Troubling Questions Raised by Airline’s Inconsistent Approach to Pants

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A few days ago, as you may have heard, a college football player was arrested at San Francisco International Airport for wearing sagging pants. This was already well within my zone of interest because it involves (1) the continuing and stupid controversy over sagging pants and (2) the continuing stupidity and national disgrace that is our air-travel security policy. But now a new fact has emerged in connection with this story that would render it virtually impossible to believe had I not already been conditioned to believe the impossible.

First, the sagging-pants incident. In that case, DeShon Marman was arrested because he was wearing his pants (and for some reason, pajama pants) in that ridiculous style that puts underwear on display. As I have argued before, this is thoroughly stupid-looking and should be mocked, but shouldn't be illegal. But more to the point, that's not really why he was arrested. He was really charged not with having low pants – he was sitting in his seat prior to being arrested anyway – but for not following orders given by airline and/or security personnel, no matter how stupid and arbitrary any such order may be. 


In fact, a spokesperson for the airline involved – US Airways – admitted this week that this is exactly what happened, saying he hadn't been removed because of his pants, but because he didn't do what the pilot told him to do. "The root of the matter," she said, is that "if you don't comply with the captain's requests, the captain has the right to handle the issue because it's one of safety." So, if the captain doesn't like your pants, it's not about the pants but about the fact that disobeying a pants-related order presents a safety issue because of disobedience. Do I have that right?

Marman's lawyer says, and I think the video confirms this, that his client wasn't being disruptive. He just said he didn't think there was a problem, he had paid his fare and wanted to travel. The crew, on the other hand, was being unreasonable and condescending. Whether that was because of racism or his youth or an overbearing security policy, or some combination, is hard to say.

Ba-us_airways_JP_0503662837On the other hand, the racism argument just got a great big boost as a result of today's development. Specifically, it appears that although US Airways got all upset about sagging pants in Marman's case, it was just fine with no pants at all in this guy's case (right).

The pantless man was a passenger on a US Airways flight from Fort Lauderdale to Phoenix on June 9, and remained a passenger even though others complained. (The picture was taken by another passenger, Jill Tarlow.) A spokesperson said that in that case, the employees had been correct to ignore those complaints because "[w]e don't have a dress-code policy." You don't? "Obviously, if their private parts are exposed, that's not appropriate," she continued. But "if they're not exposing their private parts, they're allowed to fly."

This, by the way, was the same spokesperson quoted above. And again, it appears her position is that you can wear or not wear whatever you want, so long as your private parts are covered, unless an airline employee orders you to do something about your clothes, in which case you must obey (even though the order violates the airline's no-dress-code policy) or else you will be arrested because your disobedience itself presents a "safety issue."

Marman's attorney, who is probably in a very good mood today, was not slow to point out the "hypocrisy" involved and the somewhat disparate treatment of the two pants offenders. "A white man is allowed to fly in underwear without question," he said, "but my client was asked to pull up his pajama pants because they hung below his waist." Again, your client should be asked by everyone to pull up his pants because it looks stupid and nobody wants to see his underwear. But I insist that neither low pants nor mere disobedience should be or can be a crime.

I think Ben Franklin said something like that, but if he didn't, he should have.