United’s Leggings Fiasco: The False Narrative Needs To Stop

Filed Under: Media, United

If you’ve been on a plane or under a rock, you might have missed the story of the two young women who were denied boarding a United flight from Denver to Minneapolis yesterday. I get that manufactured outrage and hot takes are a way of life in 2017. I don’t love it.

The news cycle is driven by these stories, and outlets often have no choice but to participate in the frenzy or be left behind. I mean, I really would rather be spending my day writing my overdue report on Swiss First (sneak peek: it was amazing, and they had fondue onboard), but even here at OMAAT we’re being inundated with questions about this story.

Which wouldn’t even be a story, if folks could acknowledge that they might not have had all the facts initially, and would stop perpetuating a false narrative and witch hunt. Just as United apologized for their initial tweets, Shannon Watts and others should retract theirs, or at the very least recognize that they didn’t have their facts straight.

And as so often happens, the more attention this story gets, the murkier the facts become, and the details are obscured by sensationalism.

Sadly, the facts of the matter aren’t even that complicated, and it seems that certain individuals are avoiding the facts in order to further their own narrative.

I can’t believe we as a nation are still talking about leggings, but this story seems to be picking up steam rather than going away. If you’re over this story please skip this post — I certainly won’t be offended. If you’re surprised to hear that there were two young women denied boarding, not three, and that they were on employee tickets, not paid tickets, and that the rules are thus different… well — this post is for you.

What actually happened?

Matthew at Live and Let’s Fly did a brilliant job summarizing the timeline, which I’ll just recap briefly here, with some formatting emphasis:

  • A group of three United Airlines pass riders (family/friends of an employee) were attempting to travel from Denver (DEN) to Minneapolis (MSP) on UA215, leaving at 7:55AM
  • Gate agent noted that two of the pass riders (teenage girls) were wearing leggings, in violation of United’s pass rider dress code policy
  • United’s dress code for non-rev flyers states “form-fitting lycra/spandex tops, pants and dresses” are prohibited
  • The girls were asked to change clothes in order to board the flight
  • Another family, traveling as revenue (paid, not pass riders) customers was in line to speak to the gate agent and witnessed the incident
  • Their young daughter was wearing leggings
  • They were unaware that the dress code was only for pass riders and assumed the policy applied to them too
  • The family had a dress for the young girl in their hand baggage and placed it on her, without consulting with the pass riders or the gate agent
  • Another passenger (Shannon Watts), traveling on a different United flight witnessed part of the incident and tweeted about it, accusing United of being sexist against women
  • She quoted the agent as stating, “I don’t make the rules, just follow them”
  • United’s Twitter team responded promptly, defending the action of the gate action and referencing the §21 of the company’s Contract of Carriage, stating that passengers can be denied boarding for being “barefoot or not properly clothed”.
  • The tweet and United’s response went viral
  • United soon realized that the two women denied boarding were pass riders and confirmed that via Twitter
  • The family with the little girl traveled to Minneapolis as planned on UA215
  • The two pass riders traveled on a later flight to Minneapolis

So ultimately, two humans traveling on free staff/employee passes were not compliant with the terms of their travel agreement. They were asked to change clothes so as to adhere to the dress code.

That’s a reasonable request by the gate agent — they are responsible for enforcing corporate policies.

The fact that this happened in earshot of a paying group of customers, who then felt compelled to have their daughter change is problematic.

But it’s outrageous to say United is engaged in discriminatory wardrobe polices towards their customers. They could, however, revisit the policy and see if their non-rev policy is sexist, as Ben and I tend to think.

The media reaction is ridiculous

We understand better than most how easily things can be mangled and taken out of context (anyone who was reading in the summer of 2015 will know what I’m referencing), so I have some sympathy for the well-written stories that were given sensationalist titles. But these are the kinds of headlines going around:

  • United Airlines barred 2 women from boarding a flight after a gate agent decided they were dressed inappropriately [New York Times]
  • One girl, around age 10 or 11, was told she could not board the plane because she was wearing leggings [Teen Vogue]
  • Here’s the Reason a Group of Girls Wearing Leggings Weren’t Allowed to Board a United Airlines Flight [Glamour]
  • United Airlines bars girls in leggings from boarding flight, citing mysteriously strict dress code [Jezebel]

And on and on and on.

Keep in mind, of course, that no 10-year old was hassled. The parents of the 10-year old overheard the conversation between the gate agent and the non-revs, and had their daughter change on their own initiative. The only mainstream reporter I’ve seen state this clearly is, unsurprisingly, AvGeek Extraordinaire Jon Ostrower at CNN. And Snopes gets it right, as usual.

Nearly everyone else needs to stop, update, and in many cases retract their commentary.

Shannon Watts is even more ridiculous

hate calling someone out directly, but in this case I think it’s warranted. Shannon was the bystander at the Denver airport, and essentially manufactured this drama with a series of increasingly polarizing tweets. Despite the apologies and clarification from United, and the insights from hundreds of people who have flown on staff travel passes or interacted with non-revenue flyers, Shannon has maintained her rancor and unbridled antagonism towards United.

After a day of reflection, she went so far as to publish a post on Medium once again condemning United for “sexualiz[ing] teenage girls” and placing “an undue burden on…female customers.” Not only does she refuse to acknowledge that these were not customers, she ends by shaming everyone involved for paying attention to her dramatic tale, rather than focusing on the other important issues she champions. The hypocrisy and intransigence is stunning.

She also continues to push the false equivalence of a man (whom she sometimes claims was the father of the teenage non-revs, but others say the only dad involved was that of the 10-year old paying passenger), wearing shorts — which are specifically allowed for everyone:

And the continued insistence that the leggings issue is a customer-service problem is flabbergasting (I agree that United’s initial response was not customer-friendly, but this was hours later):

We could go point by point through her tweets and interviews all day to fact-check (even though she has now blocked both Ben and me), but the underlying problem is this: Shannon is either purposely misrepresenting the facts, or lacks the basic comprehension required to understand the difference between things like employees vs. customers, or shorts vs. leggings.

What bothers me the most is that she is deflecting all criticism as “mansplaining,” “sexism,” and “misogynist,” even when it comes from other women (though I don’t think that should matter).

And I get that instinct, I really do. Being a woman is tough, and being a Woman On The Internet can be impossibly difficult sometimes. A lot of the criticism out there is gender-driven, and can be horribly mean. But rejecting facts and thoughtful feedback isn’t helpful — not for this story, or for discussing inequities in general.

I’m beginning to suspect that this is a case where to a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and facts that don’t fit a certain narrative are just going to be dismissed. Which is unfortunate for everyone.

Is there a valid point buried in all this?

Of course, and there nearly always is. Airlines sometimes (or often) have policies that need to be addressed and changed — the nonsense with British Airways not allowing their female flight attendants to wear trousers is an example of the kind of sexist BS I’ve called out here in the past. Ben also did a lengthy post earlier on how some elements of the dress code policy may be sexist, and I’d suggest reading that if you haven’t already.

But the hysterical sensationalism is out of control.

While it’s possible that United will update their non-rev dress code as a result of this cluster, it’s an almost certainty that at least two employees were reprimanded today, and a third might be losing their travel benefits. That’s just so unnecessary for a situation that could have been easily remedied if it hadn’t been blown out of proportion by people who had no clue what they were talking about.

Could United have done better?

Oh, abso-freaking-lutely. United has historically had the worst social media team of any U.S. airline, but it’s a tough gig. Employee performance is based on response time, airlines generally suck at training their customer-facing staff, and it was early on a Sunday morning. None of that is an excuse, but anyone who has ever had a job should be able to understand how this kind of mistaken response could be given.

Seth summed it up well, I think:

Of course, by the time the crisis communications people were called in, it was too late, and Twitter was assembled with torches and pitchforks ready to #BoycottUnited or some such. United’s Tweets continued to fall a bit short, and made it seem like customers were also subject to dress code rules, but their full statement is very clear.


If United’s eventual response had been their first response, (or if the original employee had said a simple “Hmm, let us look into it!”), we could have all spent our time doing something less ridiculous.

Bottom line

I see non-revenue passengers asked to follow different rules nearly every time I fly — you probably do too. Nothing about two non-revs being asked to change clothes and/or take a later flight is shocking or newsworthy or even interesting to anyone with an ounce of perspective.

Thoughts? Feel free to join the fun on Twitter as well!

  1. Thanks for the post Tiff. And I read Matt’s posts too on his blog. All are spot on. Keep calm and ignore Shannon Watts.

  2. Tiffany not all bloggers have to report the same news, you wasted your time on this, now where is your Swiss F report that is more important.

  3. So, United definitively said that revenue passengers may wear whatever they choose? Did they set a definitive line in the CoC if not?

  4. This is one of the great problems with instant news (or social media). Stories grow legs before facts can be reported and then they go viral. To me this is a non-issue. Follow the rules and there isn’t a problem.

    Unfortunately people like Shannon will continue posting as if they are spreading facts and the truth will be hard for regular people to read.

    This is a huge social issue in the world right now. 24/7/365 doesn’t allow facts to be gathered. 140 characters doesn’t allow fully thought out statements.

    It’s a shame for United but it’s part of our world culture now that people want to chirp about every and anything they make into an issue.

  5. You just said what most rational and sane people were thinking. I watched as this spiraled out of control all day yesterday. And yes, both sides could have done a better job in disseminating information or even retracting. There are rules for non-revs that we have all seen which it appears this group did not adhere to. Hopefully this article clears the air and even puts and end to the false narrative.

  6. I love it. Love the drama and love the bad rap for United. They are a piece of trash airline and this reinforces that fact. This is just another example of how they can’t control any messaging. Think about Polaris. They’ve announced a new product that won’t be out for years. Anyone who would set foot on their planes is an idiot.

  7. As a non rev pass rider I’ve never felt discriminated against. It’s a privilege not a right (as my momma used to say) and you can be damn sure we had a change of clothes in case we were able to be accommodated in first instead of coach. It was just the rules of the road – and if they think the rules are bad now it used to be no jeans and no shirts without a collar!

  8. lel saying united has the worst team. If five minute response times and ability to do basically anything I need is the worst, then I would be interested to see the sort of pixie dust other airlines have.
    Oh, and always gotta play the sexist card. Not surprised, but just another reason I wish lucky didn’t have trash contributors.

  9. I don’t care who is traveling. UAL is not the fashion police.
    If they did that to my daughter, they would suffer the wrath
    Of god and he would smite them mightily.

  10. I posted a similar comment on Matthew’s blog, and I’ll say it again here. “Facts” don’t matter to the likes of Shannon Watts. Pushing “the cause” and scoring cheap political points does. You are in the right here, but unfortunately, it’s not going to make a difference. (I now sit back and patiently wait for the call to boycott my website because I’m insufficiently sympathetic to the false narrative…)

  11. You are absolutely right Tiff.

    Though it was BA blogs that (briefly) initially reported this without knowing about the nonrev fact, contributing to the hysteria. Though Lucky was among the first to clue into it.

  12. None of this addresses why United feels the need for non-rev passengers to adhere to a company dress code. If I were walking through the cabin, I couldn’t tell who had paid for their ticket based on their clothing choices.

    Does United think that it cheapens their brand to have women in leggings onboard? Would others be less likely to fly United if the friends and families of employees wore flip-flops?

    I’m not trying to stir the pot, or argue about United’s right to make dress code rules for those flying on benefits, just wondering why those rules are in place.

  13. @ Jon — If your daughter was attending a function with a dress code, or you were provided with a free ticket for her in exchange for adherence to a dress code, would you (as a clearly protective parent), not make sure she understood the restrictions?

  14. Wow I miss the days of 3-4 major TV news organizations (and newspapers) run by professionals with reputations at stake. Instead, now everyone has an opinion, and while I respect that, the internet has given anyone a voice that, IMHO, isn’t necessarily worth hearing. It reminds me of Yelp. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to get restaurant advice from professional food critics (Michelin, or the old Zagat) than from the crowd. I once thought that the internet would become the vehicle that uncovered the truth. Instead, there is now so much “truth” that there is no truth any longer. 🙁

  15. @ igor — Lots of companies have rules for employees, and many of them are dress code-related. I worked for one America’s “best companies to work for,” and even there men were required to wear suits and ties, women were required to wear hosiery (even in summer). No one was allowed to wear denim of any sort, regardless of their role.

    Some of those policies evolved over time and with employee input. I think many of these things will go away as a younger generation moves into leadership roles. But it’s not like it’s only “a thing” at United.

  16. Thank you toffany. I was justing thinking the same thing. Sad to see see an activist ironically not doing the right thing

  17. Employers and employee benefits have rules that must be followed. Not the same issue but just an example: Cam Newton was dressed very well but was fined for not wearing a tie traveling back from an away game. Follow the rules or suffer the penalty applies to many employer/employee situations.

    The other solution to the problem with United is to not offer passes to family members. How would that go over? In fairness to the people not dresses in accordance to the rules, I have not heard they put up a fuss. Good for them. It has been the others who were not directly impacted.

  18. Another great post Tiffany. Thanks for summarizing.

    Now contemplating whether to wade into this mess on Twitter and see if I too get blocked by Shannon.

  19. I have multiple concerns about this incident and instant media. As a frequent pass rider who has had the opportunity to travel the world on buddy and family benefits I am grateful, as are all of the pass riders I know, for this benefit. I love the benefits I receive from my daughter and my friends; I have been to Egypt, Morocco, Thailand, Spain, and France and multiple other places I could have never afforded for pennies on the dollar. I got bitten once for the dress code, flip flops in Hawaii, and changed my shoes. It was my fault. I actually had forgotten that one.

    The fact that media sources picked up this story without first checking the facts concerns me and that news sources gave credence to the first tweet and the following tweets by uninformed Hollywood personalities amazes me.

    I am very concerned about the fallout from inaccurate reporting and sensationalism. I see it all of the time where I work and witness how our agency hyper reacts when media is involved and the employees are always the ones to take the fall. The airlines have media policies and employees can’t respond in the news however I have seen a few comment sections where hundreds of employees are siding with United’s policies by “liking” the comments supporting the airline’s policy. But the general public doesn’t see that.

    Thanks for the great post.

  20. I agree with what you said, but media articles on both sides keeps this story going. Even if it was true, not worth the electrons

  21. These two things can be true at the same time:

    1. The United gate agent was following the dress code for pass flyers; and

    2. The dress code for pass flyers as it pertains to leggings is dumb, sexist and United deserves criticism for it.

  22. I mean, has anyone followed Shannon when it comes to Gun rights, laws and statistics? She has made it a career to misrepresent facts. This should not be surprising.

  23. Tiffany, why are you even wasting your breath and energy on this Shannon character. It’s not worth your efforts. As the brilliant Adam Carolla says, she’s either stupid or a liar. Move on….

  24. @igor : it doesn’t matter one bit *why* UA thinks they need a dress code. A buddy pass is a privilege that the airline has the right to impose restrictions with it. The airline certainly doesn’t OWE anyone the right to a buddy pass. The only question is the legality of the restriction, in which there is nothing illegal.

    And for all those holier than thou fashion police out who are too politically correct to have proper attire but too cheap to pay for a cash ticket, please go fly another airline. More empty middle seats for me. You can take your leeching elsewhere.

  25. Sexuality is not something to be ashamed of. I would like to see Shannon watts in leggings with her daughters.

  26. I strongly disagree. What was not mentioned here is that the gate agent has a certain amount of discretion. If these were adult women, enforcing the dress code might conceivably be understandable, though it is still sexist. To deny two young girls wearing these items of clothing, was a huge fail on the part of the gate agent. So the whole line of defense for the gate agent not doing anything wrong, only following the rules is ludicrous.

    And United has only itself to blame for getting criticism, because this is not their first PR nightmare by a long shot. The airline’s management has been notorious for being assholes ever since they were outed for breaking guitars:


  27. Shannon is a clown who should mind her own business. She stuck her nose in where it didn’t belong. She wasn’t a part of the situation and had no facts yet goes on some rant about something that A. Doesn’t affect her and B. She isn’t a part of.

    Do yourself a favor Shannon, MYODB!

  28. This was not necessarily sexist. The rules about not wearing gym clothes apply to men as well. I once saw a man at the gate (regular pax, not employee) wearing gym shorts with his junk hanging out. Would you like to sit in that seat after he did?

  29. Shannon Watts is the problem. Didn’t she learn proper manners? Don’t gossip and spread unverified falsehoods about others. Learn to admit when you’re wrong and apologize. She does a dis-service to herself and all the other causes she champions.

  30. Great post Tiffany. Fully agree with everything you said! Unfortunately these kind of things we see more and more ………

  31. Right on. I hate it when social police wannabes create fake controversy where none previously existed. Get a real cause Shannon. If she hadn’t overheard something she knew nothing about, none of this would be news.

  32. Nothing better than media/blog entries telling everyone else that more media/blog coverage of a story is misguided and coverage is not warranted.

    The story has now grown legs and the illegal snakes involved will fuel it further.

    Unknown sources also hint at possible terrorist motives.

    run story run.

  33. I feel like the gate agents made the biggest mistake in not handling this situation in a more discreet and private manor. The other pax should not have known of this situation. The social media response only made the situation worse.

  34. I flew non-rev when married to my ex-wife: Always had to wear collared shirt and khakis when flying. Once tried to board wearing sandals-BIG MISTAKE! Luckily had some boat shoes in my carry-on bag or would not have been allowed to board. Why is this policy sexist if applied equally? It was very frustrating to what twitter yesterday knowing in all likelihood this was a non-rev issue. Especially frustrating to see news organizations pining to interview OP within minutes of her post and without trying to fact-check

  35. It boils down to the fact that in today’s digital world of immediacy, companies must train employees to handle responses appropriately or risk this type of PR fiasco. There will always be a Shannon Watts waiting to jump in, whatever their motivation.

  36. GREAT article, 100% sums up my feelings. Of course the aviation community and/or former airline employees get it. Still, thank you for the very clear and logical summary. Hope this post gets more visibility.

  37. I agree United can do a dress code- however the shorts rule is bullshit. 3 inches above the knee is not allowed? Well, that rules out every pair of shorts sold to women, specifically young women. That policy is incredibly sexist. No spandex is also very obviously targeted at women only. Dress codes are pretty much 99% sexist, always. Shoes are the one thing I can think of that can be actually applied equally. That’s not uniteds fault, but they could do some good coming out of this and update their dress codes, and maybe other places will too after seeing what happened. If that happens, I’ll be forever grateful to this Shannon person.

  38. While I agree with United, I have to ask about their lack of policy adherence a few months ago when it came to that female United Airline’s pilot that was allowed to board the plane to actually pilot the plane when she didn’t even have a uniform on and was apparently having a mental breakdown of some sort. They closed the door and still allowed her to have her little “speech” to the passengers before THE PASSENGERS started asking them to open the door so they could get off the plane. Where was United’s so called policies then???? The gate agents allowed this pilot to board the plane putting the lives of the passengers in potential danger.

  39. I’m sorry, but United is right in stopping the girl’s travels. They could have handled it better, as you point out ( the tweets, not the boarding denial); Shannon Watts is following her own agenda and obviously doesn’t care about the facts of the situation.
    Workout clothes, leggings, etc. are not allowed on pass riders of either sex. So how is that sexist? I presume that bicycle shorts are excluded, too, based on the rules. If they want to give me free passes, I’ll be glad to wear khakis and a button down shirt or whatever…

  40. LOL I’d love to see Shannon Watts try to take on Tiffany in a mudslinging match of words. You go Tiffany!

  41. Thanks for taking the fall for us Tiffany. All these guys egging you on won’t put their names and faces to their real thoughts in real life, only here behind a facade of anonymity.

    Let’s see them wade into the twitter controversy and support you.

  42. Well done, Tiffany! This was a well-written and (in my opinion) balanced perspective on a situation that really was a non-situation until it became headline click bait.

  43. You’ve put all my feeling in writing about this far betting that I ever could. Wonderful piece, thank you for taking the time.

  44. I saw yesterday that this story would have legs. Sorry, had to use that one.
    United is suffering because of the compounding of a bunch of little mishandling situations.
    Gate Agent. Probably a little too aggressive in policing company policy.
    Twitter Team. Too quick to defend and reply without knowing whole story.
    Corporate Response. Ignoring situation and focusing on telling people how legging are OK, if you’re a rev passenger.

    Is the news cycle blowing this out of proportion? I knew that when it was a story on CNBC this afternoon. However, it is a story that is interesting to watch, even if not blown out of proportion.
    For those who are sensationalizing it for whatever purpose, what can you do but try to put out the real story for those who will listen.

  45. @tony
    the issue is that the non rev dress code is not sexist. I have denied non-rev men wearing gym sweats, and both sexes wearing flip flops. That example was just showing that a revenue pax can wear anything they want.

    That said, either the UA agent should have been more discreet in denying boarding, or the 2 girls made a fuss that spilled over into the revenue pax audience. The dress codes are not onerous. They apply to both genders. If you want to wear leggings then buy a ticket

  46. As much as I hate United, I 100% support them to keep these people off the flight.

    I’ve flown non-rev many times on many different airlines. The terms and conditions have always been clear, and it’s always been communicated to me that there was a dress code involved. “Business Casual” is how the various airline employees have communicated this to me, which makes sense.

    Sadly, there isn’t any reputable news source in the USA anymore. I say that, having worked in broadcast TV/radio news many moons ago. Even sadder, is that most of the people who work in “news” organizations today don’t understand the difference between news and commentary/opinion. I’d say about 95% of “news” reporting today is commentary, not news. I see so much piss-poor reporting today; much of it would have gotten you sacked from my job.

  47. While I agree with Tiffany’s points on how this story has been badly misrepresented in the media, and that the “social justice warriors” are (as they are wont to do) overreacting, there’s another aspect to this that I haven’t really seen addressed: why are these policies necessary at all?

    The explanation I’ve seen is “non-revs represent the company”.

    But here’s the thing: they don’t.

    To the passengers, there’s no way to tell a non-rev traveling on a pass apart from anyone else on the plane. Back when non-revs had to wear collared shirts and no jeans, they’d stand out a bit by the way they were (over)dressed, especially in summer, but since the rules have been relaxed somewhat, they don’t stand out too much. It isn’t like they have the airline’s logo tattooed on their forehead or something.

    Now you can make the argument that the non-rev employees themselves should dress “business casual” in the (unlikely) event of some sort of emergency where they may be called on to assist the crew, but even then the logic doesn’t hold up that well. I don’t think that if someone tells people “I’m an off-duty employee, here’s what you should do”, they’re going to think “well, she sounds knowledgeable, but she’s wearing yoga pants, so she can’t know what she’s talking about.”

    A lot of this is just driven by people who want to go back to the days where men wore suits and women wore dresses, hats, and gloves to get on a plane. As long as the clothing renders one safe from arrest for indecent exposure, it should be good enough.

  48. @ CraigTPA — And that’s a fair discussion, and plays into what Ben was saying in his post earlier. Lots of companies have outdated policies for their employees, but it doesn’t seem like this is an effective way to go about changing them.

  49. First ones to take the blame should be journalists. They reported the complaint as fact before doing diligent fact checking to find out that these people were travelling on non-revenue friends and family passes, where some degree of dress code is almost universal among airlines.

    I am no fan of United, but in this case, there was a pretty unfair damage to their reputation. How many people trashed them on social media all weekend, before the true story came out? Although yes, gate agents have discretion, when you travel non-rev, and are basically only paying the taxes, you have a responsibility.

    Employee/Friends/Family dress codes have relaxed a lot in recent years. I grew up in an airline family and even as a kid 20-30 years ago, I remember having to wear dress shoes and smart pants. Now, even jeans and sneakers are allowed. But, that being said, there is still a regulation.

    Unfortunately, the employee is the one to ultimately take the blame for this.

  50. I don’t know who this Shanon idiot is, but who the f*ck cares what they say?

    You are only contributing to the degradation of what now passes for “media” (and critical thinking) by keeping any attention on this. Don’t feed the troll. Don’t be a troll. Don’t be an idiot. Move on. Jeez…

  51. @CraigTPA – Nonrev standbys can sit in First or Business if they list accordingly, or if that’s the only seats left. Can you imagine paying $5000 or more for a first class ticket and seeing a sloppily dressed person, bare feet, complaining to the staff, acting out, and then you find out they are on staff travel and basically paid nothing? It’s a poor representative of the airline and who they hire. This doesnt have to be an issue. Travel non-rev, abide the rules.

  52. “Shannon is either purposely misrepresenting the facts, or lacks the basic comprehension required to understand the difference between things like employees vs. customers, or shorts vs. leggings.”

    What’s the difference between shorts and leggings in this context? It’s not obvious to me.

  53. @ Matt — The policy allows shorts (for all on staff travel passes), it doesn’t allow leggings (for any on staff travel passes).

    The people attacking United also keep screaming that “The dad was allowed to board wearing shorts,” as though to prove gender discrimination. The facts that 1) shorts are allowed for pass travel and 2) Dad was a revenue passenger who would have been allowed to board regardless, are lost on them.

  54. United messed up. This post is messed up too.

    Delta won the twitter battle:

    “Delta ✔@Delta
    Flying Delta means comfort. (That means you can wear your leggings. )”

  55. United and Tiffany messed up.
    Yay Delta for its tweet:
    Delta ✔@Delta
    Flying Delta means comfort. (That means you can wear your leggings. )

  56. With respect, I think Tiffany, United and most comments are missing the point. United are essentially saying that women can wear leggings if they want but United staff will probably judge us socially inept if we do. This is not about leggings. This is about a mass-market company being seen to judge its customers. That’s a bad business decision. A reasonable number of passengers – particularly women – will react negatively to the thought that United staff may judge them for how they dress for a flight regardless of whether we would wear leggings or not. Being judged on how we look or dress can be a flash point for a significant number of women.

    This is a story about people not wanting to be judged for how they look or dress, not one about what is or is not allowed. And United are giving no indication that they understand that.

    Someone says many restaurants have dress codes. But the better comparison is a hotel. These days, as much as possible airlines sell the fiction of your own private space. That is consistent with encouraging casual clothes like you would wear at home with friends and not smart clothes you might need in a restaurant. Now in economy that privacy might be a fiction but I believe that the correct marketing strategy is to reinforce the fiction not undermine it. But in business the concept of a personal space (albeit with certain obvious limits) is paramount.

    If nothing else there’s a story here about a very weak grasp of marketing and social media handling.

  57. Shannon has shown repeatedly that she is a very repugnant person. I have read enough on her dealings with others to see she cares very little for actual facts. She thrives on blowhard, sensationalized soundbites and will jump at ANY opportunity to get the spotlight on her. Unfortunately logic, reason and fact are the real victims when she opens her mouth.

    It is utterly baffling to me she is not called out more on her disingenuous bullshit but as was mentioned above she goes out of her way to make an echo chamber by refusing to have an intellectual debate and blocking anyone who does not parrot her sentiments on social media.

  58. The media frenzy is what it is and anyone with half a brain and the ability to use a search engine can see the real story here which is pretty much a non-story.
    In my view, what makes the whole thing so absurd is the nonsense that non-rev off duty employees somehow represent the airline. How in any logical way do they do this? Rules either have a basis or they are stupid. These are stupid. Passengers on a flight have no idea how much their fellow travellers have paid for their tickets or on what basis they are travelling. A dress code over and above that which is expected of any passenger is just an arbitrary method for the employer to have control, where no control is necessary. It’s old fashioned, pointless and should be removed.
    Am I going to judge an airline because an off duty employee wears something informal when going on vacation or am I going to judge them by their punctuality, safety, level of service given by uniformed on duty staff and professionalism?

  59. If United cared so much about how their employees represented their brand, why don’t they train their flight attendants to be less terrible at their jobs? Hmmmmm…

  60. @Jack – You completely missed the point. As @CraigTPA mentioned:

    “… As long as the clothing renders one safe from arrest for indecent exposure, it should be good enough.”

    More or less implying, dressed appropriately which does NOT necessarily mean business casual. To your comment of “…sloppily dressed person, bare feet, complaining to the staff, acting out…”, what difference does it make if they are rev or non-rev? It’s equally inappropriate either way. Regardless, unless specifically told, in today’s world, you would never be able to recognize a rev vs non-rev passenger. I think you could formulate an opinion if someone is more likely a rev vs miles redeeming passenger, but ultimately you’d never know.

    @Andrew – Non-rev family and friends are not representatives of the company as much as UA (or insert your airline) wants to believe. They are more a representative of that specific employee, similar to your child’s behavior is more links to yourself as a parent instead of the company you work for. You mention Cam Newton, and your example is terrible. Cam Newton is truly the employee in your scenario, not a third party (family/friend). Employees I do feel are held to a higher standard and of course would be best suited to know policy in order to follow. Their family and friends? Not as much and typically shouldn’t be held to the same (ridiculously strict for this day and age) policy.

    @Tiffany – While I don’t agree with the false narrative brought about by the story, it unfortunately takes events like this to really get the ball moving on examining silly policies such as this. What’s more bothersome is that the media didn’t decide to fully fact check/information gather and rather the strong desire to be the first to report partial truths and news. This can be said for Shannon, UA, bloggers, and other media outlets; everyone failed. It can be extremely dangerous and is socially irresponsible as many come to media sources they deem trustworthy (ie: The Garuda award sale some months back). Of course, what’s said won’t matter one iota, but alas.

  61. @RC – Not quite the same way I would word it, but valid point. If the ultimate concern is brand representation, you would think most efforts would be placed towards those who actually visibly represent the brand. This goes for any airline or industry.

  62. The problem is when rules are enforced to address one gender’s dress code. It certainly seems as though United is monitoring women’s clothing and not men’s clothing. I have heard from hundreds of women saying they have been subjected to dress code rules as a pass flyer. I haven’t heard any men come forward and say they have been subject to dress code enforcements. When the rules as constructed seem to only apply to women, it feels inherently sexist. Most travel bloggers seem to be men. Most that I’ve seen half-heartedly defend United using the “rules are rules” argument. This post goes so far beyond that to not only defend United but attack the person who brought attention to this. I’m beyond annoyed at this entire group of bloggers and considering unfollowing. Where are the bloggers who want to think about structural discrimination in the airline industry? Not only would that be more relevant but it would be less boring. This is the same perspective everyone else took.

  63. Tiffany et al,

    While I agree with the bulk of the arguments here, I also can see WHY something like this would become a bigger deal. The truth is that workplace rules, however well-intentioned, often affect women disproportionately. There are countless examples (e.g., wearing heels, make up). Now this may not be the best example of it, but it still brings up a number of feelings and concerns, and these should not be dismissed.

    Also, in my opinion, this is not a battle of what airline policies actually are, and the fact that the women were non-revs rather than paying passengers isn’t the point. From a purely legalistic point of view, United may be 100% correct here, but it’s the battle of public perception that they need to win.

  64. @ Kate — I agree that United handled their responses poorly, but maintain that other than allowing an employee to provide an answer to a question rather than saying “we’ll research, thanks!” they didn’t do anything wrong.

    You realize that none of these dress code restrictions have anything to do with paying customers, right? United staff doesn’t care if you wear leggings. A high-end department store will sell you leggings too, but might not allow their employees to wear them.

    That’s my entire concern with how this was handled — this was never a customer issue.

  65. @Kathi your posting shows you know nothing about the airline business, every US airline has a dress code when it comes to Non Rev travel. Today’s dress code is much more lax than it was 20 years ago. Please educate yourself before posting.

  66. I have a few points to bring up ; number one what was the man traveling from Denver to Minneapolis or vice versa doing wearing shorts in the middle of the winter???? Second: I I have to disagree with them being sexist I mean formfitting clothes like Lycra/spandex or leggings or yoga pants aren’t the most attractive especially on overweight people and yes nowadays I see men wearing tight formfitting yoga pants too which is tacky too for a non-rev or paying passenger to wear on a flight
    Third: I’d like to mention that our society is sexist in genera. I go to nightclubs and social gatherings and a lot of times they want to charge cover to the men but they let the females in free. other times they let everybody in free but give free drinks to the women
    Would you not say that’s sexist ????

    In fact I believe our society is more biased towards men because of anything that is slightly sexist the females call it out immediately however as a man we just suck it up
    I’m interested in your opinion about this Tiffany ?!

  67. @ Mike P

    They charge covers for men and not women at many nightclubs to try and maintain an “attractive” gender ratio, given that clubs with a better balance of women are seen as more desirable. Though I’m sure you may find that practice unfair if you like your nightclubs to resemble meat markets on Saturday nights, but to each his own.

  68. @ EG — Speaking as a woman, I see dress code rules enforced on male non-revs all the time. Nearly always footwear-related (flip-flops aren’t allowed, and people forget), but sometimes I’ve seen guys asked to change out of athletic wear. American doesn’t allow shorts in first for non-revs, so I’ve seen gate agents tell gentlemen that they have a seat for them in F, but they’d have to change, etc.

    I talk about structural discrimination often, and generally get a ton of flak for “not knowing what I’m talking about,” which is probably also reflective of some of the entrenched sexism in the industry ;).

    But if you want to hear more of our thoughts on how the policy itself does seem more restrictive to women, I’d suggest reading the post Ben put together on that very issue: https://onemileatatime.com/2017/03/27/united-leggings-sexist/

  69. @EG: The rules *are* enforced equally. It’s generally women’s attire which pushes the envelope, and has done so for 60+ (80+?) years. The bikini was out long before the Speedo. Fortunately, most men don’t wear leggings or miniskirts. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to see me in either.

  70. @ Mike P — I love that you’re interested in discussing this more! Our society is sexist in general, but many people assume that “sexist” means “pro-woman and anti-man” which shouldn’t be the case at all. But a lot of people hear “feminism” and think it’s about hating men or something (and maybe it was in older generations?), versus reinforcing that people are people and calling out instances where individuals are being treated differently based on their gender.

    The nightclub example is great! It’s definitely sexist, and not fair. And that’s on both sides — establishing a cultural norm where men need to pay for access to women doesn’t really benefit people as individuals, right?

    Dress codes in general are sexist. Not necessarily anti-woman (though they really often are), but because again — you have something dictating what is or isn’t appropriate based on gender. Airline crew uniforms are a great example, particularly at companies like Air France, Singapore, and Emirates that are very strict on both sides. Everyone could benefit from wearing hosiery or compression socks on long-haul flights, but it’s only required for women. Men aren’t allowed to have facial hair (why does anyone care?), and women have to wear a specific lipstick (how does wearing makeup or not impact their job performance?). Female crew often have to wear skirts and heels, and men sometimes have three-piece suits — all of which are wholly impractical in case of emergency (or even fixing a broken seat, or helping to stow a bag), but someone decided along the way that “professional standards” require skirts for women and suits for men.

    There’s also one of the points Ben made yesterday — United’s executive leadership team is 91% male. So you have at least the perception that a bunch of older men are dictating what females can or can’t wear. Would the dress codes be the same if the leadership was 50/50? It’s the same as your nightclub example — how many of those venues are owned or managed by women? Would they have the same policies? I don’t know, but think they’re valid questions.

    I am someone who strongly believes entrenched sexism hurts men just as much as it hurts women, though in different ways that are not always as immediately apparent. That’s partly why the false outrage in this situation bothers me so much. These are complex structural issues, and throwing a hissy-fit just polarizes people, and doesn’t change anyone’s mind.

    (And a side note, it’s been super warm in Denver lately. Most of my friends who live there have been posting pictures of doing outdoorsy things in short-sleeves and sandals)

  71. Thank you for your good summary.

    I just came back from a great trip to California (read every day in the Jacuzzi with my GF and no news), turned on the news and saw some two female talking heads (since men are afraid to comment) rant both ways on the controversy, I was somewhat baffled.

    The whole issue seems like a tempest in a teapot.

  72. This is clearly all part of Amerika’s War On Women /sarc

    I’ll believe that this country is no longer fundamentally Misogynist when:
    A woman runs for POTUS and gets a majority of the popular vote
    There are as many women enrolled in Graduate School as men
    Women are allowed to enlist in the Marine Corps

    Oh, wait…………

    Which of these things go together?:
    using the slur “mansplaining” (sic) about anything
    using the slur “misogynist” about reasonable statements by other women
    censoring comments on her blog that don’t share her “outrage”
    being totally impervious to logic and reason
    refusing to admit that her original tweets were fake news, whether due to misunderstanding or malice

    Well of course they all go together. Any time you see the word “mansplaining”, that’s a clue you are reading a far-left radical rant, all the rest will be filled with fake news, and the manufactured outrage scale will be turned up to 11. 😉

  73. Ummm- does the United NRSA Policy say FEMALE lycra/form-fitting clothing is prohibited, or does it not specify gender. If it does NOT, then all you SJWs out there are off-base. Besides, Men in Lycra (ala Lance Armstrong biking shorts) look hideous and should be kicked off airplanes!!

  74. I always dress up a bit to fly, even when in coach. I’m only 40. I wasn’t around in the glamorous days of flight. I do it because I see how much disrespect flight attendants get. I wouldn’t want someone to come into my office in their PJs, tank tops, and flip flops, and then boss me around like I’m their servant. I don’t wear a suit and tie (unless going to a business meeting when I land). A pair of khakis and polo shirt, with causal shoes is good enough these days. If I’m in first, I’ll wear a button down shirt with slacks, and maybe a cardigan. I find I always get pleasant service and often freebies (like a second bottle of bourbon), especially when I intently watch the safety briefing, even though I could give it myself. I’m no more uncomfortable than I would be at a sporting event or movie, where I would sit next to many others for 2-4 hours.

  75. Matt I am a pilot for United. Our non-rev clothing rules do not state any gender. I just gave them a second glancing over the past day.
    Shorts are acceptable. No more than 3 inches above knee. Again no gender stated.
    I’m just glad we (Men&Women) can wear jeans and shorts now.

  76. I have travelled non-revenue and, as a man, have had to conform to their dress codes as well. No shorts, no sandals, collared shirt… I usually wore chinos because I understood that I was representing both my company and, by extension, theirs. It is not IMHO sexist, it’s just wanting to project a professional appearance.

  77. Great Piece!!! OMG Tiff, NAILED IT! Most of all, the acknowledgment and realization that SHANNON WATTS is extremely ridiculous, a complete FRAUD, and how she refuses to grasp or accept reality. I’m glad you and so many others got to witness, that, in a new, more neutral venue. Watts is bystander, hypocrite and instigation-clown in everything she does; A mere second-hand dealer in thought, a political junket. This is just Shannon, in her usual style, being ignorant and overly dramatic. And its really NOT stunning nor surprising. Its the rule, not the exception for her.

    Trust me on this, in those so-called “other causes”, she REFUSES to accept reality and FACTS there as well. Watts and her merry bad of misfits wield a false narrative with even more precision and prowess under that cause.

    Welcome to the Party. Use this example as your litmus test or “warning bell” to draw more focus to Watt’s other (and common) false narratives, misleading information, faulty logic, misleading and facile arguments. This is NOT anything new for her — You’re just actually seeing it for the first time on a different field, and without the usual polish. I can’t thank Shannon enough for that.

  78. By that logic if I stay at a Marriot on the Friends & Family rate, I should always wear khakis and chinos? Whether the passenger is revenue or non revenue, staff, or non staff, the dress code should apply to the employee alone, not their family.

  79. How about at least one photo of the offending leggings on the legs of the rule breakers? A tremendous outpouring of commentary–pro and con–without a scintilla of evidence. There are more important issues to comment about. A society with too much leisure time on its hands.

  80. One thing nobody has really picked up on – is that non-rev passengers can also fly on OTHER AIRLINES that have agreements with United. So when a non-rev is flying on the OTHER AIRLINE – they are representing UNITED to the staff of that other airline who knows they are non-rev. So unless United wants to have two different dress-codes for non-rev, I have to say that the arguments that “passengers don’t know….” doesn’t hold water. Passengers aren’t the target, the staff of the other airlines is.

  81. 747always you are wrong. What you obviously fail to understand is that employee pass travel is a priveldge. One that can and has been taken away from employees. People have been busted for selling their “buddy passes” and have had their travel priceldges revoked. So everyone get this
    1) employee travel is a privledge. You are able to fly not only on the employee’s airlines but also many other airlines world wide at a greatly reduced rate.
    2) from the time you book your ticket until you leave the airport your PNR reservation can be looked up by any CSR and it will show as a non-revenue employee.
    3) because of the ability to travel on other airlines as well as your own you are expected to conduct yourself as though you are representing the airlines. That doesn’t matter if you work for them or not. If I who flies for united gives a pass to a friend and he/she does not comply with whatever airlines dress codes or rules are it not only affects them. It affects the airline and me as well. I will be the one getting a phone call. I who wasn’t even traveling might be the one whose proveldges are taken away.
    Every airline has a dress code. Again if Inam going to travel on Lufthansa or KLM or American you better believe I will look up what our company agreement is and what the dress code is.

    FYI. Continental uses to have an agreement with EVA Airlines. They ran a midnight EWR-SEA-TPE
    It was great for commuters as the EWR-SEA was pretty much a position flight. Always half empty.
    Anyway A Continental Captain decided to help himself to first class even though the agreement was that first class was not available to non-revenue passengers from Continental. Guess what happened? Eva took away CAL priveldges on that flight. Yeah that guy was a big D bag for doing that.
    It’s not a sexist thing. Our company dress policy at united mentions no gender in any of the dress codes. It simply states what and how the airline expects us to dress and act.

    Here is another one. I was flying non-revenue (jumpseating actually) and was given an open seat in the back. Once airborne the plane had a malfunction and Inwas requested to board the flight deck and help out as it was the same aircraft type (b757-300) that I was flying. It wasn’t a big deal but I certainly felt more professional up there in slacks and a polo shirt than if I had been in shorts and tennis shoes. That is a one in a million shot but just another example of even though I was not working I still was representing the company.

    Our pilot uniforms are if anything sexist towards men.
    Women get choice between 2 pants, skirt, and several ties and scarves to wear.
    Men get 1 uniform only. Now what is sexist now?
    I could care less. Good for them that they get choices.

    The basic fact that the dumb social justice warrior Shannon Watts continues to fail to acknowledge is that even if you do not work for the airline but are a child, spouse, friend, dog whatever you are still expected to comply with the rules not only the airline you are traveling under but also the airline you are traveling on.

  82. Anyone know if the United employee (whose friends/family members wore the leggings at issue) is STILL an employee?

  83. Do I understand correctly that United has some sort of a response time requirement when it comes to social media? That would explain the few interactions I’ve had with them on their Facebook page. They respond quickly — almost eerily quickly. I will say, though, that when I had a problem with some uncredited sky miles and asked about it through the response form on their website, they got back to me within 30 minutes and corrected the problem immediately.

    I agree with the other folks here who say the real fail is United’s quick attempt to explain its policies without having all the facts.

  84. I have no problem with United having a dress code, although an outdated and silly dress code deserves to be mocked. There’s not much good to be said of Shannon Watts, who didn’t know what she was talking about and kept talking.

    That said, United again proved why loyal Continental flyers have abandoned the merged airline in droves. Their customer service is clumsy at best; at worst, it’s downright indifferent. We got an example of both in this incident.

    1. The gate agent had discretion and didn’t use it.
    2. The gate agent made someone else in line (a paying customer) feel like their 10-year-old was dressed inappropriately.
    3. United’s Twitter account then doubled down and talked about their Contract of Carriage for paying passengers, without bothering to check into anything. Nobody thought a complaint about leggings didn’t add up?

    Had United handled this correctly from the beginning, they wouldn’t have egg on their face today. The dress code deserves a review, gate agents need to get a clue and realize they represent the front line of an airline’s customer service perception. (And in a social media world, the people running their Twitter feed aren’t far behind).

    And I haven’t heard the airline say that the dress code will be reviewed to ensure it is fair to everyone. Which is one of the first things they should have said.

    Finally, if the airline thinks leggings are inappropriate for their non-rev passengers, what do they think about what the paying passengers where? They may welcome our leggings, but if it’s inappropriate attire for non-rev passenger (who cannot be identified from a regular passenger), it’s hard to believe they don’t frown on leggings from their paying customers — no matter what they say. Honestly, I’m surprised non-rev passengers would have a stricter dress code. The dress code would sensibly be the same for everyone — customers and non-paying alike.

  85. Dress codes are needed because people are not uniform on what is acceptable in public and what’s not! Leggings should be worn in a gym – many people don’t look good in them ( but they think they do ) I have seen them be see thru – I see people wear them with rips and holes . Not everyone has a good fashion sense ! Shannon Watts thinks not allowing leggings is sexist ? I’m a woman and I am thankful to not see leggings on everyone !

  86. Privilege Entails Responsibility

    It’s not being sexist nor being given discretion. It is following what the GUIDELINES are that are SET for everyone to follow. If you have the right to have a non-rev ticket, United has the right to take it away. If you cannot agree with it or found it unacceptable, it is not their problem, since the rest of their employees agreed upon it and follows it.


    just saying…

  87. How someone can print (or display) news that is so fake is beyond me. I know that we are all in a hurry to be first to tell a story… but facts must be checked. Shame on them.

  88. King Solomon is rolling over in his Tomb – the misplaced righteous indignation by Tiffany et al is deafening

    So simple – Policy or no Policy – Revenue ticket or no Revenue Ticket – – the Policy is antequated and wrong – Tiffany and Ben screaming book loads of righteous indignation does not make it right

    Delta simply and transparently got it right but Delta’s simplicity does not fit Tiffany’s or Ben’s narrative or intellectual elitism

    United you feaking Neandrothals – allow leggings – –

  89. @ Sam @ David — Nope. If anything, it further reinforces my belief that we should leverage our collective social outrage for things that matter. It would be horrible if the genuine and warranted horror people are expressing was dismissed as “oh, the people on Twitter are just taking things out of context and twisting the narrative again.”

    I do think the leggings situation may have contributed to how poorly United has handled the PR on this one though. They seem to have learned all the wrong lessons.

  90. What is even a bit surprising after the facts have come out is people criticizing the dress code for non-rev passengers. The dress code isn’t unreasonable at all. I don’t wear dresses but i would gladly wear one if it meant i could fly for free (or near-free)

    As for the mention on this post:

    “at least two employees were reprimanded today, and a third might be losing their travel benefits.”

    Hopefully the non-rev passengers weren’t causing a scene over the situation as that is what will cause an employee to lose their travel benefits.

    I previously worked for an airline and we had a couple traveling as non-revs but were wearing tank tops and very short shorts. They caused a scene when we explained they could not travel unless they comply with the dress code. In the end we decided to understand their frustration would have been avoided if the employee had explained the dress code to them so we booked them on a later flight. But then they actually went to the bathroom and wrapped toilet paper all over their arms and legs to be let on their original flight. Needless to say their passes were revoked and that employee did lose his travel benefits for six months.

    I even had non-rev passengers once harass me over not having seats together. They even asked for a supervisor and started harassing the supervisor about it. And so their passes were revoked, and unfortunately that employee’s travel benefits were revoked for six months. And that couple was standing right by my podium as I called up the next two standby passengers who cheerfully thanked me for those seats.

  91. I have to point out that almost ALL clothing that is considered acceptable now was once considered “athletic” …
    Sweatshirts – invented in the early 1900’s for crew rowers to sweat in.
    Jeans invented in the 1800’s for farm hands to get dirty in.
    Tennis/Polo shirts- invented in the 1930’s to play tennis in – keep the sun off the neck but unbutton.
    In every one of the creations of athleisure they have mocked women… scolded women for wearing them out in public till NOBODY NOTICED. At which point it was not longer thought of as athleisure but just a staple of ones wardrobe. Look in your wardrobe and I bet more than 50% of what you own was once created for athletic purposes.
    That’s what makes United seem so boneheaded in it’s way of trying to single out non paying customers…. no one can tell if they are paying or not unless you force them into an uncomfortable starched collar (which I have flown in before and gotten a huge rash from FYI).

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