Just when air travelers feel they have a gotten a handle on regulations governing knives, gels and aerosols, British Air has added a new concern to the list of potentially banned items: tattoos.
On Monday, Good Charlotte frontman Joel Madden was denied boarding until he donned long sleeves to cover his tattoos. Trying to board a flight at Chicago’s O’Hare airport en route to London, Madden was ordered by a BA employee to cover up his body art or miss the flight. While still on the jetway, Madden promptly went over to Twitter to take the issue to his fans:
“Was just told by a british air person I can’t get on the plane till I cover my tatts. Should I fight the power? I really actually am in shock, he won’t let me on the plane till I put long sleeves on and another BA rep is disagreeing.”
The rock star acknowledged in subsequent ‘tweets’ that he had complied with the directive because, “it’s not my style to cause a scene.”
Madden also stated that he felt the requirement amounted to discrimination and that the attention the episode brought caused him embarrassment, “I haven’t felt this small since the first time I asked Nic out,” referring to wife Nicole Ritchie. Ritchie, who is also inked aplenty, defended her husband saying, “All of [his] tattoos are spiritual. Since when is expressing your love for God & family against what British Airways stands for?” (Maybe there is some lingering national resentment, as one of Madden’s tattoos is of the Irish flag).
While it might be unusual to hear a celebrity complain about being in the spotlight, the musician’s experience does draw needed attention to the subject of capricious enforcement of airline regulations, both actual and imagined. Apparently British Air’s contract of carriage says nothing about tattoos, giving credence to suggestions that like many other random enforcements, this one was arbitrary as well.
Its unclear what aspect about the artwork was considered controversial or in bad taste by the airline employee, but apparently the folks at BA headquarters think the censure was in bad taste. TMZ is reporting that the employee making the demand was reprimanded, quoting a BA spokesperson, “We don’t understand why the employee took it upon himself to enforce regulations that don’t exist.”
Presumably British Airlines wished the bad publicity over the incident didn’t exist, but I’m betting that Joel Madden is pretty satisfied with the resulting sympathy he has gotten from frustrated travelers the world over who may have never heard of him before, like me.
Nonetheless this is just the latest incident where airlines have attempted to weigh in on personal issues like a passenger’s size (United charges plus-size passengers for an extra seat),or hem-line height (Southwest previously denied boarding to a young women with a skirt they insisted was too short).
So, if you were the all-powerful gate agent, what type of passenger would you ban?