July 19, 2011

If You're Black and Dress Funny, Don't Fly US Airways

I tend to think the Color of Change model of activism is a study in majoring in the minors most of the time. Fellow blogger Cultural Strategist has a lower opinion of their activities than that. From time to time however, they shine a light on BS that needs some type of response.  They've found another this week where I agree a response is warranted.

DeShon Marman was taken off of US Airways flight 488, arrested, shackled, and jailed after airline staff confronted him about his sagging pants.  He describes the event in his own words:

For the record,  I buy his side of the story in total.  I detest the phenomenon of sagging pants en vogue among some young black men and I'm not particularly offended that the young man was asked to adjust his clothing, which he did, although apparently not to the satisfaction of the ticketing agent or flight crew.  However, poor taste in attire should not be cause for arrest and forced removal of a paying customer from an aircraft.

If this is to be the response of US Airways to clothing in poor taste, then they need to set a standard which is clear and transparent so that their customers can be forewarned. US Airways acknowledges that six days before they removed DeShon Marman from the plane because of his attire, they let this guy fly without any hassle at all, even in the face of complaints from passengers during and after the flight. According to their spokesperson, Valerie Wunder,
"We don't have a dress code policy".  Actually, US Airways, you do, and its apparently whatever your ticketing and flight crew happen to think it is that day.  Its tremendously disappointing.  This is the airline of nerves of steel hero pilot Chelsley Sullenberger for crying out loud.

We're not the only ones detecting the pungent aroma of BS. The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office reviewed the June 15 arrest and found the matter unworthy of filing any charges, publicly stating “My belief is if we took this into a courtroom with 12 members of our community on our jury, they would tell me, ‘Come on guys, you have more important things to spend your time on, and I share that view.” - San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe

As an African American professional male who does not wear sagging pants, but does fly for business and pleasure, US Airways' treatment of this young man, if not addressed more satisfactorily, would cause me to avoid flying their airline and to encourage others, white, black or indifferent, to avoid their airline as well.  This entire incident smacks of unwarranted arbitrariness and the exercise of unfettered poor judgement.  Who knows how you might be treated at the hands of employees of a company that behaves this erratically.

The young man's clothing, while in poor taste, posed no threat to passengers or crew other than the distaste of being exposed to its view.  US Airways has no dress code and is flexible enough to let drag queen's fly in an outrageous get up on a flight containing all sorts of people including children, even when customers complain. Yet US Airway's personnel responded to DeShon as though he posed a material threat to the security of the flight. The young man adjusted his clothing upon reaching his seat, entirely understandable considering the crush of boarding a plane, but that was not sufficient. If the white drag queen can fly, I'm sorry, its a little hard not feel like its racial when the young brother who's pajamas are hanging a little low gets a swat team called on him.  US Airways wants to make much of the mild resistance DeShon apparently rendered when he was being arrested, but frankly, I'm not going to hold it against the young brother that he was justifiably pissed off as a paying customer to be treated in such a disgraceful way.

The pilot is law on the plane, but they should exercise sound judgement. This action was not that.  US Airway's and the pilot whose actions they defend will have to decide if this petty exercise of a pilot's prerogative was actually warranted or worth the justifiable offense they've given.  US Airways should acknowledge the error in this situation and make amends before their corporate reputation is done any further damage.

1. "Exclusive: Student talks about saggy pants arrest," KGO-TV, 06-18-11
2. "Prosecutors won’t file charges against man arrested with saggy pants at San Francisco airport," Washington Post, 07-13-11
6. "Man flies US Airways in women's underwear," SF Gate, 06-21-11

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