It was only a couple of months ago when American Airlines kicked a black man off a plane so a dog could fly first class. At the time, it was just the latest in a long line of discrimination against Mexicans, Jews, and especially African Americans. In fact, in October 2017, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) issued a travel advisory stating that African American passengers could face “unsafe” conditions when traveling on American. They cited four specific incidents of recent racial discrimination.
Welp, American is at it again. This time the discrimination wasn’t racial, but of a religious nature; a woman named Swati Runi Goyal, who is a member of the Church of Satan, was wearing a “Hail Satan” shirt. And an American Airlines representative told her she had to change her shirt or she’d be kicked off the plane.
Before we get any further into the story, it’s probably best to explain that the Satanic Temple is a recognized non-theistic religious organization. In the past few years, the organization has become pretty well-known for its activism on issues such as separation of church and state, freedom of speech, and religious freedom. Probably most importantly for a lot of people, members of the Satanic Temple do not worship Satan.
Anyway, Mrs. Goyal is probably the epitome of someone one would NOT mistakenly stereotyped as being a Satan worshipper. She’s almost 60 years old. A vegan. A film reviewer. Amateur stock trader. Gardener. SCUBA diver. Traveler. Lacrosse coach. She’s not a goth. She doesn’t have piercings. And she’s someone that American told she had to change her shirt because it said, “Hail Satan” on it (and a cheeky “Est 666” and upside-down cross).
Anyway, she and her husband were flying from Florida to Nevada. She told Buzzfeed that right after she got settled in her seat, a crew member from the airline came up to her and said she had to change her shirt or get off the plane.
“He said, ‘Our crew has found your shirt to be offensive,’” said Goyal. “We initially just thought it was a joke. But he repeated the directive, and there was another female crew member who was behind him with her arms crossed, looking very angry.”
According to American Airlines’ conditions of carriage, the rules for passengers’ responsibilities include, “dress appropriately; bare feel or offensive clothing aren’t allowed.” They don’t specify what would be “appropriate” or “offensive,” just that passengers should comply with those rules.
Anyway, takeoff was delayed as more staff told her to either change her shirt or leave the plane.
Goyal’s husband had 2 shirts on, so she eventually put one of his shirts over hers so she would be deemed “compliant.”
After her flight was over, Goyal emailed American Airlines to complain about how she was treated. American’s response, as per Buzzfeed, was saying they “have policies in place to ensure that no passengers are subjected to objectionable situations while onboard.” The email continued, “Our flight attendants have a responsibility to all passengers in our care, and we must sometimes make difficult decisions associated with the application of our policies.”
Goyal thought the issue was done, but then she happened to tweet about the incident about a month later and American reached out to her:
(Goyal’s account is locked so we can’t read what she said)
A few hours later, the airline not only formally apologized, but offered to refund both her and her husband’s tickets, and they promised the investigation would continue.
I would say, don’t you just love a happy ending, but I think it’s a situation that shouldn’t have happened where there would be a need for a happy ending.
My thoughts on the situation:
- What exactly is American Airlines’ definition of “appropriate dress” and why isn’t it documented?
- The Satanic Temple is a federally recognized religious organization. Doesn’t freedom of religious expression count for anything?
- Who determines what is “offensive” in a case like this?
- Assuming it’s the flight attendants who make the spur-of-the-moment decision about dress code, what about their own his/her own values and prejudices? A profoundly religious flight attendant, especially if (s)he practices a popular U.S. religion, is probably going to find offense in the shirt. But does that mean it’s actually offensive?
What do you think?
Was Mrs. Goyal within her rights to wear the shirt? Or do you think the American representatives were correct in giving her a choice of changing her shirt or not flying?
*** Many thanks to Michael G. for the heads up about this topic!
Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love if you decided to hang around and clicked the button on the top (if you’re on your computer) or the bottom (if you’re on your phone/tablet) of this page to follow our blog and get emailed notifications of when we post (it’s usually about 3 or 4 times a day). Or maybe you’d like to join our Facebook group, where we talk and ask questions about travel (including Disney parks), creative ways to earn frequent flyer miles and hotel points, how to save money on or for your trips, get access to travel articles you may not see otherwise, etc. Whether you’ve read our posts before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!
This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary