A New York college student found himself stranded in St. Louis on Monday after being kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight that wasn’t even supposed to land there. The conflict raises a classic first amendment debate of free speech versus vulgar language.
Daniel Podolsky was on a flight from Dallas to Chicago, and only set foot in Lambert Airport because of bad weather in the Windy City. But the college kid apparently forgot a couple of lessons from kindergarten about bad words and playing well with others.
At issue: his tee shirt. The garment, promoting the Comedy Central show “Broad City,” says in bold letters, “Broad F— City,” but the “F-word” is fully spelled out. It was one of hundreds handed out by the comedy channel at the South By Southwest festival Podolsky had just left. He says his jacket was hiding the shirt when he walked around for all to see, but when he got on the plane, it was tight quarters and he took the jacket off.
His flight made the unscheduled stop in St. Louis and he got off to use the restroom. That, he says, is when a Southwest gate agent noticed the shirt and said he would need to remove it.
“It’s only when I got back on the plane when it was gonna take off, ya know, you have this much space, you’re gonna take your jacket off because it’s hot,” he explained. “I took my jacket off, so he sent someone to remove me from the flight.”
“Did they give you any opportunity to put your jacket back on, to change the shirt, to put it inside out?” he was asked.
“It just happened so fast,” he said. “Within thirty seconds the flight was gone. I mean I would have gladly done so.”
But the video of the confrontation on the plane that Podolsky provided FOX 2 tells a slightly different tale. Saying he “would have gladly done so,” is clearly not the case.
“They talked to you about your shirt?” the airline employee is seen asking him at the door of the aircraft. Podolsky responds, “They did.”
Then the employee proceeds to provide him with several chances to keep his seat on the flight.
(Worker) “Can you change the shirt?”
(Worker) “Can you put the jacket on and leave it on through the flight?”
(Worker) “Can you put the shirt on inside out?”
(Worker) “Is there anything you can do not to display the shirt because at this point we can’t allow you to go.”
(Podolsky) “I have freedom of speech.”
(Worker) “I know you do…”
(Podolsky) “Really it’s not bothering anyone.”
(Worker) “I can show you in our contract of carriage that you can’t wear any shirts that says offensive…”
(Podolsky) “Can we take a poll?”
There would be no poll and he would be asked to leave the plane. He confronted the original gate agent as he left, and he says airport police escorted him from the terminal. He then contacted FOX 2.
When asked why he wore the shirt to begin with, considering the likelihood it would offend someone he encountered along his journey, he said, “Well, is it really in the airline’s position to make that call, especially when the only time you can see the shirt I’m in my little box of space?”
“There are more than a hundred people on the plane trying to get to Chicago and the most important thing is my shirt?” he continued. “How does that work? Where’s the sense of priority?”
Southwest Airlines backed the actions of their crew in a statement late Monday.
“We rely on our Employees and Customers to use common sense and good judgment,” spokesman Dan Landson said.
As for Podolsky, he was eventually allowed to board a 7:15pm Southwest flight to his final destination of New York. The agreement was reached after he changed his shirt.