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Can Airline Toss You Off Plane Over Clothes?

By Andrew Lu on August 30, 2012 6:56 AM

Airline dress codes are increasingly making the news with stories of people getting kicked off flights for a variety of style choices.

This spring, a woman flying from Las Vegas was confronted by an airline employee for showing too much cleavage, reports The Associated Press. Another woman was told to cover up a four-letter word written on her t-shirt. And both of these incidents follow the famous episode last year when a college football player was escorted off a flight for wearing his jeans too low.

So in light of these incidents, you may be wondering just whether an airline can throw you off a flight for violating their dress codes.

In short, airlines can tell you just what you can, and cannot, wear on a flight. And airlines generally have no obligation to spell out their dress codes in a policy, though it may be wise to do so.

As you probably know, the First Amendment grants you the right to freedom of speech and expression. So you are generally free to say or wear what you want, regardless of how crass or offensive.

However, while the First Amendment is applicable in the public sphere, it has no application in the private sphere. This is why your parents could tell you not to curse in their home or a neighbor could kick you out of his home for saying something inappropriate to his wife.

As airlines are generally considered to be private companies, they are therefore free to tell passengers just what they can and cannot wear.

But keep in mind that while airlines are free to govern their dress code, they must administer these dress codes in an unbiased manner. For example, if an airline only picks on black customers who wear their jeans too low, that may be illegal discrimination. Similarly, if an airline only enforces dress codes against women, and not men, the policy may be illegal as well.

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