On March 26th, United Airlines prohibited two young girls from boarding a flight from Denver to Minneapolis because they were wearing leggings. The controversy began when Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action to fight gun violence, posted that she saw an United Airlines agent bar two girls from boarding a flight on Sunday morning while asking another girl, sporting gray leggings, to change before she could board the flight. Shortly after Watts made this post, social media exploded, calling the event outrageous and nonsensical.
United Airlines’ spokesman, Jonathan Guerin, confirmed that the two girls were barred because they were not appropriately clothed and said that they were not in compliance with the dress code policy of the airline. The two girls were pass travellers, meaning that they are family or friends of employees at United and were travelling for free with one of the company’s benefit programs. When the incident broke out on Twitter that evening, United Airlines was quick to reply saying that they have the right to refuse passengers to travel on board who are not appropriately clothed via their Contract of Carriage; however, the contract only specifies that the airline can refuse a passenger to board if he or she is “barefoot or not properly clothed.” This regulation does not define “properly clothed,” hence the many celebrities blasting the airlines for barring two young girls who wore leggings for comfort and not as a fashion statement. Some even cancelled and changed their flights to other airlines. The United Airline’s spokesman made a point to say that they enforce a dress code for employees and pass riders that does not apply to regular customers. Some of the travellers, who have frequently used the travel pass, say that it has always been a requirement to dress more tastefully than paying passengers are required to.
It seems people may have overreacted with Twitter rants on this subject decrying United Airlines. Only 21% of the adult population in the United States uses Twitter so the consensus there would not necessarily represent the view of the whole population anyway. The real question at hand is whether United Airlines is being sexist by going overboard with their clothing rules that seem to apply mostly to women. Many airlines have similar guidelines for general, first-class, and non-revenue travelers. The dress code at American Airlines for non-revenue fliers has a total of eleven banned items of clothing. The airlines’ policy does not allow pass travellers to wear form-fitting spandex, flip-flops, or mini-skirts among several other articles of clothing. Regardless of other airline policies, United Airlines still maintains that the pass travelers are considered to be representatives of the airline and are requested to dress such that it raises the bar of the apparel worn by passengers on the flight. The contentious issue is whether these rules should apply to ten year old girls. At that age, they are definitely not dressing in what some may deem as “inappropriate or provocative” and are probably dressed in comfort to keep them quiet for the long flight. The United employee or agent may have been inconsiderate to bar the girls from boarding, even though denying boarding to passengers is within the employer’s rights.
In the end, the huge Twitter outburst seemed uncalled for - per usual- as all that the airline was trying to do was raise the standard of their flight apparel, especially under the special circumstances of their boarding passes. However, it is rather unfortunate that two young girls were the victims of this incident.