United Airlines Says Women May Be Denied Boarding for Wearing Leggings

A United gate agent this morning apparently told women they’re not allowed to board in leggings — that if they wanted to fly flight 215 from Denver to Minneapolis they’d have to put dresses on over their athletic wear.

The flight took off on time, women apparently they ‘covered up’ as required by the airline. Although two girls may reportedly have been denied boarding.

United’s twitter team is defending the practice. First, that it’s up to the discretion of the gate agent to decide what passengers have to wear onboard.

Then that it’s in the airline’s contract of carriage that passengers have to be ‘properly clothed’ — something that’s not defined there, but that the gate agent and the twitter team seems to believe means that women may not wear leggings if they want to fly.

Southwest Airlines, which used to have flight attendants in hot pants and ticket machines called ‘quickies’ has been the airline most often to deny boarding over female attire and last month a woman’s cleavage got her kicked off a Spirit Airlines flight. While plenty of men are kicked off for their actual behavior, it doesn’t often seem to be men removed for how they dress.

And here this isn’t about clothing that’s too sexy, it apparently began with United shaming a 10 year old girl who was wearing grey leggings.

Considering that passengers will now start tagging @United on twitter asking whether their attire choices are acceptable (think about this: United Airlines as arbiter of fashion), this won’t end well.

If the airline is going to enforce standards of dress, they need to make clear what those standards are and need to apply them fairly and consistently and in a way that doesn’t shame or single out women or girls for what’s become normal clothing choices. Just watch any long haul flight board, and passengers wear whatever makes them most comfortable.

(HT: @bytebot)

Update: One Mile at a Time has a theory that the passengers told they had to change were nonrevs, who do have separate dress code standards from passengers. Indeed, the 10 year old girl could have been with parents all using buddy passes. Even if this were correct,

Update 2: United now confirms the passengers were traveling on passes, as Lucky suspected. As I write in my update, I don’t think that changes much. United still said that it would be acceptable for a gate agent to deny travel to revenue passengers wearing leggings and needs to walk that back, and the rules are antiquated for pass travelers as well.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Charles (CMK10) the title matches exactly what the United twitter team said I don’t know what else you’d want unless you have a reading comprehension problem

  2. You should consider putting your updates at the top of the post as there is a huge distinction between nonrevs and paying passengers. In all updated posts, when new information changes the post substantially (which I feel it does, while you don’t which is fine), I would think most readers would like to understand the revised viewpoint of the post immediately. Just my thoughts.

  3. @Matt I agree. The update that these are non-rev passengers on a pass needs to be noted at the start of the article. HuffPo is running around flipping out and burying the fact that these were airline employees/family in the bottom of their article which is garbage. I agree with Gary though they need to make clear that this type of policy does not apply to revenue passengers. It sounds like the person in charge of the United twitter account didn’t think through their tweets.

  4. So is the point of your article the confusion over communication in Twitter posts?

    Or the fact that two employees/family members of United, flying for free, disregarded the clear and concise dress code for employees/family members flying on passes and were asked to change before they were allowed to board?

    “Before you and your pass riders head to the airport for your next trip, please take a few minutes to review our pass travel attire requirements when using your travel privileges. It’s important you and your companions feel comfortable when you travel, so casual attire is allowed provided it looks neat and is in good taste for the local environment. Unacceptable pass travel attire includes beach-type rubber flip flops, slippers, anything with holes or tears, anything that reveals your midriff or undergarments and form-fitting Lycra or spandex pants, such as leggings. For the complete list of clothing restrictions, see the Pass Travel Attire Policy on the Travel tab.”

  5. I’ve read the terms on Delta buddy passes and they clearly still have dress codes. I haven’t researched United, but Delta considers these passengers as representatives of the airline. A friend of mine was denied boarding for wearing athletic slacks and had to change before being boarded. Reading the terms on a free ticket could have prevented this.
    I also agree, the updates should have been at the top of this article.

  6. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE!!! They got FREE tickets – there are RULES – They were asked to change – thats ALL they were NOT banned. Leggings are allowed if you BUY a ticket – dont want to follow the rules? Then BUY a damn ticket and stop playing victim!! .

  7. @Larry the key criticism here is of United’s spokespeople claiming that they DO have the authority to deny boarding to paying passengers wearing yoga pants, regardless of whether this incident involved pass travelers (which aren’t free tickets but rather a negotiated benefit for employees including to give travel to family and friends)

  8. OMG – The posts on this subject are beyond amazing and disheartening. United has a dress code for non-revs. You want to fly free … play by the rules whether you like them or not. The comments that some people have made here make me want to VOMIT. Is this what social media has done to our society? I need a break … and I think some people here need to have their IP addresses pulled.

  9. in 2000 I worked for Worldspan and frequently flew nonrev on DL and TWA. Both had strict dress codes then for nonrevs since we represented the company. Luckily they weren’t too strict about it since, for men, it was a sport coat and/or tie…

  10. I assume you view leggings and jeggings the same. Don’t young men wear jeans that look like jeggings? I admit that some girls wear incorrect tops with leggings. My granddaughter is not allowed to do that; although some of her shorts seem that way ,but again she has to wear tshirts. If they can wear regular jeans, spell that out. And to those men in shorts, at least wear long shorts because I don’t care for your hairy legs next to me. Many businesses have clothing rules such as no revealing tops so a free ride can impose rules. Times and clothes change so update abit. In closing, my family always knew the rules. Don’t like it? Pay for your seat.

  11. This is not “shaming.” I’m tired of this term being used incorrectly. If someone is not abiding by a DRESS CODE, they are not “shamed” when called out on it.

    Please, Gary, don’t get sucked into the mindless regurgitating of trendy PC “gotcha” terms!

  12. Why don’t the fat sexist rednecks go pollute Stormfront chat or a Trump rally instead of waddling in here to squat your 500 pounds in a middle seat to start judging women who couldn’t be any less interested in you! All decent people join the rest of the world who consider you and your imbecile Presidents as a worse threat that terrorists!

  13. The writer is a sensationalist or he would correct the article.
    The incident occurred because non revenue travelers did not adhere to the policy that is set for employees, family and friends flying on FREE passes.
    There has to be rules because we represent the company.
    Where do you draw the line? I’ve seen 10 year olds look like they were 17 yrs old by wearing skimpy outfits. I’ve seen disgusting tshirts that were controversial. I was serving a pass rider in First Class. She got onboard totally dressed then went to the lavatory and came out with her belly exposed, her bra hanging out and her pants almost showing her crack. I pulled her aside and reminded her she’s flying on a pass and to cover up.
    There has to be rules.

    For those who simply don’t READ then you obviously made this out to be something it’s not. The nosey woman, Shannon Watts, who initially tweeted out this misinformation should be sued for slander. Who knows perhaps the legal team is considering that. She needs to mind her own business or get the story straight.

    This isn’t about the regular paying passengers who fly on United. And by the way I can guarantee all the second rate celebs who tweeted out go to restaurants with dress codes.
    They need to get the facts and apologize. Trust me I hope they fly another airline because I doubt any of the flight crew from most airlines will welcome them. Delta employees are up in arms as well. So are American Airlines crew. We ALL have dress codes because flying free is not a right. It’s a generous perk and we should dress accordingly.

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