Airline in middle when customers collide

Southwest Airlines, known for its sense of humor, apparently lost it on a flight to Reno last week.

That's when flight attendants removed a passenger who was wearing a T-shirt other passengers found offensive.

A lot of people would find the shirt offensive. It had pictures of President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Rice with a vulgar phrase similar to the movie "Meet the Fockers" (which is offensive enough by itself).

But what we don't know is if the offended passengers complained about the swear word or the political statement. That's the problem with censoring free speech - it gets a bit tricky.

And it's especially tricky for Southwest Airlines at the moment, because the company is conducting a massive lobbying campaign against restrictions at Love Field in Dallas, Texas. Passengers are bombarded by banners, petitions and, yes, even T-shirts worn by flight attendants.

Say you were offended by the message on the flight attendants' T-shirts. Say you were offended by being held captive to a political lobbying campaign when all you wanted to do was fly home.

For that matter, you might be offended by the smelly passenger next to you, or the bosomy passenger and her snockered husband, or the 2-year-old who keeps kicking the seat behind you, or a thousand other things airline customers put up with when packed into the cabin of a jet with strangers.

Is it your right to have them removed from the flight? Of course not.

None of those situations is protected by the Constitution. Free speech, fortunately, is.

That's the great thing about free speech. When done right, it's going to offend somebody.

Southwest Airlines, which fumbled a sticky situation, likely will fall back on the excuse that the T-shirted passenger was causing a disruption. Instead, it was the complaining passengers who were disruptive.

They certainly had the right to turn around, walk off the plane and catch a flight that didn't offend their sensibilities. We're willing to bet none would have felt strongly enough about their convictions to do so.


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