Monday, January 22, 2007

Please leave your political views at the security checkpoint

A man has been kicked off of a flight for wearing a T-shirt with some words on it. The man hoped to be a passenger on an Australian Qantas airline flight, but was removed because his shirt read "World's number 1 Terrorist," under a picture of our beloved George W. Bush.

He is the most recent victim of a strange phenomenon: would-be passengers removed from or denied access to a flight because of the words or images they wear. In some cases, passengers were removed for offending other passengers, or for their potential to do so. For example, in August 2004, a young man was kicked off an American Airlines flight for refusing to take off a T-shirt with a depiction of bare breast on it. This case is not unlike a more recent incident in which a woman was kicked off a Delta flight for breastfeeding her child. Sure, in the latter case the passenger was not wearing an image of a breast but using an actual breast to feed a child, but it would seem there was no chance of either a nursing mother's breast or the image of a breast causing an actual security risk.

In most cases, however, people who are grounded for their attire are expressing views against the current U.S. administration, or having something to do with terrorism. In October 2005, a woman was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight for wearing a shirt with pictures of Bush, Cheney, and Rice, and the line, "Meet the Fuckers." Here, of course, the shirt contains both a statement against Bush and potentially offensive language. But in another case, a man was booted from a British Airways flight in 2003 for a button that read, "Suspected Terrorist". Strangely, it seems he was removed not because the airline took the button's line literally (if only terrorists were so easy to spot), but because of the word, 'terrorist'; the man reported that when he asked if it would be OK to wear a button that read "Terrorism is Evil" he was told that this would also get him kicked off.

The strangest case of all is that of an Iraqi man who was refused entry on a Jet Blue flight in August of 2006 until he removed a shirt with some Arabic writing on it. Although the shirt read simply, in both Arabic and English, "We Will Not Be Silent", the airline reported that some passengers were uncomfortable with the Arabic writing, which, you know, could have said anything.

Incidentally, it is not the law that kept these people from flying, but the airlines' vague policies, which seem to either prohibit certain language (apparently regardless of context, and especially if worn by an Iraqi citizen), or accommodate other passengers' potential or actual discomfort.

At least some of the offending ticket holders surely meant to engage in a peaceful protest, to express their views and sensibilities through the words they wore. Perhaps not all passengers could be expected to stand alongside the shirt-wearers' views, but it is a sad time when people feel they are entitled to fly without being subjected to other peoples' views and sensibilities. And it is an even sadder time when simple words are routinely mistaken for threats, offense, or action.

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