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. FIrst the gate agent says she doesn’t make the rules, but the tweeter team says it’s up to the gate agent, so which is it?

  2. I’ve seen the Southwest articles before and thought it utterly ridiculous, particularly since they fly to places like FLORIDA where it is hot as hell, along with most of Texas and the “Southwest” where temperatures frequently top 100-120 degrees in the summer time and they’ve denied boarding to women and teenagers in tees/tank tops. They never refuse young men in tanks, only the girls/women and I’d rather suspect it was a spite/jealousy thing. The standard attire for much of FL during the summer IS a tank and shorts, as a former long time resident there I can say that most people don’t think much about it and consider it normal wear, I’m guessing the same is true for residents of places like Phoenix and Las Vegas where it is crazy hot. I think it is crazy to refuse boarding to someone for wearing leggings, what is the standard in that? The “type” of fabric? The cling factor? The percentage of polyester blend? Because tons of women wear leggings and long sweaters and boots all winter long! It isn’t considered athletic wear unless you put it with a tee or tank and jogging shoes! If these girls were wearing leggings with a sweater would they have had the same issue? Is it the top or the bottom that upset these old hags? Again, would they have said the same thing if it was a 70 year old lady wearing her leggings with a tee and tennis shoes? Because I’ve see plenty of that on planes too and no one ever said a word. Shame on United.

  3. Sometimes I am shocked at how some agents are incapable of using common sense. Unless the said leggings were see through or had huge holes that showed their parts that shouldn’t be showing….i can’t imagine why this gate agent would deny boarding. I guess that’s the problem with leaving a policy like this up to the gate agents discretion. I’m a guy and know nothing about women’s fashion…but aren’t leggins akin to sweatpants for men? While I’d never wear sweatpants on a plane (or in public), I can see the appeal to wearing these types of comfy clothes on a plane.

    I think I’m actually more surprised by the UA twitter rep though. He’s basically stating UA can do whatever they want because the CoC backs them up. While that might be true, seems a bit of a standoffish response. I’d have probably given the standard ” we’ll look into it” and passed it up the chain.

  4. From LIH to LAX this past week, can confirm the presence of VERY sheer leggings that were basically a catsuit with a waist length sweatshirt. There has to be a line. “Athleisure” can be very revealing, and sometimes it’s near lingerie.

  5. I’m tired of seeing the outlines of women’s vaginas! It doesn’t matter if you’re a size 2 or 16, leggings are not appropriate outside of a gym. I would definitely support airlines instituting stricter dress codes; no tank tops for men, etc.

  6. When your leggings are sheer, and I can see your undies (or lack thereof) then it’s not about fashion. It’s about hygiene and keeping those seats clean for other passengers. Ladies, you really ought to take a backwards glance in a mirror before walking out in public in leggings. They aren’t meant to be pants….

  7. @Christiaan
    “I’m tired of seeing the outlines of women’s vaginas!”

    Why are you looking then, perv?

  8. Americans are not interested in your opinions of our dress. We dress how we feel comfortable. Rant all you want. Chew your leg off in public. Go to a trump rally and beat up a protestor. We will win and you will rot in jail or die soon of a stroke, probably hidrously fat like Trump.

  9. They’re probably non rev passengers. There is a dress code for them, even though it’s relaxed from what it use to be. And frankly, assuming it is non rev passengers, it’s none of our business.

  10. @Jason — see my ‘update’ at the bottom of the post (which was posted before your comment). I wouldn’t say ‘probably’ it is *plausible* they were nonrevs but United’s social media voice says that paying passengers can be denied boarding for this.

  11. The people denied were most likely non rev passengers which mean they’re on standby and flying for free. This is very strictly enforced, I’ve had to change twice in the past year. If it was that big of a deal, they can buy a ticket and wear what they want!

  12. In defense of UA they have one of the most relaxed non-rev dress codes I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been in the industry 20 years. Only JetBlue, in my experience, is on par with them. My son and I were once forced by an AA gate agent to go buy a suit for him from Brooks Brothers in the airport. She said he had to have a button down shirt on and a jacket, for Coach. LH is more strict than most US carriers, and they won’t let non revs have C or F if they’re wearing less than Sunday best, IME. I’ve never heard of or experienced what happened here, on UA as a non rev. I agree though that it needs push back in this case, and especially for a 10 year old! Kids especially need to be comfortable on board. (And honestly, we usually go in the lav and change into something more comfy for the flight, if not in C with pajamas.)

  13. Crazy since United’s onboard safety video includes a slender model in a tiny beach bikini. Same UAL safety video features Misty, the gold medalist in a skimpy volleyball outfit. Go figure.

  14. Although travelers no longer dress-up to fly, they certainly do not have the right to insert their own prerogative by ignoring hygienic issues, e.g., men wearing tank tops (anything without sleeves; shorts; or, to rudely keep their stupid , dirty hats on en flight. Why is it they are pathetically oblivious to their bare, hairy, sweaty, smelly armpits; their fat little bare legs and disgusting toes in sandals, etc?

    In the excuse of “do your own thing,” we have become a nation of slobs that actually think they can dress on flights as they do at their backyard pool.

  15. @Christiaan — That’s not the outline of a vagina. It’s the outline of a vulva. Vaginas are entirely internal. If you’re obsessed with women’s parts, you should at least know what they are. Also, I assume your fear of the vulva means that you would ban camel toe, so goodbye tight jeans, and even grandma’s polyester stretch pants. Here’s a tip to help you avoid trauma — try to look women in the eye, like they are, you know, your equals.

    @Mary — If you can see her undies through the leggings, then she is wearing undies. That should be good enough to protect the seats. In fact I expect it would provide better protection than opaque leggings without undies, which would meet your “no visible underwear” standard. Also, if whatever you’re afraid of getting on the seats is really a problem, we all know that even a pair of heavy jeans isn’t really going to stop it. Do you think women should not be allowed out in public at certain times of the month?

  16. I used to travel on a pass years ago when my father worked for TWA. We had to dress up. More so than the paying folks. Nothing new here.

  17. I have seen leggings commonly worn in many cities and countries . It’s hardly an issue now in most locations .
    I’m so damn old I remember the shock and outrage over miniskirts hemmed FOUR INCHES ABOVE THE KNEE . The end of civilization ! We’re all going to hell ! The sky is falling !
    Oh , wait , now it’s no big deal .
    If there needs to be a dress code passengers should be clearly informed before reaching the airport . Only fair .

  18. Gary,
    Why do you allow Greg to continue to post his drivel. No matter the subject it always turns into a anti Trump rant, Greg take a chill pill!

  19. When I was a fat 5 year old, I had to wear Danskin pants since “husky” didn’t cut it for me. Do you think they would ban those?

  20. This is not a comment on the appropriateness of feminine attire in public or United policy concerning that. It is a comment on employment perks in general. Non-Rev travel is a valuable and cherished privilege for airline employees. The airline has the right to set employee dress codes for using this perk. Over the years, the dress code for Non-Rev’s has dramatically changed. When I first started with my particular airline, men were expected to wear a sport coat and women had to be in business attire. While I think that United’s dress code may be more conservative than some of the other airlines, I do feel they have the right to determine that.

  21. If the passengers in question were employees (or their buddies) traveling on standby passes, there is a very specific dress code which we all are expected to adhere to.

  22. I have a family member employed by Spirit and he offered me a non-rev pass. I declined the pass because the scheduling–or lack thereof–wouldn’t work for me. However, I remember reading through the rules and regulations re: pass usage, and they were very strict about dress, even explaining why they were strict, as a reflection on the corporate Spirit image. It made sense.

    The idea the UA gate agents can arbitrarily discriminate about the type and style of leggings that a rev pax wears, however, definitely needs clarification, which would lead to the next question: should there not be a standardized code for ALL passenger clothing?

  23. I think those who are citing hygiene as a reason to disallow leggings (sheer or not) need to get a better understanding of how disease is spread.

  24. So this kerfuffle was caused by other passengers objecting to the non-rev travelers being denied boarding because of their leggings? Sigh.

    Obviously, the dress code required of employees isn’t really something that should concern other travelers.

    I guess in a world where everyone can broadcast their opinions from their smartphones, this silliness is going to happen pretty often.

  25. This is UA’s version of Sharia Law.

    What are “leggings” anyway? Are they referring tp yoga pants? I think leggings are covers for the legs not actually pants.

  26. @Christiaan really simple solution here. Don’t look and mind your own business. I’m sick of people like you who want to force everyone to obey their standards. Just mind your own business for once.

  27. I don’t mind a non-revenue dress code. Airlines have every right to expect their employees and families to dress certain ways when flying although they should specify what is or is not acceptable. I do not think this type of dress code should ever be extended to revenue passengers. If you are dressed in a lawful way and how you are dressed would not present a safety issue in cases of emergency then the airline should have no right to tell people what they can or can not wear.

  28. I always assumed that women in tight pants, leggings or stockings were prostitutes. Sort of Pretty Woman image.
    Also I always felt bad for them because in case of fire, tight fitting polyester clothes would melt and contribute to severe burns. By the same logic flip flops are not a safe footwear for the airplane.

  29. Let’s stop for a mement and wonder. What kind of legging should were they what how we’re they presenting. We have all seen some individuals with legging made from a thinner fabric and a top that did not cover their butt and it is not pretty and we wonder what they are thinking and that it is not appropriate for public. I think it ma not have been the leggings but the presentation.
    https://lv31.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/leggings-as-pants-e1313452605914.jpg

  30. Lets get the story straight. They were flying on free tickets that had conditions Not regular passengers. If they couldn’t meet the conditions then they should pay for their ticket and dress how ever they like.

  31. United’s employee / dependent pass holders are required to dress “appropriately.” United has guidelines as to what will not fly. To avoid this conflict, the dependent’s​ parents needed to be certain that their teenagers were following set guidelines.

  32. Personally I think an airline should be able to set any dress code it wants and if you don’t like it then fly another airline. Im tired of flying with slobs.

  33. outline of vagina? stop looking there, we see the outlines of men through their pants but they don’t have to wear a dress to cover it….how about sitting next to a man in tank top with their hairy arms touching us…..unless you are going to police the men, leave the women alone…..Dont fly with these airlines

  34. I will be so glad when the yoga pants fad is over. It’s a really hideous trend that history will not be kind to.

  35. DCAGuy says:
    ” I always ASSumed that women in tight pants, leggings or stockings were prostitutes.”

    Obviously never been in the gym. Probably 500 pounds.

  36. With everyone seeming to think that this was OK behavior because they were non-rev passegers, just read above and see that United’s initial response was to fully endorse the actions of the gate agent irregardless of them knowing the type of ticket being flown. Including quoting the part of the contract of carriage which allows them to do so. If it was a paid ticket, they still say they can make decisions at the discretion of the employee and we all have seen how well that works out.

  37. greg, keep up the good work. These people who judge what women wear are just everyday sexists who want to control women.

  38. There is no – zero – excuse for this ill-defined so-called “dress code” or “policy” – when it comes to female clothing, in particular.
    We need to know more about the specifics in this case.
    This headline makes United appear sexist.
    United needs to define it – right now – or risk a boycott!

  39. And one more thing –
    Such a “dress code” or “policy” must SO SPECIFICALLY BE DEFINED that NO room for Neanderthal employees’ judgment can exist!

  40. They were buddy pass travelers. There is a strict dress code for employeee pass travel. They weren’t in compliance and had to change. United doesn’t care if regular full fare customers wear leggings. I strongly suggest reading this article from a credible news site where all facts have been presented.

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