United Airlines Forces Teenagers To Change Their Leggings Attire, Turns Out They Were Employment Pass Passengers


United Airlines took a lot of heat over the last 24 hours after staff instructed a pair of teenagers to change their attire after they spotted them wearing tight leggings but it turns out this was a reasonable request.

The two kids were actually flying on discounted/free passes issued to airline employees and as such they have to adhere to a dress code set by the airline which obviously doesn’t include leggings.

Right after the incident a storm broke loose on Social Media (esp. Twitter) and the airline was cornered for what looked like yet another employee on a power trip and overreach of their authority.

Well not everything is at it seems at first and while I read about it yesterday I thought better wait and see because as much as I love to flame airlines for their misconduct something didn’t seem right with this case and sure enough it wasn’t.

By now there is an updated article in the New York Times (see here) and it’s probably best to read through the entire thing but here is the most essential part.

United Airlines barred two teenage girls from boarding a flight on Sunday morning and required a child to change into a dress after a gate agent decided the leggings they were wearing were inappropriate. That set off waves of anger on social media, with users criticizing what they called an intrusive, sexist policy, but the airline maintained its support for the gate agent’s decision.

The girls, who were about to board a flight to Minneapolis, were turned away at the gate at Denver International Airport, the company said on Sunday. United doubled down on that decision, defending it in a series of tweets on Sunday. …

Jonathan Guerin, a spokesman for United, confirmed that two teenage girls were told they could not board a flight from Denver to Minneapolis because their leggings violated the company’s dress code policy for “pass travelers,” a company benefit that allows United employees and their dependents to travel for free on a standby basis.

Mr. Guerin said pass travelers are “representing” the company and as such are not allowed to wear Lycra and spandex leggings, tattered or ripped jeans, midriff shirts, flip-flops or any article of clothing that shows their undergarments.

The article also includes a fiery exchange of Twitter messages between a lady and the United Airlines social media team.

Apart from the statement of the spokesperson there was however also an official response published on UnitedHub (access here) which is the airlines news center outlet. It bears the title “To our customers, your leggings are welcome”.

Let us take a moment to explain today’s news:

We care about the way we present ourselves to you, our customers, as we believe that is part of the experience on board our flights. One of the benefits of working for an airline is that our employees are able to travel the world. Even better, they can extend this privilege to a select number of what we call “pass riders.” These are relatives or friends who also receive the benefit of free or heavily discounted air travel – on our airline as well as on airlines around the world where we have mutual agreements in place for employees and pass riders.

When taking advantage of this benefit, all employees and pass riders are considered representatives of United. And like most companies, we have a dress code that we ask employees and pass riders to follow. The passengers this morning were United pass riders and not in compliance with our dress code for company benefit travel. We regularly remind our employees that when they place a family member or friend on a flight for free as a standby passenger, they need to follow our dress code.

To our regular customers, your leggings are welcome.

The update was published this morning and provides some insight and clarity about the situation and what exactly lead to this incident.

The outrage ensued because nobody of the bystanders actually knew what was going on and everybody just assumed what I described above: Just another employee going nuts.

In reality however the real culprit here is the employee who didn’t brief the passengers who were issued these free tickets to how the company dress code is, completely disregarding the rules tied to these employment benefits.

Since there were no images of the clothing attached or the passengers wearing them (which would also be more than a little bit disturbing considering they’re still children) it’s hard to say if that call about clothing style and kind was made correctly. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here and forget that it isn’t the same if an adult wears things or a 10 year old child accompanied by an adult.

Last week I saw this at the lounge while getting some breakfast:

The pants were actually more skimpy than they appear in this picture, just a bit of cotton, something you wear to sleep during a warm summer night. But since the lady was a ‘regular customer’ how United would put it I guess this attire is ok (in their eyes).

People might come forward with the argument ‘Well she looks good so I’m not complaining’ but that’s not a valid point in my opinion. You can’t cut people slack for looks when it comes to etiquette and this is definitely over the line, no matter if it’s a model showing up in these sleepwear pants or someone who weighs 250KG.


While I personally wouldn’t see anything wrong with a child wearing a Spiderman costumer or cotton leggings I’d draw the line at a certain age and especially adults. Nevertheless United as it’s the same with every other company can set their own rules of how their employees and their designated beneficiaries have to dress when using their privileges.

I’m not sure if United sends the right message in their public statement that regular customers are welcome to dress like a slob, just their employees and pass holder have to watch themselves. Why not encourage proper attire for everybody instead of officially lowering the bar for everybody?


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