Military Woman Ordered by Airline to Remove Uniform Before Boarding?

White Ensign, Royal Navy maritime flags flying from Admiralty Arch in London. Photograph © by Anthony Baggett.

Citing company policy, Nicky Howse — a petty officer in the Royal Navy — was allegedly ordered by a security guard and airline staff members to either cover up her military uniform or change out of it and into pajamas before boarding an aircraft operated by Virgin Atlantic Airways at London Heathrow Airport for a flight to Los Angeles.

As a result of changing into a sleep suit for the duration of the flight, Howse reportedly felt humiliated, ashamed, distressed, insulted and enraged that this incident even occurred in the first place — and it is not the policy of Virgin Atlantic Airways that military personnel must not travel while in uniform.

During her deployment in the United States, Howse traveled to the United Kingdom to attend the funeral of her grandfather and supposedly experienced no problems when wearing her uniform on that flight.

Some FlyerTalk members are outraged over the report of the incident, with one FlyerTalk member reporting that Richard Branson — the founder and chairman of Virgin Group — apologized via twitter with regard to the incident. The discussion evolves into several directions — one of them touching upon a topic similar to an article posted at The Gate on March 1, 2013 regarding whether or not military personnel should receive special treatment from airlines while traveling in uniform.

I have stated for the record that I have not taken any sides in the debate about special treatment for military personnel traveling while in uniform, and that I am definitely not passionate either way about this issue. Regardless of the debate of whether or not it is necessary or permitted to wear a military uniform while traveling, no person serving their country deserves to feel ashamed or humiliated about wearing their uniform. If it is indeed not permitted, there are certainly better ways to communicate that information to the soldier — privately instead of in front of passengers, as a start…

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Comments (Showing 12 of 12)

  • privacylawyer at 12:34pm March 11, 2013

    maybe we should contact Kreeger, the new CEO.
    This is pretty horrible treatment.
    No matter how anyone feels about special perks for military, this is appalling.

  • Cathay Boy at 1:24pm March 11, 2013

    This is clearly individuals who have issues with the military taking it out on a passenger knowing that it will humiliate her and insult her, but since their jobs are secured and they likely will receive nothing but a slap on the wrist, they will do it. Besides a “twitter apology” there will be nothing else done on this matter. That’s the atrocity of this whole thing. No more consequences for pitiful actions.

  • DCBob at 1:43pm March 11, 2013

    She should at least receive a free round-trip ticket anywhere Virgin Atlantic flies with no restrictions and a handwritten letter from Richard Branson apologizing for her treatment and stating the airline’s real policy.

  • callum9999 at 1:57pm March 11, 2013

    While I agree with the people saying there should be a proper apology etc. – I didn’t realise our navy was so soft. This is supposed to be a woman that we can rely on to go to war for us, yet gets “humiliated, distressed, ashamed and insulted” because she had to wear some pyjamas on a plane?

    Though indisputably wrong of the airline, it sounds like a typical trumped up “I suffered emotional distress” claim to get publicity and therefore compensation. Which as she is in the armed forces and is therefore given almost God-like status by most of the population will no doubt happen.

  • DCBob at 2:02pm March 11, 2013

    Oh, come on callum9999. She is a human being with feelings, not a robot. Anyone would feel humiliated, ashamed, and insulted to have to walk around in PUBLIC in pajamas.

  • SleeStack1 at 6:38pm March 11, 2013

    DCBob – Unfortunately there’s plenty of people that are out in public walking around in their Pajamas. I only WISH some of those folks would be humiliated about it! Search for pictures from a certain large national US retail chain.

  • TMOliver at 7:17am March 12, 2013

    Along with compensation of some substantial nature for the RN PO, the person(s) who determined that her uniform was inappropriate should be terminated post haste. Whether worn by a man or a woman, the uniform of the Senior Service deserves respect and acceptance.

    Two block’em to the mainyard and let’em dangle for all the fleet to see.

  • TMOliver at 7:18am March 12, 2013

    ….And whilst I may be a contemptible Yank, I’ll not hesitate to post that suggestion.

  • Great White North at 1:33pm March 12, 2013

    This was disgusting behavior by Virgin’s employee and the RN petty officer deserves a lot more than a tweeted apology. I think some retraining for the offending employee is in order, along with some refund of the ticket price for the petty officer would be appropriate.

  • Bretteee at 10:09pm March 12, 2013

    It can be dangerous to fly in a military uniform.

    I remember the TWA hijacking 30 years ago to Beirut when a poor guy in the navy was murdered. I think he was travelling in his uniform or maybe they got his ID.

  • tfong007 at 10:49pm March 12, 2013

    This is really not cool at all.

  • gum at 4:07am March 13, 2013

    It´s time for a dismissal of the airline employee involved.

    I have a great empathy for airlines personnel doing their jobs under the pressure of today’s fast and at the same time threatened environment. But to humiliate a passenger just for fun and inventing new rules ist just inacceptable.

    Therefore switch on the red light for this employee – immediately. In no way he/she should treat human beings like this.

    And if UK’s law doesn´t allow an immediate dismissal: Just pay the outstanding salary of the XY months until the regular cancellation period of the employment contract.

    No other way to fix the situation. People involved in this incident should never work at the company or an airport again.

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