In a case showing the power of the internet—and its ability to cause a PR nightmare—two teenagers unwittingly started trouble for United Airlines on Sunday when they were denied access to a flight because they were wearing leggings.
The two girls were “pass riders,” on free tickets as family of United employees. While United doesn't enforce a dress code for its regular passengers it does so for its pass holders, who are forbidden from wearing form-fitting lycra or spandex tops, pants or dresses, ripped or torn clothing, or anything with offensive words or graphics.
The girls were trying to board a flight from Denver to Minneapolis when a gate agent refused to let them onboard because of their attire. Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, was also at the gate, and overheard snippets of the conversation. She saw what was happening, took umbrage, and put out a message to her more than 32,000 Twitter followers berating what she thought was United’s silly dress policy for all travelers.
1) A @united gate agent isn't letting girls in leggings get on flight from Denver to Minneapolis because spandex is not allowed?— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) March 26, 2017
United initially responded to Watts on social media, explaining that the girls were turned away because of Rule 21, which allows a United gate agent to refuse or remove a passenger for the safety reasons if they are disorderly, intoxicated or not properly clothed.
@shannonrwatts In our Contract of Carriage, Rule 21, we do have the right to refuse transport for passengers who ... https://t.co/52kRVgaCyb— United (@united) March 26, 2017
Only after a major PR blowback from Twitter users did the airline issue a statement clarifying that it does not enforce a dress code for paying passengers, but only for employees and pass riders.
“The passengers this morning were United pass riders and not in compliance with our dress code for company benefit travel. We regularly remind our employees that when they place a family member or friend on a flight for free as a standby passenger, they need to follow our dress code,” it said. “To our regular customers, your leggings are welcome.”
To our customers…your leggings are welcome! Learn more about our company’s pass travel privilege: https://t.co/5e3euG1H9G.— United (@united) March 27, 2017