Remove that offensive shirt, the flight attendant said. Why did she have to?

Aubrey O'Day tangled with flight personnel over her attire.
(Jason Kempin / Getty Images)

In a recent (but now deleted) Twitter post, Aubrey O’Day, the 35-year-old Dumblonde singer and reality TV personality, said a male flight attendant forced her to remove her shirt in front of a plane full of passengers because he found it offensive.

O’Day said she didn’t have another shirt so the flight attendant “made me turn it inside out in order to fly.”

“I literally had to have my breasts in a bra out in front of everyone around me in order not to be kicked off” the flight, she said.


American Airlines, on which the late September incident occurred, is investigating.

There are two issues here. First is the question of whether the shirt was inappropriate. Second is whether O’Day was forced to undress in front of a cabin full of people.

On the gossip website TMZ, a witness/passenger said O’Day “was boarding the plane while wearing a black shirt with bold white letters across the front” that spelled out a profanity.

Another passenger took to Twitter claiming the shirt O’Day wore “was extremely vulgar.” It had “nude bodies from a music video & there were children on flight.”

When a passenger’s clothing reveals too much skin or displays offensive words and images, airline policy compels flight attendants to respond. At the airline I work for, we adhere to guidelines in our in-flight manual, which is the bible of rules, regulations and procedures governing all aspects of a flight.

A section called “Conditions for Non-Acceptance of a Customer” says the airline reserves the right to remove passengers for reasons including:

▶ Obnoxious, unruly, disorderly or violent behavior

▶ Apparent intoxication or being under the influence of drugs

▶ Emitting offensive body odor

▶ Being shoeless or being clothed in a manner that would cause discomfort or offense to others.

American Airlines responded to O’Day by Twitter to ask the singer for her flight number and details. But O’Day apparently wanted to move on.

“I literally have no interest in dealing with your airline any further,” she replied. “I’m that offended and disturbed.”

As a flight attendant for more than 30 years and as a frequent airline passenger, I too am offended and disturbed.

If O’Day was wearing offensive clothing, it was the flight attendant’s duty (not his choice, not his option, but his duty) to ask her to change her shirt.

If he was being too restrictive and her clothing was indeed innocuous, he deserves a reprimand and she deserves an apology from the attendant and the airline.

If she believed the shirt was fine as it was, she should have taken a picture of it and posted that to Twitter so her followers could see that an injustice had been done. At the very least, she could have described her clothing to validate the complaint.

News reports also said that instead of retreating to a lavatory to reverse her shirt and conceal the alleged vulgarity, she pulled off the shirt in front of startled onlookers, leaving her clad, momentarily, in a bra. She then posted the flight attendant’s full name online and demanded he be fired for forcing her to disrobe in public.

It is unclear how a flight attendant could force a female passenger to, as she put it, “undress in front of the entire plane.” The suggestion that he had the power to demand she disrobe in public and that she had no choice but to obey seems unlikely.

As for broadcasting the flight attendant’s name on Twitter and demanding he be fired, why not respond to the airline’s investigative query and get the termination ball rolling?

As is the case with most veteran flight attendants, I have occasionally been thrust into the role of the villain to uphold airline standards. I’ve confronted unruly passengers who were eventually removed from the aircraft by customer service agents or police. I’ve come face to face with passengers exuding such foul body odor that — after vociferous complaints from offended passengers — the captain kicked them off the plane.

I’ve intervened with passengers who stumbled onto the aircraft, reeking of alcohol, barely able to speak. On several occasions I’ve implored passengers to change their clothing because others complained their garment was offensive.

If not for crew member villains like us — like me, like the aforementioned flight attendant who was merely doing his job — the big hairy man boarding your next flight could fly dressed in a translucent Speedo.

It’s our job to try to maintain some decorum. Do we occasionally go too far? Perhaps. But erring on the side of caution may make one person unhappy but allow 150 other passengers to exhale (or inhale, in the case of body odor). That seems a far better solution than making the vast majority suffer.

And consider this: Our in-flight manual spells out work rules governing sexually visual material. If nude or sexually explicit images appear anywhere on the aircraft (even on a passenger’s shirt), flight attendants are obligated to remove the material.

If we fail to do so and a passenger files a complaint, the airline may launch an investigation. Crew members found to be derelict in their duties are “subject to corrective action, up to and including termination.”

By insisting O’Day conceal images on what he deemed was an offensive shirt, the flight attendant she wanted to see fired may have saved his job.