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Airline apologises for threatening to throw woman off flight if she didn’t “cover up”

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Moya Crockett
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Emily O’Connor, from Birmingham, says she was left “shaking and upset” by the incident. 

A young British woman has spoken about her upsetting experience on a Thomas Cook flight, where she was ordered to “cover up” or be thrown off the plane.

Emily O’Connor, from Birmingham, had boarded a flight from her home city to Tenerife on 12 March when she was approached by cabin crew who told her she was dressed inappropriately. The 21-year-old was dressed in a pair of loose-fitting, high-waisted trousers and a bralette-style crop top: a holiday outfit, for sure, but hardly a provocative one.

On Twitter, O’Connor said the flight attendants told her that her outfit was “inappropriate” and was “causing offence” – despite the fact that she’d been allowed through security and passport control without any trouble.

“They had four flight staff around me to get my luggage to take me off the plane,” she said. 

O’Connor said she reminded the flight staff that Thomas Cook has no ‘appropriate wear’ policy stipulated online. She then asked the other passengers on the plane if she was offending anyone, to which “no one said a word”.

“The manager then went to get my bag to remove me from the flight,” she said. “A man then shouted ‘Shut up you pathetic woman. Put a f*cking jacket on’ – the staff said nothing to him.”

Eventually, O’Connor’s cousin – who was also on the plane – gave her a jacket to wear. The flight attendants refused to leave her side “until I physically put it on,” she said. 

They subsequently made comments over the speaker about the situation, which O’Connor said left her “shaking and upset”.

Thomas Cook has now issued a formal apology for the incident. “We are sorry that we upset Ms O’Connor,” the airline said in a statement. “It’s clear that we could have handled the situation better.”

The company said it did have an appropriate attire policy, but that this was available in its in-flight magazine – meaning that O’Connor couldn’t have seen it before she boarded the flight.

The policy states that “customers wearing inappropriate attire (including items with offensive slogans or images) will not be permitted to travel unless a change of clothes is possible”.

However, the policy does not go into detail about what kinds of women’s clothing is considered appropriate, leaving room for staff to interpret it however they wish. O’Connor said that a man sitting two rows behind her was wearing a vest top and shorts, but staff did not ask him to cover up. 

Thomas Cook insisted that its dress code policy applies “equally to men and women of all ages without discrimination”, but acknowledged that staff “don’t always get it right”.

The airline said it had spoken to O’Connor about the incident and is currently trying to contact her to offer a second apology, following an investigation.

While all companies are entitled to enforce appropriate attire policies if they so choose, it seems remarkably unfair to only make a dress code apparent once someone has already boarded a flight. And it’s more than a little sexist to insist that women cover up, while men are allowed to expose their skin without any issues.

Let’s hope O’Connor gets the apology she deserves – and this doesn’t happen again.

Images: Jordan Sanchez/Unsplash 

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Women’s Editor at stylist.co.uk. As well as writing about inspiring women and feminism, she also covers subjects including careers, politics and psychology. Carrying a bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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