American Airlines bars a passenger from her flight for wearing a pro-choice t-shirt

Judy McIntyre holding a sign that says If I wanted the government in my womb I'd fuck a senatorA woman who tried to travel wearing a pro-choice t-shirt was barred from an American Airlines flight yesterday because of her fashion choice. According to RH Reality Check, she was coming home from a meeting of pro-choice activists, and was about to change planes for the second leg of her travel when this happened (this comes from an email sent to RH Reality Check):

Right before we were set to land the flight attendant from first class approaches me and asks if I had a connecting flight? We were running a bit behind schedule, so I figured I was being asked this to be sure I would make my connecting flight.  She then proceeded to tell me that I needed to speak with the captain before disembarking the plane and that the shirt I was wearing was offensive.

The shirt was gray with the wording, “If I wanted the government in my womb, I’d fuck a senator.” I must also mention that when I boarded the plane, 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 and upon sitting down in my seat the lady next to me, who was already seated, praised me for wearing the shirt.

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. This conversation led to me missing my connecting flight.  I assumed that because I was held up by the captain, they would have called ahead to let the connecting flight know I was in route.  Well, upon my hastened arrival at the gate of the connecting flight, it was discovered that they did indeed call ahead but not to hold the flight, only to tell them I needed to change my shirt. I was given a seat on the next flight and told to change shirts.

The woman was eventually allowed to cover her shirt with her shawl, since the rest of her luggage had been checked. She did finally get home, though of course later than she’d planned. Which happens all the time when you fly, of course, but this should never be the reason you miss your flight.

I have seen some terrible, offensive t-shirts on planes. I imagine we’ll hear the excuse that the real problem was the “fuck” word, but that’s just not the case. It was the pro-choice message that was apparently too offensive to fly. This particular shirt is based on a sign created by Oklahoma state senator Judy McIntyre, who has made the point that anti-choice attacks on reproductive health are way more offensive than jokes about fucking a senator.

You can sign a petition here demanding that American Airlines apologize to their customer for keeping her from her flight because they didn’t like her t-shirt’s message.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • Sam Lindsay-Levine

    . I imagine we’ll hear the excuse that the real problem was the “fuck” word, but that’s just not the case. It was the pro-choice message that was apparently too offensive to fly.

    I’m not a big expert on airline sartorial policies, and I read the linked article carefully without finding an answer, so please pardon me if I’m asking a stupid question, but how do we know this? Do people commonly wear T-shirts with the word ‘fuck’ on them without the airlines batting an eye? Are people wearing pro-choice T-shirts without the word ‘fuck’ on them commonly kicked off airplanes?

    • Smiley

      Exactly the point I was going to make.

      One can make a point without being so vulgar. It seems to me that some people believe that a sincerely held opinion entitles them to behave as they like. Well, it doesn’t.

      And to think that someone complaining about the method is also against the message. Nope, not necessarily the case.

    • Sam Lindsay-Levine

      Just to clarify my position, it sounds like the pilot on the first flight acted in a pointlessly bullying way, and I personally don’t think obscenity is automatically a reasonable grounds for calling a passenger’s clothing unacceptable (much less for the treatment this shirt-wearer got – even stipulating that it was making other passengers uncomfortable, why not just ask her to pop into the restroom and turn it inside out, then head off to her next flight on time?).

  • Robert

    I am pro choice but I can’t support this woman if she had a cuss word on her shirt. I have traveled a lot and have never seen someone with a cuss word on a shirt be allowed to board a plane. I’m not offended by cuss words but the general public might be and they have rules in place for that reason. If there was no cuss word she would have a really strong case.

  • Smiley

    Quite frankly, if I were American Airlines, I’d ignore the petition and confirm their stance.

  • Maud

    So Robert… ‘Fuck’ is not okay, but ‘F***’ would have been okay?

  • unequivocal

    I imagine we’ll hear the excuse that the real problem was the “fuck” word, but that’s just not the case. It was the pro-choice message that was apparently too offensive to fly.

    Yeah, except it really does look like the real problem was the “fuck” word, and not the message. Sam Lindsay-Levine said it well above.

    JOS, I’m curious to hear why you feel that this had to do with the message rather than the language. In my place of business I’ve had to request people to leave or change clothing, not because I objected to the underlying message, but because the way it was framed wasn’t appropriate to the setting.

    (For the record, my place of business is a martial arts studio that serves families, and the shirt in question was a “bi-curious George” t-shirt with a BDSM theme. Frankly, I love the shirt, but it wasn’t appropriate dojo wear.)

    Anyway, the point is that there are places where you can’t get away with profanity, edgy humor or provocative statements. It sounds like this situation has much more to do with the profanity than the message.

  • Fawnky

    According to RH Reality Check: the captain actually made up the “dress code” on the spot and only kicked up a stink because he was personally offended with the message. The woman was also berated by the captain at the end of the flight, causing her to miss the connecting flight. The captain and flight attendant also called ahead to ensure that she missed her flight, by having them keep her off it.

    There’s no doubt about what the intent is here after reading deeper into the context. And yeah, if I ever ride on American Airlines I’ll be wearing that shirt.

  • Lyla Cicero

    I am dumbfounded by this? I don’t understand why anything on a shirt should get someone barred from flying, aside from possibly “I’m wearing a bomb.” You may feel it’s in poor taste to fly with the word fuck on your shirt – but isn’t there free speech in this country. I don’t think you can argue anything about that shirt rises to the level of danger or inciting violence – the “yelling fire in a crowded theater” test. Can someone explain to me why any of these could legitimately result in being forced to change or cover up?

    • Smiley

      Actually no, there is no free speech.

      A private company can stop you speaking your mind: try wearing an ‘Abortion is murder ‘ t-shirt at the HQ and see what happens.

      The Constitution says that the Government cannot restrict free speeach.

  • athenia

    Well this just means I’m going to have to wear my “I love Michigan Vaginas” and “Michigan Vaginas” t-shirts on planes from now on!

  • Amy

    Just an FYI, I just looked ALL OVER American Airlines’ website – all the FAQs – everything – and couldn’t find a single thing about restrictions on clothing for passengers. So no, they didn’t have the right to do this to her, and they shouldn’t have. You pay their paycheck, so really, they can’t say anything to you about it – UNLESS it violates PREVIOUSLY established (and agreed to upon purchasing) rules and regulations. When you purchase an airline ticket, you enter into a contract with that company – If it’s not in writing, they can’t enforce it.

    • Sam Lindsay-Levine

      I am afraid you are incorrect; they basically reserve the right to kick you off for any reason at any time.


      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:


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

      • Amy

        You are correct, and I was wrong. I looked all over for this on my lunch break today. I apologize. I honestly think this would be something you could find in or near the FAQ (which is where I’d look if I were concerned something might get me grounded.) Interestingly enough, those talking about whether it was the “fuck” or the pro-choice verbiage should note that this could include anything that is offensive to other passengers – meaning pro-choice shirts wouldn’t necessarily be off limits.
        Me? I fly southwest, whose contract of carriage does not include such asinine rules, and is on the FRONT of the FAQ page so there’s no confusion.Oh, and snacks and free drinks. I’m a sucker for free goodies.

        • Amy

          Whelp, I’m a idiot. Apparently they have something similar – are restriction on “clothing (that) is lewd, obscene, or patently offensive” – what ever patently offensive could be interpreted to mean. (I know it means clearly, but it’s all subjective on the offensive part.) Regardless, I’ve worn some stuff that could have been interpreted as patently offensive to the right people (or wrong, however you want to look at it.), and never had a problem, and I’ve definitely seen people board with clothing in all of the other categories. Honestly, this mostly sounds like an abuse of power issue rather than a free speech issue – I mean the lady even had a shawl.

        • Sam Lindsay-Levine

          No apology necessary whatsoever. If you care, I found the information by googling up “american airlines ticket contract”. I think you are right on target in assessing the situation as an abuse of power issue.

    • Smiley

      Well, I guess they don’t mention cannibalism either.

      Does that mean if somene pulls out a human arm and proceeds to start eating it, then the passenger cannot be asked to stop?

      Some things are covered by ‘general acceptable behaviour’.

      • Sam Lindsay-Levine

        Analogies are supposed to illuminate; bizarrely inapplicable ones like this generally just confuse discussion more than help. Your readers will immediately get stuck trying to figure out why you think wearing a T-shirt with a swear word on it is comparable to eating a human arm. I know I did.

        • Smiley


          I was replying to Amy, who said that the airline’s rules and regulations did not ban rude clothing (they do, as she admitted later).

          I pointed out that the rukles and regulations do not ban cannibalism either (I guess they do not mention it). Amy must therefore accept – because no mention is made – that cannibalism is acceptable.

          Clearly ridiculous.

          Rules and regulations cannot cover all situations. Therefore common sense must apply.

  • charli

    Unfortunately I might have to agree with “fuck” being the problem in this situation. I purposely wear my “I STAND WITH PLANNED PARENTHOOD” shirt ALL the time when I fly. (It’s guaranteed to be seen by tons of people, especially if you have a connecting flight.) I fly at least twice a month for work and I’ve never been told it was inappropriate. I’ve flown American Airlines, Southwest, Spirit, Jet Blue, Air Tran etc. and never had an issues. Choice of words is important in some situations. I definitely wear a shirt that said “If I wanted the government in my womb, I’d fuck a senator.” to a pro-choice event, but not to an airport where their are children. Not saying I agree with AA’s decision, but I can see how that might not have been the best shirt to wear on a flight.

  • billy williams

    “I imagine we’ll hear the excuse that the real problem was the “fuck” word, but that’s just not the case. It was the pro-choice message that was apparently too offensive to fly.”

    And you know this how? -I agree with Sam.

  • natasha

    I honestly don’t find it hard to believe that this was just because of the swearing. Are there other examples of people being thrown off flights for shirts with profanities for other political issues or even nonpolitical profanity? I think it would be jumping to conclusions to assume that this was obviously because they had a problem with the pro-choice message.

  • Brüno

    The reason couldnt have been that the word fuck was on the t-shirt, it must have been because the shirt is pro choice.

    • Brüno

      I mean it was one incident, how many pro choice shirts in clean language got people kicked off of planes?