It doesn’t take much to get thrown off an airplane these days, as Kyla Ebbert found out when a Southwest Airlines employee told her she was too bare for the air. Two months later, she’s still trying to figure out what was wrong with her outfit.
In an exclusive appearance Friday on TODAY, Ebbert modeled the outfit she says she wore on the flight in question. It consisted of a snug-fitting white top with a scoop neck that stopped just short of showing cleavage.
Over the shirt was a green sweater that buttoned underneath her bosom. It was finished with high-heeled sandals and a white denim mini-skirt with a fashionably frayed hem.
It was a lot more clothing than the 23-year-old college student wears on her job as a Hooters waitress. Her mother, Michele Ebbert, said she would have told her daughter if the outfit was inappropriate.
“But her outfit is fine, Michele Ebbert told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer. “She looks like every other college girl in San Diego.”
Not according to a Southwest employee identified only as “Keith,” who approached Ebbert after she had taken her seat on the plane and was listening to the flight attendants go through their pre-departure routine.
He asked her to step off of the plane and when they were in the jetway, he told her that her clothing was inappropriate and asked her to change her clothes.
“He told me, ‘I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to take a later flight. You’re dressed inappropriately. This is a family airline. You’re dressed too provocative to fly on this flight,’ ” she told Lauer.
“He said ‘You can go to the gift shop and you can buy something to wear there. Until then, you’re not flying on this flight,’ ” Ebbert said.
A compromise was finally reached when Ebbert promised to pull up her top, which wasn’t showing cleavage to begin with, and pull down her tiny skirt.
Ebbert went back onto the plane and to her seat, feeling that every eye on the plane was staring at her.
“I was humiliated. I was embarrassed. They all heard him lecturing me,” she said.
She asked for a blanket, covered her legs, and cried quietly all the way to Tucson. When she got off the plane, she called her mother.
“She was just devastated,” Michele told Lauer. “She said, ‘Mom, I can’t believe what just happened to me.’ She was. She said ‘I didn’t want to make a scene. I didn’t want to draw attention. I just sat there crying.’ ”
When Michele saw a picture her daughter emailed from her cell phone, she couldn’t believe what had happened. She also thought to herself, “Oh, no. They don’t do this and get away with it.”
The San Diego Union-Tribune called Southwest Airlines and asked if the airline had a dress code. Could, for example, a woman board wearing a bikini top?
The newspaper on Tuesday quoted the Southwest agent it spoke with as saying, “We don't have a problem with it if she's covered up in all the right spots. We don't have a dress code.”
The Ebberts had not gone public with the story, which happened two months ago, asking only for an apology from the airline. But none was forthcoming.
In response to a TODAY Show query, the airline sent the following statement: "Southwest Airlines was responding to a concern about Ms. Ebbert's revealing attire on the flight that day. As a compromise, we asked her to adjust her clothing to be less revealing, she complied, and she traveled as scheduled. When a concern is brought to our Employees' attention, we address that situation directly with the Customer(s) involved in a discreet and professional manner. Fortunately, as an airline that carries approximately 96 million Customers a year, these situations are extremely rare."
The Ebberts have engaged an attorney, Martin Reed, to help them decide what to do next.
Asked if he will file suit, Reed told Lauer, “We’ve not made that decision, yet. We’re considering all the facts and all the circumstances.”
“Initially, I just wanted an apology,” Kyla told Lauer. “At this point, just some acknowledgement that they were wrong. That would be better.”
What really tops the whole story off is that Ebbert wore the same outfit on the return flight to San Diego later that day. A female flight attendant also took note of it, according to Ebbert.
“I was complimented by the stewardess on my return flight,” she said.