If you do, don’t try to board American Airlines
Five days ago I had an astonishing experience as I was waiting in line to get on an American Eagle regional jet in Louisville, Kentucky, flying to Chicago. These little planes are a misery—I can barely stand upright in the aisle, the overhead compartments are too small for any kind of roller bag, and the attendants are often surly.
I can’t much blame them. Who wants to peddle outrageously overpriced peanuts and cheese plates to uncomfortable, frumpy passengers?
Frumpy we certainly are, in our baggy sweats and ugly slip on shoes, but then, frumpy has always been allowed on airplanes…
At least until now.
As I waited in line in Louisville, a harried gate attendant named Shirley told a young African American man, ticket in hand, that he couldn’t board the plane.
She said it was because he was wearing shorts.
She said it several times, and with great conviction, meanwhile avoiding eye contact with him or me or any of the other people waiting in line.
She told him he could leave, buy a pair of pants, and come back some other time.
She didn’t offer him a refund.
Silently, he left. Silently, we all watched him go. Silently, we stared at harassed Shirley who then began to let the rest of us board our flight.
Have we become silent, craven, in the face of manifest injustice? Is this a spin-of from the murder of the black teenager in Florida? Or are we now so intimidated by the electronic devices, the unexplained pat downs, the threatening air—no one dares to tell a joke in airports these days—that a woman with intimidation on her mind dares to use it against a young man who happens to be black?
Later, in the Chicago airport, I saw several young white men, wearing shorts. I don’t believe they have been refused their seats on flights. I don’t believe they had been told to go and buy a pair of pants, first.
But they were white, and it was Chicago, not Louisville.
Please write me if you have ever worn shorts on an airline operating in the United States.
Please tell me if you have ever been told by a gate person to go buy a pair of pants.