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United Airlines’ Spandex Scandal

If you walked into any grocery store, park, or shopping mall at this moment, you are likely to see several, perhaps dozens of women wearing leggings. But leggings have become such a staple in women’s clothing that you likely wouldn’t notice unless you were looking for them. So why were three young women told they could not board their United Airlines flight in Denver unless they changed out of their comfortable travel bottoms?

A viral tweet described two teenage girls traveling together who were barred from their flight to Minneapolis Sunday night for wearing the athletic pants. Minutes later, a party including a 10-year-old girl in leggings only avoided being turned away because a member of the party had a dress on hand to put over the child’s outfit. These passengers were flying on a United Travel Pass, a program that allows United employees and their families to travel for free or on a heavy discount. The program, however, also includes a dress code that prohibits leggings, an article of clothing that most people wouldn’t even think twice about wearing on a flight.

The same dress code bans the likes of clothing with offensive language, sleepwear, swimwear, “inappropriately revealing” garments, and clothing that is “excessively dirty or has holes/tears.” Additionally, shorts ending more than three inches above the knee are prohibited, though it was noted that a man traveling with the second party in short shorts was not barred from the flight.

Many critics of the policy have taken to Twitter to call the act unfair, outdated, and sexist, but United has defended its stance in the incident by reminding customers that pass flyers are held to different standards than regular passengers. The company maintains that people with pass perks must represent the company in “neat and professional attire.” United also stated that pass flyers should “use good judgment and common sense” and “meet or exceed the casual standards of the flying public” when it comes to dressing for a flight.

Still, many customers, especially young ones, would likely fail to realize that such a common clothing item would not meet these “casual standards” in the eyes of United Airlines. One tweeter observed that last year, United even featured a woman in leggings in one of its advertisements (pictured above). While it makes sense that the company should get a say in how travelers present themselves when their tickets are paid for by the airline, it does not seem to be an intuitive enough rule to enforce without specifying clearly in advance that leggings are not allowed. Moreover, these rules do not even seem to be consistently enforced. If obvious rules like not bringing explosives are reiterated time and time again before passengers arrive at the airport, why couldn’t the airline make its arbitrary prohibition of a common garment clearer? Moreover, what level of professionalism does United expect from the wardrobe of a 10-year-old?

While United likely lost at least two non-paying customers on Sunday night to its unusual policy, the controversy stirred by the incident is certainly not contained to pass flyers. In the wake of the Twitter uproar, United would be wise to either revise the policy or improve the clarity of the dress code prior to passengers’ arrival at the airport. In the meantime, be careful how you dress your 10-year-old; it’s possible that United Airlines may equate her pants to swimwear or “excessively dirty” clothing.


Original articles: CNNMoney “United Airlines in Twitter Trouble over Leggings Rule” March 27 2017

NY Daily News, “Here’s Why United Airlines Banned Girls with Leggings from Flight” March 27, 2017


Photo: https://twitter.com/united/status/745345548975284224

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