Here’s Why United Was (Probably) Right To Deny Boarding To A Girl In Leggings

Filed Under: Travel, United

Update: As expected, United has now confirmed that these passengers were non-revs. 

I have further thoughts about how the dress code for employees/non-revs may indeed be sexist, but still think the gate agent acted appropriately.

We also think the hysteria surrounding this incident is stunning, and the perpetuation of a false narrative is problematic and needs to stop.

There’s an interesting situation that’s getting a bit of attention on Twitter today about a lady who witnessed a few girls be denied boarding off a United flight because they were wearing leggings.

The Twitter user was flying from Denver to Mexico City, while she witnessed the situation unfold for a flight from Denver to Minneapolis (I’m not sure how exactly that happened, but…). Anyway, here are the Twitter posts about the situation:

Understandably this sounds horrible, given that leggings are a very common article of clothing for women to wear. I see women of all ages wear them all the time. This caused some people to ask about the race of the girls being denied boarding. Was this gate agent being sexist, racist, or something else?

The (likely) simple/innocent explanation

Well, I suspect this situation actually has a very innocent answer. The girls in question were likely non-revs, as they’re subjected to a dress code. Here’s the dress code for non-revs on United:

  • Pass riders’ overall appearance should be well-groomed, neat, clean and in good taste.
  • Attire should be respectful of fellow revenue passengers, employees and pass riders.
  • Pass riders may wear denim attire (such as jeans), shorts that are no more than three inches above the knee and athletic shoes when traveling in Coach or Business cabin.

The following attire is unacceptable in any cabin but is not limited to:

  • Any attire that reveals a midriff.
  • Attire that reveals any type of undergarments.
  • Attire that is designated as sleepwear, underwear, or swim attire.
  • Mini Skirts
  • Shorts that do not meet 3 inches above the knee when in a standing position.
  • Form-fitting lycra/spandex tops, pants and dresses.
  • Attire that has offensive and/or derogatory terminology or graphics.
  • Attire that is excessively dirty or has holes/tears.
  • Any attire that is provocative, inappropriately revealing, or see-through clothing.
  • Bare feet
  • Beach-type, rubber flip-flops

As you can see, “form-fitting lycra/spandex tops, pants and dresses” aren’t allowed for non-revs.

Now, of course it’s possible that the gate agent was incorrectly applying standards to revenue passengers, though I see no reason to assume that. When there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for something, there’s no reason to assume foul play.

The one way United screwed this up

Unfortunately United really dropped the ball on Twitter with this situation, though. When asked about their clothing policy, they reference the contract of carriage, and say they have the right to refuse passengers for their dress, including “passengers who are barefoot or not properly clothed.” Given how many people wear spandex, I have no reason to believe that’s the case.

It sounds like the person working United’s Twitter account just came up with the fastest defense and explanation to the situation, rather than investigating this specific situation. That’s backfiring.

Shouldn’t non-revs know the dress code?

They should indeed. If you’re an employee you should know the dress code. If you’re the family of an employee, you should know the dress code. And if you’re an employee and give buddy passes to friends or family, you need to make sure they know the rules as well. If they misbehave while traveling with your benefits, it could get you in trouble.

But you’d be surprised by how often people don’t know the rules. I’ve seen non-revs be told they need to change a countless number of times, as recently as last weekend on a New York to Los Angeles flight.

Now, one could certainly argue that clothing guidelines for non-revs are a bit outdated. The intent of course is that flying is a privilege for employees and their family, and they should have a nice appearance. Is that still necessary nowadays? I don’t know. But that’s the logic behind the rule.

Bottom line

Is it possible that this gate agent was applying arbitrary clothing standards to revenue passengers? I suppose so. However, it’s much, much more likely that these were non-rev passengers, who have a dress code they’re subjected to. In my own travels I’ve seen people be told they need to be changed many times, and under all circumstances I believe they were non-revs.

The problem here is how United handled the situation on Twitter, which is now causing media outlets to write stories about it with headlines like “United Airlines Won’t Let 10-Year-Old Girl in Leggings on Flight & Defends Decision on Social Media” (the article just published by Black Sports Online).

I give United the benefit of the doubt on this one, despite their horrible Twitter performance.

Where do you guys stand on this?

  1. Disagree. The chance that there is space available for non revs during spring break is virtually nil. Had flight yesterday where they were offering bumps and not guaranteeing availability til Tuesday.

  2. I mean, there’s literally no evidence that these people were non-revs, other than assuming it based on the behavior of the gate agent. And we shouldn’t infer facts from the behavior of often irrational people…

    It would be like saying, “Oh, a flight attendant kicked someone off the flight? That person must be a terrorist.”

  3. I’m sure it’s nonrevs. And frankly none of our business, or the business of the random person on the sidelines who interfered on the discussion between gate agent and pax and “reported” this to the world via tweet.

  4. Without a non-rev. Before even reading the details of the post that was what my exact assumption as well for the clothing rule. Those flying non-rev absolutely know the rules. For someone to say there are virtually no seats avail because it’s spring break probably doesn’t fly NR… yes there are less options but many flights have wide open availability. United should have investigated before jumping the gun in this one before providing a better response.

  5. Twitter on the spot “news” reports unfortunately take on the importance of 6 month NY Times investigations within minutes of the initial tweet. People overhearing and seeing something they know nothing about “reporting” to a waiting Twitter pool–all primed to become offended at the slightest perceived injustice.
    I wonder how long it’ll take before the complete story is revealed.

  6. @Nathaniel: were you flying that exact same route? Denver to MSP? The “author” of the tweet was the one flying to Mexico.

    The most logical explanation is the girls were non-revs. Obviously, many women fly in leggings/yoga pants all the time without any issue whatsoever. Having one agent all of a sudden impose her own interpretation of the dress code seems really unlikely.

  7. Maybe it’s time United update their attire policies regarding non revs. Leggings are such a common and acceptable form of pants for women of all ages these days, especially when traveling, that I see no reason why it should be on the “not allowed” category.

  8. People dress to sloppily when flying. There’s a difference between being comfortable and being a slob. I’m tired of seeing the outlines of women’s vaginas when they wear leggings. It’s not about size….it’s not appropriate whether you’re a size 2 or 16. BTW, men….no more tank tops! Have a bit of pride in your look.

  9. United now says the passengers were flying on passes.

    However United said that revenue passengers could be denied boarding for leggings. That’s the story here, not what happened to a few people in Denver. United needs to retract or clarify this.

    And the policy is antiquated for nonrevs. Ten years ago Delta liberalized its nonrev policy. United gives nonrevs in business class pajamas on 12+ hour flights. Jeans are acceptable, these are casual pants for women.

  10. @Christiaan – You’re way off. Women look great in leggings, especially if they’re a size 2. I’d much rather see women flying in leggings than in mom jeans. Agree on men with tank tops. I don’t care if you’re a bro on your way to spring break, put on a proper shirt until you get to the pool.

  11. I’m always shocked by how badly some people dress on flights. Watch folks getting onto a SouthWest flight out of Oakland and you will want to cry.

    Then look at the people getting on Alitalia or Air France. Night and day,

    Make an effort, people!

  12. Absolutely ridiculous that these girls were told their clothing was inappropriate!!!! They were dressed like most young girls & women wear these days. How many young men has this agent refused to board because of what they wear?! Do you see what ppl wear on planes these days?? That must be the only gate agent in the country following these obviously outdated ‘rules’ – or she was in a pissy mood & decided to take it out on some kids.
    And whatever the case United needs someone new handling their social media. What an idiot.

  13. It does seem like an odd situation but like most issues like this I’m sure there is more to the story. Deny boarding based on wearing leggings is odd since most airports and flights look like a yoga convention is going on as type types of pants are so common.
    Maybe it was because they had on patterned or non-black yoga pants which we all know are so very wrong 🙂

  14. None of you GUYS should be commenting on women’s clothing

    … & when was the last time you saw a gate agent prevent someone from wearing flip flops on a flight???

  15. United’s rule of no spandex leggings is out dated, and I believe, sexist. And come on, let’s be real here. Young girls wearing leggings? That is mostly what girls of that age wear. It’s not inappropriate. Stop the madness United. From birth until about the age of twelve that is mostly what is offered and purchased. I wasn’t there, but the PR team or person did United no favors with that twitter response. And to all you men responding leggings aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Where I live, many men wear Lululemon leggings and biker shorts etc. around town. Personally I do not like the look, at all. I mean I really don’t. But @Christiaan, like it or not Athleisure is big business and a very acceptable way to dress. It’s part of our lexicon. United should update their “contact of carriage” or whatever…

  16. Many staff on US carriers dress appallingly
    I was in Honolulu some months back and observed the flight crew of an American Airlines flight looks like they had rolled out of a haystack, masticating on gum and one had yellow marks under her wrinkled off white shirt
    Whilst boarding my flight ( on another carrier ) to LAX a nonrev behind me, wearing shorts and t-shirt was requested to go and change
    I’ve been in the business almost 30 years and will always dress smartly on standby
    Smart doesn’t mean a suit and tie

  17. In this Era of trump people should not expect decency. If the family was registered republican they should be told to eff off. I am sure they can overlook lack of decorum like they did in the last election.

  18. Looking at it, United’s policy for non-revs is antiquated and outdated. Along with the fact that while I get why they have a policy in place. At the end of the day, most people are not going to care or notice that they are non-rev passangers.
    @Martin: I’ve been on SWA flights and rarely do I see someone that dresses like your implying. Along with, most people when they fly are dressed for comfort. Some of these flights are long and we don’t want to feel uncomfortable while flying. Maybe try to understand how those other passengers instead of being quick to throw judgement on them.

  19. Terrible job by United. The gate agents should have been more discreet and the PR/social media staff should have gotten all the info on this situation before jumping the gun. On the leggings specifically, I think it depends. I usually wear legging on flights over three hours but always with a sweater that covers the rear and a scarf to dress it up a bit. I think it looks ridiculous to dress like you’re going to the gym or wearing a top so short you can see the outline of your underwear. I had to wear sneakers (cute Nikes but still, running shoes) last night as opposed to my usual ballet flats, boots, or slip-on sneakers, and I felt pretty silly. At least I didn’t change until right before boarding.

  20. All airlines should impose stricter dress codes on all passengers. If we can dress up for a nice dinner, work, or church, surely we can fly without flip flops, shorts, yoga pants, beer t-shirts, and pajamas.

  21. It’s very nice of you to give United the benefit of doubt and accept at their word that the girls involved were enjoying a fringe benefit via a relative who works for United, thus they had higher standards to uphold.

    However, please take 75 seconds to read the Star Tribune’s reporting:

    It mentions that a third, paying passenger, about 10, had to put on a dress before boarding. The reporter does say that it was unclear if the gate agent issued the same edict to the child’s family. It can be inferred by reasonable people that the family was made to feel obliged to cover up their child.

    And the spokesman spoke out of both sides of his mouth on this matter. Jonathan Guerin says that “If you are a customer and want to wear your yoga pants, welcome aboard.” But also said: “the gate agent would have had the discretion to decide whether [a paying passenger] was dressed properly before boarding.”

    It seems that he’s trying to pass this off as an issue with pass riders but his corporate double speak fools very few.

  22. If no men can comment on women’s clothing, then please… women… please stop commenting on men’s clothes. I’d welcome it.

  23. I have female friends who are FAs and I’ve seen them board wearing leggings but they looked like skinny jeans and not spandex gym wear. There’s a big difference. One can argue that the dress code is outdated but it’s not a secret to those who fly on passes. My Mom worked for AA for 20 years and when she and my Dad flew on passes they dressed up – Dad wore a sport coat (no tie) – complained like Hell but was glad to get the free ride……

  24. @ Sam I took 75 seconds and noticed this:

    But in general, for travelers who are not relatives of employees, Guerin said, “If you are a customer and want to wear your yoga pants, welcome aboard.”

    This is pretty straightforward. Pass travelers accept free/discounted tickets in exchange for a specific code of conduct and dress code. They (or rather the sponsoring employee) are told that if you accept the pass for free travel you will not wear X, Y, or Z because you are representing the airline’s brand. They showed up wearing Y and were told to change.

    If they were a paying passenger, they could wear whatever they please.

    The real shame is that most gate agents wouldn’t file any kind of complaint on a non-rev who quietly remedied their mistake. In this case, the sponsoring employee is almost certainly getting disciplined/fired for a straightforward policy violation.

  25. To the author, I really hope your other articles are a bit better researched. First of all they were 10 year olds. Second, They were on passes so not rev passengers. Lastly, let me repeat they were 10 year olds. As Patricia Arquette so beautifully put it, leggings are business attire for 10 year olds because their business is being children.

  26. @Billy I might’ve agreed with you, if it was 1965. But at this point, you need to realize that flying is available to everyone now. And the need to dress nicely is not necessary anymore. If I’m on a long flight, I want to be dressing for comfort as I don’t want to be sweaty, stuffy, or stiff when flying and when I arrive at my destination.

  27. Being a non-rev myself, I always look up specific rules of the airline I’m planning to fly on – especially in premium cabin. It isn’t that difficult. Besides that, I am usually traveling in a business casual attire, so I usually can’t go wrong. I see it as a privilege and I want to be properly dressed, be it only out of respect of my colleagues on board and the fellow passengers.

    Now, it could be argued what exactly is deemed appropriate and to what extent rules have to be specific, yet in this case it was apparently clearly stated. To be fair, not every airline (and gate agent at the end of the day) enforces rules equally strict. Still, these rules don’t exist just for fun.

    One thing to say though is that such a thing should usually be discussed discreetly, in order to prevent misunderstandings.

    And on a personal note, I don’t know why some people on social media have to constantly play social justice warrior without even knowing a thing.

  28. What’s unacceptable is a pass rider airing this disagreement in public. The gates authority in this is absolute and the decision is final. Hopefully it was a third-party who tweeted this.

  29. 99.5% of all women who wear spandex…..shouldn’t….100% of all men who wear spandex shouldn’t….My eyes would be offended and I might need another barf bag…flying these days is like seeing a Walmart video on people who go there…..

  30. @Christiaan: Keep your judgey eyes off the vagina outlines of your fellow travelers. Smug twat.

  31. So Dave gets his camel toe comment through but I can’t ask whether any photos of these women were published? The moderation on this page is BS.

  32. Why the **** are you looking between someone’s legs anyway? Jesus, keep your eyes on your phones, dummies. Or in a book, if you’re literate.

  33. Reading the majority of the comments here makes me very sad. How have we as a nation possibly sunk so low?

    Showing your bits and bobs and bulges is not appropriate, whether you’re ten or one hundred. And whether you’re male or female. For those of you saying “Well, it’s okay, because they were only ten…”: You are part of the problem. In fact, you likely gave birth to the problem.

    For those of you ready to jump on the racist bandwagon without even knowing the details: Please, please, grow up, get a life, take responsibility for your actions, and learn to stop playing the victim.

    For those of you saying non-revs don’t travel during peak travel times and holidays: You know absolutely nothing.

    For those of you ready and willing to tell the United agent what their job is and is not: Please mind your own business and let the underpaid and overworked airline agent do their job. You know less than nothing and it is not your place to comment on an employee trying to enforce the rules their employer dictates. If they let it slide they would likely be in hot water for not doing their job. But no, you don’t care about that, now do you? No. You’d rather turn it into some sort of social injustice situation.

    It all boils down to normal human decency and respect for others. Many reading this will not understand what I’m writing about. Which brings me back to point number one: How far we have sunk as a society.

  34. I agree with United. Their “pass” customers need to follow the rules which apply to their passes.

    I, for one, appreciate United’s efforts to ensure that there is a degree of decency in how their freebie passengers dress.

  35. I detect a serious lack of meaningful content with this offering.
    Maybe a followup about comfort animals in first class wearing leggings would be the best follow up for this filler.

  36. Dylan is right. This country is an lude and immodest. I’m sick of men wearing their pants at their knee showing off their underwear. I sent the winter in Italy (a country that knows about style and fashion) they dress to the nines and look dignified and respectful. We dress like we have given up on life in the US

  37. As a former airline brat who flew extensively on my father’s non-rev passes for years in college, we always had to be dressed professionally & arrive at the airport at least two hours early (non-rev seating counted went by check in time and seniority). If you wanted to make sure you were on a flight, first out in the morning was always best. The rule was dress like you were in first class, because sometimes that was the only seating left. It was easy to get bumped for paying passengers (understandable) OR if you weren’t dressed properly. It was a perk for flying for free or then $50 to Europe.
    They had a rule in the 70’s about wearing natural fibers in case there was an on board fire, synthetics melt to skin. Random, I know but it stuck with me all these years. I’m not sure if the no spandex rule is a hybrid of that or not. We may not always understand the rules, no pony tails for mechanics, after one was scalped when his pony tail got caught in the engine; but, at the end of the day it’s a perk and employees know the rules.
    This very scenario is why my dad never gave non-rev passes to anyone who wasn’t immediate family. I think the rules have become more lax over time (jeans, shorts) but there must have been something that triggered the employee to flag them. It is not a guaranteed seat and traveling with multiple people (especially younger kids) is not easy on Non-Rev, they could have paid the full price and worn whatever they wanted, or complied with the rules.

  38. For the benefit of all those decrying the gate agent’s sexism, and claiming how this would never happen to a male non-rev passenger, I’ll have you know that as a male, I have been denied boarding for ripped jeans and asked to put on dress pants. Surely you don’t deny that ripped jeans “are such a common and acceptable form of pants for [men] of all ages these days” and that I was “dressed like most young [boys] & [men] wear these days.”

    As a non-rev, we have a part in setting the tone of the cabin. Be glad you aren’t required to wear business formal for every single one of your free flights.

  39. For everyone offended about “camel toes, vaginas, bits, bobs and bulges”, have a look at the photo (if it’s still online) that was posted showing the little 10-year old girl. Surely when it comes to young kids the dress rules don’t apply? She was clean, neat and tidy and not offensive by any stretch of the imagination.

  40. @Nala- Exactly!!! As the father of an 8 year old who lives in leggings, this puzzles me. Just last week, she was able to board a Southwest flight from the same airport (DEN) to MCO in leggings. No one on the flight was scandalized and God didn’t smite the plane from the skies, though we were forced into a pre wifi 733. My guess is that there is more to the story than we are hearing from the busybody on the Mexico City flight. Perhaps they pissed off the gate agent, so she decreed that they dress like Duggars if they wanted to fly.

  41. Weird how there are all the references to Italy in the comments section. While I agree with United’s stance here given the passengers’ status as non-rev, dressing nicely sure isn’t saving Alitalia from another impending bankruptcy now, is it?

  42. Two points:

    1) Didn’t somebody go to BA’s 1st Class Lounge in Emirates’ pyjamas because he forget to change and left his new jeans on the plane?

    2) Is this issue one of “respect for other travellers” or is it “in face your face” for individual freedom?

    Personally, United was right and a lot of people are very selfish when they travel.

  43. @Christiaan needs an anatomy lesson. If he can “see the outline” of any woman’s vagina, there’s either an X-ray or ultrasound involved, or else she’s in need of emergency medical intervention.

    And about dressing up for a flight? Get a grip. Most airlines have transformed flying from something that used to be cool into a nightmare. We should at least have the right to wear comfortable clothes for 6+ hour flights in miserably cramped quarters beside smug, often smelly and unwashed fellow passengers with grumpy flight attendants. I couldn’t care less what anyone wears. I just wish people were in a better habit of bathing before a flight.

  44. Rules are Rules, they could pay for the tickets and wear the leggings. So sick of stuff like this making news, folks want stuff free and dictate the rules to get the free stuff clearly need more structure. I’ve seen many a young girl in public wearing leggings without anything covering their privates, it is totally inappropriate and my daughter would never be out in public like that.

  45. I am thrilled that United held firm to their non revenue passenger dress code. We have become a nation of wildly unattractive slobs. Never is this more apparent than when we get on a plane. It’s only a matter of time before Americans don’t bother to wear clothes at all when they go out. The foolish, tweeting woman should have minded her own %}## business!

  46. The original tweet to highlight what happened came from Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. I wonder if she sees the irony in someone whose own organization uses gender stereotyping front and center then complaining about perceived sexism.

  47. Dress code for people who don’t actually work for United but are given a free ride? Give up your freedom to dress the way you want for FREE AIRLINE tickets. What is United thinking? Maybe the best thing to do would be to STOP their policy of allowing people to ride for FREE. After all why should they expect anybody to conform to the dress code rules of the company when they don’t actually work for the company, even though they are being allowed to ride FREE?

  48. I’ve flown this route back in college when a family member worked for an airline. I was made to take off a nice t-shirt and put on a collared shirt. My question was, “why do they have this dress code when the ONLY time ANYONE will know they are flying non-revenue is the 2 minutes it takes for them to get a boarding pass?” No other passengers will know. The attendants on the flight will not know. Non-revenue passengers will be completely anonymous on the flight, except for the short moment they check in.

  49. United 100% right. Flew as non-rev for years. It used to be even stricter. The rules are very clear and UA as a private company can make up reasonable rules as they see fit. This is one of them.

  50. If you can’t follow the rules pay for your flight it’s that simple. I don’t see what all the fuss is about what a bunch of whiners. The world must be really bored that this is a popular story.

  51. Someone made the comment, “Those flying non-rev absolutely know the rules”. This is patently untrue. I am in Employee Relations for a major regional supporting several mainline carriers, and we investigate all manner of NRSA violations way too often, and many times from actual employees, and not relatives or other pass riders. If these children were indeed NRSA pass riders, yes, the UA employee should have known, or if in doubt, they should have asked for clarification. But to imply all NRSA travelers “absolutely know the rules”, is completely false.

  52. When a person flies NRSA, is there any way to distinguish them from a regular paid passenger just by looking at them? If the answer is no, then having any special rules applying to their clothing is ridiculous. United’s contention is that these NRSA flyers represent the airline, but if I can’t distinguish them from any other passenger, then why have any additional clothing restrictions at all?

    United, either make these flyers wear a button that says “I REPRESENT UNITED” or drop the additional restrictions. If your company feels that certain clothing is inappropriate, then it’s inappropriate for ALL passengers.

  53. Wow… Yes, theres a dress code to follow. My girlfriend’s sister work for an airline(not united) and I got a dirt cheap paid ticket via under the family name or something. I was told about the dress code. No big deal for me. United go the right to enforce this rule.

  54. PR disaster – why the headache? UA shouldn’t have opened this can of worms unless the woman was really scantily dressed or more than one other passenger complained

  55. Personally, as a woman, I find the leggings etc. distasteful to be worn anywhere but the gym and even there it can be disgusting. They are not pants people.
    They shouldn’t be allowed to fly if they cannot follow the dress code and refuse to change. It is a dress code for a reason.
    Now onto people who do wear the uniform for the airlines. Most of them look frumpy, don’t wear their head gear properly, look disheveled, wear crappy shoes with a lovely uniform. Need haircuts, walk around with their hands in their pockets, etc etc. Wear the uniform with pride not like you rolled out of bed a minute ago and got dressed in the dark.

  56. I can confirm as a non-revenue United business passenger that there is in fact a dress code that applies to all non-revenue passengers that are flying United on passes, for business with United, to and from United HQ for interviews, etc.

    When I flew on “space-positive” status with United, I was explicitly and expressly informed, and this is quoted from the email itself, “Your ticket is issued positive space business travel so we ask that when traveling you dress in business attire.”

    I see no reason this should not apply to passengers in space-positive travel situations when flying on the airlines dime.

  57. I am not flying United anymore. This is ridiculous. The girls are not employees. Those are not free passes, someone actually worked to earn them. Humiliating a couple of kids for using your stupid passes is unacceptable. If that is your policy then change it and adapt to a discrimination free era.

  58. Wish a follow up could be posted because, can almost guarantee the employee was fired due to the great friends or family that didn’t follow the rules. Reason: you should have told them and made it clear. Plus all this very negative exposure bestowed on the airline. Is it right? Don’t know, but rules are rules.

  59. I made a bet with myself on when the first post would appear from someone stating they would never fly United again.
    I am still awaiting the post from someone that says they need to see the pattern and color of the leggings in question before passing judgement.

    Everything old will be new again.

  60. Only a jerk or an idiot would say they’re not flying united anymore jack as if anyone cares. They were free passes the employees are paid in cash not tickets wake up and smell the coffee. United didn’t humiliate the kids, Shannon twats did by not minding her own business I mean cmon get a life

  61. If I am flying on ticket obtained with miles that’s a non-revenue ticket. Does that mean I can’t wear leggings?

  62. More businesses should follow United’s lead and not cave into Twitter bullying and busy bodies. All too often, we see someone with a verified Twitter account (which is now available to anyone who once wrote an article for a never-heard-of magazine) make a scene over something they heard second hand. Inevitably, the Twitterer leaves out facts, either mistakenly or purposely, and the story gets twisted with every re-tweet. The business under fire bends over backwards to make apologies when one isn’t necessary out of fear of losing customers. But the simple fact is that only a small percentage of Americans use Twitter. More significantly is that an even smaller percentage will actually change their buying habits because of a flash in the pan twitter storm. I’d like to know if the woman who tweeted about this incident rebooked on another airline or got on the plane. I’d also like to know how she got back to Denver. Did she cancel her return ticket? I read she lives in Denver, which is a United hub. Will she give up her United status or start flying Delta or American where she will have to connect every time she goes somewhere? Doubtful. I applaud United for standing by its policy. Companies need to start pushing back when people spread stories that are not true or missing facts.

  63. @ Claudia — No, because a mileage ticket is not a non-revenue ticket. The airlines make money off their mileage programs, and award passengers are rationally considered to be customers.

  64. @ claudia…why wouldn’t you want to dress appropriately regardless of your ticket? For the record, I think everyone should dress appropriately to travel. Comfy and appropriate can be one in the same, but men don’t fly wearing spandex pants, so I don’t understand why women insist upon wearing them….

  65. I’m assuming they were nonrev also and they should have been told of the dress code and that if they don’t follow it they could be denied boarding. If they weren’t advised by their family it’s unfortunate they had to go through that.
    As far as flying,yes,flights can be long especially international but there are many things you can wear that are comfortable but still look good and well presented. Actually I think getting dressed up a bit for flights is starting to become more popular again.
    Unfortunately a paid person that boards with flip flops short shorts and semi bra revealing attire is going to get judged differently than someone in say a cotton summer dress,scarf,and nice shoes or sandals. If they have a choice of any paid person to upgrade on the flight due maybe the flight is not very full—–you’d have a much better chance if you look nice. Same goes for getting doors held for you if you need help etc…

  66. I’m a male on American Airlines and I just got told to change my gym shirt and leggings before my flight. It actually surprises me that my same flight time 2 weeks ago from Orlando Fl to Washington D.C. allowed me to wear my grey leggings and grey tank top (no one denied me), and two weeks later wearing red leggings and a red gym shirt had them tell me I had to change. My age is 25. @astroatomic on instagram.

  67. Disagree the entire “dress code” is specifically designed to regulate women’s bodies. Mues. You van argue that the footwear, underwear, and ripped clothing might also apply to men, but we all know they don’t. Pull up your pants is about the extent of it.

    The code is specifically geared to ensuring that women are denied their bodies or their sexuality, objectifying them as if their presentation is display for the purposes of exciting or entertaining YOU rather than expressions of their own personality, desires, or comfort.

    Employers are not better suited to this requirement when its entire goal is suppression of women’s choice and autonomy. How is this different than requiring a burkha? What level of “covered” do you think it is acceptable for you to impose on someone else, where it applies only when that “someone” is actually a woman or a girl or when that body is female?

    Nice of you to conveniently leave out that the man I front of them was wearing shorts.

  68. Americans should learn how to dress nice for flying, period. Tired of the sweatpants/flip flops mentality while flying. When you fly in other countries people are dressed so much nicer.

  69. @ Jenn — Welcome to OMAAT! You might want to read our post about how this story is being misrepresented in the press:

    The man mentioned in this story was 1) a paying passenger so what he was wearing isn’t at all relevant, and 2) wearing shorts, which had he been on a staff ticket would still have been allowed. This isn’t about choice and autonomy, other than your choice to fly on a free ticket with a dress code, or a paid ticket without one.

    And, because we are trying to examine this thoroughly and thoughtfully, here are our thoughts on how the employee policy could definitely be modernized:


    At 7:30am THIS morning my 18 year old daughter was traveling back to college alone and was “denied” boarding on a United flight because she was wearing Lulu Lemon leggings
    (Athletic wear that is spandex)/College Sweatshirt/clean Converse sneakers.

    The “very nice” gate agent told her spandex isn’t part of the dress code and you can’t board if you’r wearing them. She ALSO said if you have another outfit that is within the dress code we’d be “HAPPY” to let you board!

    Unfortunately, my daughter had just checked all her luggage and had no other clothes in her backpack.

    My daughter was traveling alone as a ‘3rd Party Pass” rider as I work for “ANOTHER major airline”.

    I asked to talk to the gate agent on my daughters phone and she was “extremely nice and helpful” and explained the spandex issue in the dress code. She offered to have my daughters bags pulled so she could change.

    **I had read the dress code for her the night before when buying her a “pass” ticket for United. I didn’t think much of it as she always dresses nice and is used to “our dress code for main cabin and first class travel”.

    The gate agent went out of her way to get my daughters bags back so she could grab a pair of jeans. My daughter… bless her heart, ran down to baggage claim, grabbed her bags that the ramp agent found, changed her clothes, re-checked her bags at the ticket counter, went thru security again and ran to the gate to make the boarding time and get back to school.


    As an Airline employee and a “3rd party” pass rider I am “grateful for our privileges” and in no way fault the gate agent. She was just doing her job and following the rules. It’s all there in black and white for you to read when you are booking. My airline actually makes you agree to the rules and regulations on line when you sign up for the pass.

    I am just so thankful that the gate agent was nice and went out of her way to get my daughter back to school safe and sound. It was a bump in the day but lesson learned!!

  71. United has actually loosend the dress code over the years. When I worked as a gate agent in the early ’80s our informal guideline at my airport was ” church clothes”. (That, of course, would no longer apply in most houses of worship now.)
    Some of the non-rev dress code was different if you wanted to ride in First. I would quietly ask a stand-by if they had clothes with them that they could change into to
    comply with the code if I thought we would have an F seat for them.

    I think that dressing properly is also a sign of respect towards the customers who are paying to be on that aircraft and who are paying our salaries. Later on in my airline career I had to do a lot of revenue travel all over the world. I was on the plane either going to work or coming home. I think that having a non-rev dress code of proper dress can help encourage proper decorum.If someone is paying for a ticket with money or miles they can pretty much dress as they please. That probably doesn’t endear them to their seat mate or the cabin, but as long as their various bits and pieces are covered there is not much that can be done. Most airline employees fiercely protect their pass privileges. I would never let anyone travel alone on my passes.I worked too hard to get them!

    One thing that I do consider when dressing to fly is are the clothes going to help or protect me in case of an emergency. One person commented on the flammability of
    fabrics. Accidents can be survivable and you need to be able to move and get out fast. The dude in a tank top, cutoffs and flip-flops could be toast before he could “jump and sit”. And, if he did go down the slide, his legs could be hamburger from the devices to slow you at the end of the slide.

    As a reply to a previous comment. You can usually see who the non-revs, SAs, and sublos are in the gate room. They are the ones properly dressed.

  72. Old Lady Pilot,

    Very well said.
    I’m glad you brought up the idea of being dressed for safety as well.

  73. A lot has been said about how people used to “dress up” for travel. That is true…but the airlines also used to give people adequate room between seats, meals, free luggage, the ability to choose your seats etc. People also used to wear hats and gloves while walking down the street. Times change. So its a false comparison to use that as the reason why people should dress better for travel. I don’t think any of us (unless you are travelling in 1st or business class) can really compare today’s airline travel to church or a nice dinner. Even if you were dressed in a ball gown or tux you are still sitting in 18 inches of space, after being treated like cattle through airport security.

    That being said, if you are traveling on a ticket that you received for free/highly reduced fair in exchange for following certain regulations, then you need to comply with those regulations (and make sure the others in your party who are travelling under those same benefits comply with them as well). There is no such thing as a free lunch. If you want to wear ripped shorts, mid-driff top, and flip flops then pay for your ticket like any other revenue passenger.

  74. I agree. Obviously that woman should have been wearing a full burkah. Maybe with an extra hijab thrown over the top for extra prophylactic protection. Actually, now that I think about it, women shouldn’t even be allowed out of the house without every male in their village accompanying them.

  75. As a passenger, I have no way of telling the difference between a rev and non-rev so having an arbitrary dress code for passengers of one type who are entirely indistinguishable from passengers of another type is just ASKING for this type of trouble.

  76. Well, at least they didn’t let her board and then drag her off the plane and beat her up.

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