Dr. Latisha Rowe was standing outside her plane, watching her son’s eyes fill up with tears.
As People reports, the family medicine practitioner from Houston, Texas, was on a family vacation in Jamaica. On June 30, she boarded an American Airlines flight from Kingston to Miami with her 8-year-old son, when a flight attendant approached her saying they needed to speak to her at the front of the plane.
Rowe got out of her seat and was eventually directed off the plane onto the jetway. Initially, no one explained to the mom what this was about. Then one of the flight attendants told Rowe what she had done. Rowe told Today:
“She looked at me, and these are the parts that are hard to put into words, but she looked at me with the kind of the look that mean girls in high school give a girl that no one likes, like this look of disdain, this look of, ‘You’re nothing.’ And the first words out of her mouth were, ‘Do you have a jacket?'”
The mom, who was wearing a strapless romper, explained that she didn’t have a jacket or change of clothes. The flight attendant told Rowe that her outfit was “inappropriate” and that she wouldn’t be allowed back on the plane unless she covered up.
Here is what i was wearing when @AmericanAir asked me to deplane for a talk. At which point I was asked to “cover up”. When defending my outfit I was threatened with not getting back on the flight unless I walked down the aisle wrapped in a blanket. #notsofriendlyskies pic.twitter.com/AYQNNriLcq
— Tisha Rowe MD, MBA (@tisharowemd) July 1, 2019
Being told she wasn’t dressed appropriately for a summer flight from Jamaica to Florida stunned Rowe. She told Insider that she had looked over her outfit that morning and saw no issue with it:
“I turned, and I looked at my backside, and I kind of gave myself that, you know, girl check. Growing up, I lived in a very conservative household. Like, if my dad thought my shorts were too short, I was not leaving the house. So that’s just something that I’ve gotten into the habit of doing.”
Rowe was prepared to defend herself and her outfit. She hadn’t become angry or argumentative, but one look at her son’s face was enough to stop her. While she was discussing the issue with the flight attendant, she saw that her son was clearly embarrassed and on the verge of tears.
She explained to Insider that her son’s reaction made her focus on defusing the situation as quickly as possible:
“My automatic mommy protective mode started. I’m like, ‘how do I fix it?’ I don’t want to be in this situation. I just, I want this done.”
Rowe asked for a blanket, and the flight attendant complied, stressing that Rowe would only be allowed to get back on the plane if she covered herself with the blanket.
Rowe told Insider that she wrapped the blanket around her waist, but still had to deal with the embarrassment of being treated as though she was a problem, not a customer:
“I said, ‘I’ve complied with your request, please let me on the plane.’ Three times I had to say that before they actually let me on the plane. Three times that I did not argue with them, fuss with them, and had a blanket wrapped around before they parted their physical barrier to let me on the plane.”
The experience was humiliating for Rowe and traumatic for her son, who spent the flight in tears. Rowe told Inside Edition:
“He was very upset when we got to our seat. He took the blanket that they wrapped me in — or allowed me to wrap myself in — and put it over his head.”
Rowe took to Twitter to express her frustration with American Airlines. After the plane landed, she shared a photo of the outfit she had been wearing. She also compared it to similar travel outfits worn by celebrities like Victoria Beckham.
When the trolls tell me I was inappropriate because I’m a professional ? well send me the “professional” dress code then. I want to have to same dress code as @victoriabeckham when I board a plane please. #misogyny #racism pic.twitter.com/lBPyWyIsdo
— Tisha Rowe MD, MBA (@tisharowemd) July 7, 2019
Rowe told Insider she believes she was a victim of a double standard based on race and her body type:
“I have a very curvaceous body, and I put my body in bold colors, so you’re going to see it. But it’s not vulgar. It’s not inappropriate. It’s not bad, you know? If you put someone who’s a size [two] in the exact same outfit next to me, no one would be bothered.”
For a mom, it was especially difficult to deal with being shamed for her body in front of her own child. Rowe tweeted:
As a mother my body has changed dramatically. Those changes mean more curves. It took time to appreciate them only to be shamed for them and even worse tell my son to be ashamed of my body as well.
Rowe wasn’t trying to dress provocatively. She told Today that she made sure she was fully covered before getting on the plane and tries to dress tastefully:
“I always want to make sure that I’m comfortable in my skin. I know that I have a lot of curves, but I don’t want to be distasteful. I don’t want to be that person. I’m 37 years old, I like wearing nice things that I feel comfortable in, but I’m not trying to show it to the world — especially not with my son. I know exactly how I looked, the moment I stepped on that plane.”
American Airlines requires passengers to dress appropriately, but their “contract of carriage” only mentions bare feet and “offensive clothing.” After Rowe’s story went viral, a spokesperson for the airline apologized and issued a statement to People:
We were concerned about Dr. Rowe’s comments, and reached out to her and our team at the Kingston airport to gather more information about what occurred. We apologize to Dr. Rowe and her son for their experience, and have fully refunded their travel.
We are proud to serve customers of all backgrounds and are committed to providing a positive, safe travel experience for everyone who flies with us.”
Rowe told Insider that she hopes this incident will persuade the airline, and other companies, to be careful of double standards when they try to enforce dress codes — especially because clothing can look different on different body types:
“I just don’t want this to happen to anyone else. I just want things to be fair, to be objective and to — for everyone to be able to fly without feeling like you have to fit into a certain mold.”