United Airlines is defending its right to block certain passengers over their attire after it stopped three girls in leggings from boarding a flight Sunday. The airline first responded saying it has the right to turn away passengers who aren’t properly clothed, but eventually clarified that the young women in question were subject to a more strict dress code because of the type of tickets they were holding.
Shannon Watts, the founder of the anti-gun violence group Moms Demand Action, first tweeted Sunday that a United gate agent had refused to let the young female passengers on a flight to Minneapolis because their outfits were inappropriate.
Watts described one of the three girls forced to change as a 10-year-old in gray leggings. One of the passengers’ fathers, she pointed out, was wearing shorts and allowed on the flight without question.
United first responded to Watts by pointing to a company rule saying it can refuse transport to passengers “who are barefoot or not properly clothed.”
The rule does not elaborate on the definition of proper attire, but the airline tweeted that it leaves that up to the discretion of gate agents.
In a second response to Watts ― and several other Twitter users enraged by the airline’s policy ― United said the leggings-clad passengers were “pass travelers,” or passengers traveling as relatives or dependents of a United employee, and therefore subject to a stricter dress code.
The airline sent the same explanation to several outraged people, including actress Patricia Arquette.
She snapped back after the airline said all pass travelers must dress in “good taste.”
Other social media users promised United they’d show up for their next flight with the airline in the stretchy pants ― which have prompted controversy in recent years after schools moved to ban the “distracting” attire on campus.
Meanwhile, supermodel Chrissy Teigen, who has no problem challenging companies’ double standards when it comes to women’s bodies, said she’ll skip a top altogether on her next United flight.
In response, the airline posted a statement offering more insight into the issue, and promising regular customers they can still wear leggings on flights:
We care about the way we present ourselves to you, our customers, as we believe that is part of the experience on board our flights. One of the benefits of working for an airline is that our employees are able to travel the world. Even better, they can extend this privilege to a select number of what we call “pass riders.” These are relatives or friends who also receive the benefit of free or heavily discounted air travel – on our airline as well as on airlines around the world where we have mutual agreements in place for employees and pass riders.
When taking advantage of this benefit, all employees and pass riders are considered representatives of United. And like most companies, we have a dress code that we ask employees and pass riders to follow. 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.
To our regular customers, your leggings are welcome.
This story has been updated to include a statement from the airline.