dubbed a risk and dragged away in handcuffs. Am I exaggerating? Maybe, but that’s the perception many people have. So when confronted by a flight attendant, most people’s reaction is going to be “Yes, sir, yes, ma’am”, no matter what they say, because you don’t want to end up in a pair of plastic handcuffs. I suspect that the power has gone to the heads of a few flight attendants, such as “Keith” of Southwest, who seemed to think that his job included enforcing his version of public morals. Because if he didn’t, there would be chaos on his flight and the terrorists would win.

  • Mina

    “Also, FWIW, I think ‘censorship’ flies on any blog — it’s a blog, fer Chrissakes, and the content of the posts and/or comments are at the discretion of the blogger.”
    Exactly. Don’t some blogs out there not even accept any comments at all? Having a web log doesn’t mean you have to host anyone else’s stuff too…

  • not4nothin

    I enjoy the reasoned debates that often accompany the postings. I learn a lot and I like the exchange of information and ideas. I have also been pleased with the way the comments have been moderated. I was a little surprised, however, to find arbyarby banned from further comments. His/her comments may not have reflected the the beliefs of the moderator or the majority of the posters but it was not nearly as antagonistic and offensive as some of the other postings real trolls have placed on the site. From what I have been able to gather about this site in the several months I have been reading it’s not a mutual admiration society as even the feminists on this site sometimes disagree with each other. arbyarby disagreed with the definintion of sexual harassment that some are advocating. It didn’t seem as if arbyarby was trolling, he just had a different opinion that didn’t rise to to the level of blaming the victim. As sgzax said, it may have been one more post away from that, but it hadn’t quite reached that level and I think there was more room for discussion regarding what constitutes harassment and sexual harassment. Just my 2 cents.

  • Craig R.

    I suspect that the verbiage that prompted the banning was ‘nt a “difference of opinion” or the “some people” line.
    It was likely the phrase:
    “If she’s going to take advantage of her sexuality that way, she is offering herself up as an object.”
    In other words: “She was asking for it.”

  • Liza

    Fuck ‘em. I’ll stick with Delta.

  • Roxie

    I can’t believe the comment on SWA’s blog saying “shame on you for caving in!”

  • buglover

    I just called Southwest and I told them that I was a woman and I have been flying their airline for ten years and I am disappointed that they are making a joke of not letting a woman fly because of her outfit.
    The consumer affairs woman was angry and said it was not a joke. I quoted her the line about hot pants and hot flashes and asked if that was a joke, and she said no. But she took my name and promised to pass along my complaint.
    I just found the total denial that they were joking in the statement kind of funny/sad in of itself.

  • Camilla

    I called the phone number given above and it was “changed or out of service” as of about noon PST.
    Perhaps we have had an impact. I don’t care so much about asking a woman to dress a bit more modestly but I’m really pissed at the tone of the apology. There have been so many airline incidents lately, like the woman who was put off the plane for not giving her kid ‘baby benadryl’ and left 10 hours in a strange city with no diapers. We don’t HAVE to fly with these stuck up jerks. What ever happened to caring about your customer base?

  • kissmypineapple

    I do care about asking a woman to dress a bit more modestly. Two reasons:
    1) Who defines modest? I mean, depending on the time in history or even currently depending on certain cultural contexts, showing my hair is immodest. Wearing makeup is immodest. Wearing high heels is immodest.
    2) More importantly, as far as the airline is concerned, is that they can’t ask her to dress more modestly. They don’t have a dress code. They are legally allowed to discriminate based on dress, just the same way a restaurant or hotel can, but they don’t have rules posted anywhere. Until they do, they can’t tell me I can’t wear teeny tiny shorts or an itty bitty tank top. So long as I am not violating any laws, I can wear whatever I damn well please.
    If they institute a policy change, let me know. Until then (since I can’t afford to get out to Arizona, where I’m moving, on any other airline and still pay my tuition) I’ll be flying SWA in teeny tiny shorts and a V-neck t-shirt, and they can kiss my ass.

  • snusket

    I suppose my note will not be published anyhow. But I would like to still let you know about my disappointment. I read the article and discussion with a lot of interest until i saw someone being blocked from participating further. Now my interest in expressing my opinion exists no longer. I do not think that arbyarby had reached a level of expression that justified the block. Except you want no discussion but only a “yes-sayer” forum. This way you sure will get that (as is obvious from the discussion otherwise). great signal you send to people dropping in to learn more about feminism. One thing i learned (once more) is that honest and critical debate is nothing most feminists really want. many just want to broadcast their opinion not evaluate their opinion. This is too patriarchal for me.

  • jtormey3

    March 12, 2008
    John J. Tormey III, Esq.: ‘’, 1-212-410-4142
    Tom Sullivan, “Quiet Rockland�: 1-845-480-1088
    Rockland County, NY – March 12, 2008:
    Aero-activist group Quiet Rockland of Rockland County, New York, enraged over “callous criminal disregard for safety and human life� demonstrated by Southwest Airlines (NYSE: “LUV�) and the FAA, today called for: (1) a nationwide traveler and consumer boycott of Southwest, and (2) a federal criminal investigation of Southwest and “failed regulator� FAA to be spear-headed by the United States Attorney General and a special prosecutor.
    Said John J. Tormey III, Esq., attorney and Quiet Rockland co-founder: “The persons that should be flying Southwest at this point, should be only those referred by Doctor Kevorkian. Although the depraved Southwest spin-machine audaciously ‘assures’ us Southwest’s six (6) cracked-fuselage aircraft were “never a safety problem�, Southwest should tell that to the victims of the 1988 Aloha Airlines disaster. There, metal fatigue on an aging Boeing 737 caused 18 feet of fuselage to be ripped off the plane causing grievous injuries and loss of life. House Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar in his press conference Saturday, posted on “�, presented detailed evidence incriminating Southwest and “Bobby� Sturgell’s failed FAA. The incriminating events occurred while “Bobby� Sturgell was Deputy Administrator and Acting Administrator of the FAA. On Saturday, Representative Oberstar thereupon rightfully excoriated the aero-perps for their long-standing “tombstone mentality�. Although criminal and morally reprehensible, and now apparent after a many-month detailed Congressional investigation, Southwest and FAA are clearly in the insalubrious business of making those tombstones happen, in addition to simply reacting to those tombstones post facto.
    “As recently as last year, Southwest Airlines, with the complicity of supposed federal regulator FAA, on at least 47 of Southwest’s Boeing 737 aircraft, on between 1,451 and 60,000 flights, over a period of two-and-one-half years, deliberately put approximately 200,000 or more unsuspecting travelers in harm’s way – making them fly in un-inspected, non-compliant, aged, and in some cases fuselage-cracked commercial aircraft. Southwest knew the names and faces of their potential victims. Southwest gladly took their money, and for that matter at this point Southwest owes each of them at least a rebate in full of their ticket prices. This was not mere negligence. Irrespective of what forensic lesser charge might technically ultimately apply once further Congressional investigation concludes, the acts and omissions of Southwest and collaborator FAA were tantamount to attempted murder, on a massive scale.
    “This WILL not stand.
    “Quiet Rockland asks and encourages those Southwest employees tired of subscribing to their company’s tombstone culture, to leave their sinking airship now to find other and better employ at a responsible airline that actually acknowledges the dignity of the individual human traveler. We further ask every American consumer to now act in solidarity – cancel all flights and other business with Southwest – boycott the airline which we today re-name “Air Kevorkianâ€? – and just say “Noâ€? to Southwest, to FAA, and to the greed of the aeromercantile complex that continually and habitually puts profits over people’s lives. And, as to Southwest stockholders? Vote your conscienceâ€?.#