In an era of extensive security regulations at airports, the lengthy ritual of security checks we must undergo to fly, we surrender our privacy. How much privacy we should relinquish for the sake of security has been and will debated for years to come.
While on the surface, it may seem a trivial matter, this case of Kyla Ebbert, college student and Hooters waitress being told she could not fly on a Southwest Airline flight because of skimpy attire, (and later, a second woman, Setara Qassim was also told she could not fly for the same reason), there is a larger issue at hand.
Such controversies as these bring to our attention the constantly fluctuating standards of our world. On the one hand, we salute individualism and freedom and, in a culture awash with sexuality and sexual displays, one can argue that such salutation has become excessive. On the other hand, we affirm family values and traditions and modesty; perhaps, too, some would argue that women should not be “sexy” and that such outward “sexiness” devalues them as persons.
Kyla Ebbert appeared on The Today Show wearing the same attire which drew ire from the Southwest flight attendant who attempted to disallow her from flying.
Later, Setara Qassim, also made a television appearance.
Some historical perspective is in order. A YouTube user has posted a video which illustrates Southwest’s history of hiring women in sexy attire as flight attendants (or stewardesses as they were called in those days).
Southwest Airlines, in the “history” page of their website, state their intention to set themselves apart from other airlines.
Time flies when you’re having fun!
More than 36 years ago, Rollin King and Herb Kelleher got together and decided to start a different kind of airline. They began with one simple notion: If you get your passengers to their destinations when they want to get there, on time, at the lowest possible fares, and make darn sure they have a good time doing it, people will fly your airline. And you know what? They were right.
As witnessed in this photograph, from the 1970s.
However, Southwest had not strayed very far from standard practices in the airline industry in that day. According to Joshua Zeitz, in his review of Kathleen M. Barry’s book, Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants
Until well into the 1970s, airlines enforced strict physical and age standards on stewardesses. In the 1930s they were expected to be about five-foot-four and weigh no more than 115 pounds; later, these numbers rose to five-foot-eight and 130 pounds, tops. They were also expected to be extraordinarily attractive. In the 1960s, Eastern Air Lines ran an advertisement with the headline “Presenting the Losers.” It showed 19 frowning all-American beauties who were “probably good enough to get a job practically anywhere they want.” But they hadn’t passed muster at Eastern, which demanded the very highest level of poise, intelligence, and good looks. “Sure, we want her to be pretty . . . don’t you? That’s why we look at her face, her make-up, her complexion, her figure, her weight, her legs, her grooming, her nails and her hair.”
In keeping with such standards, the airlines didn’t allow women who were married or older than 32 (35 at a few liberal carriers) to keep working as stewardesses. Therefore the turnover rate among cabin crews was amazingly high. In 1955 the average career of a flight attendant lasted just 27 months.
At the heart of Barry’s story is a tension between labor and glamour. Stewardesses were supposed to provide passengers with a sense of calm and security. Many in the early days were trained nurses, and in all eras they were responsible for ensuring passenger safety, especially in emergencies. When Boeing 707 jets came along, airlines went deep into debt to buy them and expand their routes. To boost their ticket sales, they began to explicitly market their stewardesses’ sex appeal.
We have become accustomed to the contemporary appearance of flight attendants.
News reports released today indicate that Southwest has apologized:
[ Southwest CEO Gary] Kelly didn’t say Southwest was wrong for its actions, but in a statement issued Friday said the airline could have handled the incident better.
“… the true issue here is that you are a valued customer, and you did not get an adequate apology,” Kelly said in the statement. “Kyla, we could have handled this better, and on behalf of Southwest Airlines, I am truly sorry. We hope you continue to fly Southwest Airlines. Our company is based on freedom even if our actions may have not appeared that way. It was never our intention to treat you unfairly and again, we apologize.”
And in the company’s press release, we find an acknowledgement of the company’s past innovations in flight attendant fashions:
“From a Company who really loves PR, touche to you Kyla! Some have said we’ve gone from wearing our famous hot pants to having hot flashes at Southwest, but nothing could be further from the truth. As we both know, this story has great legs, but the true issue here is that you are a valued Customer, and you did not get an adequate apology. Kyla, we could have handled this better, and on behalf of Southwest Airlines, I am truly sorry. We hope you continue to fly Southwest Airlines. Our Company is based on freedom even if our actions may have not appeared that way. It was never our intention to treat you unfairly and again, we apologize.”
Kelly took an additional step and is sharing his direct comments about the incident by recording ads for national radio. Those comments detail a national fare sale launched today featuring “mini-skirt” fares.
This comes after many days of notable silence from Southwest, with the exception of a noncommittal post on the Southwest blog, which, as of this writing, has 900+ reader comments. Today, Southwest, in a new post, reiterated today’s apology.
We are encouraged to see Southwest regain a sense of levity and freedom.