When Kayla Eubanks, a 22-year-old from Chicago, went to LaGuardia Airport in New York to fly home to Midway International Airport, she didn't think her outfit would be a topic of discussion.
As she checked in her bags, she said, a Southwest Airlines employee suggested she put on a sweater. Eubanks, in a red maxi skirt, Converse sneakers and black bralette, told the employee not to worry.
"I’m OK — it’s supposed to be 70 in Chicago where I was (going) so no worries," she recalled telling the employee in an interview with TODAY. Eubanks headed to her gate and on the way, two more employees commented on her outfit, she said.
"One of them was a man and said, 'I like your outfit' and the lady said 'Where’s your shirt?'" Eubanks recounted. "And I was like, 'That’s weird, whatever.'"
When she got to the front of the line to board the plane, Eubanks said she was told she couldn't get on.
"She’s like, 'Well you need to cover up,'" Eubanks said an employee told her, "... what you have on is inappropriate, it goes against our policy."
When pressed, Eubanks said the employee couldn't specifically say what the policy was apart from "you just can’t be wearing that." She said it took several employees to locate the policy and when they pulled it up on a computer, "it used the words 'obscene, lewd and offensive.'”
"I see what this is but it doesn’t apply to me — you can’t tell me that my body is in any way lewd and offensive. That’s just not, you know, right," Eubanks said she told an employee. "She basically said, 'This is our policy and I’m deciding that what you’re wearing isn’t appropriate."
Eubanks said she was furious but eventually agreed to wear a provided shirt so she could get home. She doesn't think the policy was fair and said it shouldn't have applied to her.
“The policy says it has to be lewd, obscene or offensive," she said she told Southwest employees when she landed in Chicago. "Do you know what these words mean? Because I can’t imagine that you’re trying to tell me that my body parts can be described by these words."
Eubanks said Southwest refunded her round-trip flight after she complained and the company sent TODAY the following statement:
"Our Employees are responsible for the well-being and comfort of everyone onboard the flight. We do our best to promote a family-centric environment, and we count on our Customers to use good judgment and exercise discretion while traveling. Regarding our policies, each situation is very different, and our Employees are responsible for following our Contract of Carriage, which is available on our website. The Customer was allowed to travel on her scheduled itinerary, and we also reached out to her directly to apologize for her experience and provide a refund of her fare as a gesture of goodwill."
But Eubanks told her story in a now-viral tweet because she didn't feel like she should have to cover up to fly home.
"A lot of people were like, 'Don’t be difficult, you could’ve just put on the shirt,' and I’m like, I shouldn’t have to," she said. "My boarding a plane shouldn’t be left to someone else’s personal biases. That doesn’t make sense to me … the double standards, it’s not fair, it’s not."
"But it just sucks because I feel like as a woman — especially a Black woman — my body is always being policed, oversexualized," she said. "And for the two employees to say that my breasts are obscene, lewd and offensive, that is directly tied to my womanhood, you know, like I can’t leave them at home, I can’t change them."