Leggings? ‘Put on a dress,’ airline tells Minnesota-bound teens

United Airlines says it refused to allow two girls to get on a Sunday morning flight from Denver to Minneapolis because they poorly represented the airline.

The girls, traveling under a pass granted to airline employees, were wearing skin-tight leggings.

Shannon Watts, who was waiting to board a flight to Mexico, took to Twitter after seeing the family “in a panic” over being denied boarding.

The girls put on dresses and took a later flight.

“I have five kids; four of them are women,” Watts told Teen Vogue. “They wear yoga pants all of the time when flying. I think this policy is arbitrary and sexist. It singles out women for their clothing and sexualizes little girls.”

That’s not how United sees it. Jonathan Guerin, a spokesman for United, says leggings violate the company policy on attire for “pass travelers,” family and friends of employees who travel for free on a standby basis.

“It’s not that we want our standby travelers to come in wearing a suit and tie or that sort of thing,” he tells the Times. “We want people to be comfortable when they travel as long as it’s neat and in good taste for that environment.”

“The girl pulled a dress on,” Watts told the New York Times. “But please keep in mind that the dad had on shorts that did not hit his knee — they stopped maybe two or three inches above his knee — and there was no issue with that.”

Twitter responded harshly to the incident but United was having none of it.

It won’t mollify Twitter, but United has a point. Dress codes aren’t unusual for people who represent a business. And, as BuzzFeed points out, leggings can be problematic in a way that shorts are not.

Plus, if you’re flying on the airline’s dime, is proper attire too much to ask?

Is it a sexist policy? We won’t know for sure until a man tries to fly wearing leggings. Please, no.

If we could only go back to dressing up to fly.

Related: 12 Leggings Problems Every Woman Understands (Cosmopolitan)

  • KTN

    I always wear a jacket when I fly, if for no other reason than if there is a problem, I am more likely to prevail with the airline than if I were wearing shorts, a beater, and flip flops (and a baseball cap worn backwards).

    • Same here. I still dress up.

      • Tim

        I always do if I am flying for anything work-related. Otherwise, it varies, though I still keep it on the nicer side of casual.

        • Rob

          If I’m having a business meeting on the plane, I dress up to fly. Otherwise, not so much.

          • Tim

            Part of it for me is time and practicality — I’m usually either going to or coming from a meeting or office visit, and thus don’t want to take the time to change. The other is that travel time = paid time for me, and thus I’m on duty while in transit.

          • Rob

            I don’t envy your dry cleaning bill.

  • Brian Simon

    If the father was wearing shorts, the policy has changed. When I used to fly on employee passes, both men and women were expected to dress nicely. I know my brother missed a flight for failing to wear socks. A dress code is a pretty reasonable requirement to ask of pass users, who often end up in first class. If they don’t like it, they should buy their own tickets.

    • I believe the father DID buy his own ticket.

    • glenn woodson

      Father was paying for his ticket

  • asiljoy

    Dress codes aren’t unreasonable for people who represent a business, but this like many dress codes is more than odd. Dad can wear shorts, but girls can’t wear leggings? United advertises with a yogi wearing leggings and showing significant torso, but girls can’t wear leggings? um, no. I’m more than tired of this kind of nonsense.

    • frightwig

      And anyone who’s spent much time around girls lately knows that leggings now are basic, everyday clothing. It’s not just beach and vacation wear, or something they’ll only put on when lounging at home. In fact, this isn’t even a new thing. Girls were wearing stretchy pants to school when I was a kid in the ’80s. Thirty-some years ago! How did girls wearing leggings on a plane, in 2017, become objectionable or controversial?

      • Kassie

        I see young boys in them too. They are perfect bottoms for active kids.

  • frightwig

    I think United forfeited the “proper attire” argument when they allowed the father, who is apparently the actual company employee in the family, to board while wearing shorts.

    • Shorts are’t on their list. But if he had ripped jeans, he would be in violation.

      • frightwig

        That’s just a silly list, then. One type of common, casual wear (for girls and women) is forbidden, but this other type of casual, even more revealing clothing (for dad, anyway) is OK. It’s arbitrary nonsense.

        • seedhub

          If you read the actual dress code, you’ll find that there are no references to gender.

          • Rob

            If I see a guy with leggings on during my next flight, will that be you? Cuz this policy is clearly gender neutral.

          • seedhub

            The policy doesn’t specifically reference leggings, only “form-fitting lycra/spandex tops, pants and dresses.” And no references to gender.

      • The father, apparently, bought HIS ticket. The girls were using a “companion fare” – different rules…

  • Jim in RF

    I often flew on USAir’s passes when they were my company’s client before the 2001 meltdown, and they required ties for the men. Never heard of anyone testing them.

  • Lobd

    I think it comes down to the thickness of the leggings and how they fit. Some are best left in the studio and some are fine to wear out and about. Some are relatively modest and some are heinous. Can’t we have some societal norms for appropriate public attire any more without it being a big deal?

  • Mitch Berg

    It’s the Shannon Watts from Moms Demand Action.

    The woman is a poster child for Urban Liberal Privilege. In this as well as her every other public utterance, she oozes “smug entitlement” in every corner of her public life.

    If it were my plane, she’d be taking Amtrak.

    • Rob

      Ulp.

    • Angry Jonny

      What is urban liberal privilege?

      • Jerry

        A conservative bogeyman

      • RBHolb

        People of whom conservatives disapprove doing anything other than hiding in a dark closet somewhere.

  • jon

    The question this story immediately brings to my mind, is what would united do if I woman showed up in full victorian regalia, hoop skirt, parasol the big shoulder poofs, etc.

    I’m sure the parasol would have to be checked,but everything else? I mean those dresses will take up a seat on either side of the passenger by themselves…

    • Barton

      I’m trying to imagine her getting past security since most corsets had steel to ensure the corset provided the “proper” foundaiton.

      • I good, rigid plastic would work too…

        • jon

          Either way there is going to be a pat down and a wand down happening.

      • RBHolb

        Would a whalebone corset make it through?

        Asking for a friend.

  • T.a. Butcher

    My parents used to work for United. When you fly on standby with employee passes, there was a rule that says you must wear slacks or business casual attire at a minimum because you may likely be seated in First or business class seats along with other actual business professional passengers that paid a lot more money to sit there. You were supposed to represent business people. No corporation will allow you to wear leggings into the office. Therefore, if you don’t represent a standard, you at least don’t get those seats and get bumped to coach, or just don’t fly. Pretty simple rule to follow.

    • Rob

      If the employee is on duty, fine. If not, he/she shouldn’t be subject to the airlines dress code. Pretty simple rule to follow.

      • L. Foonimin

        The Golden Rule prevails; Those with the gold make the rules, in this case flying on the company dime means you follow their rules. Pretty simple rule to follow.

      • seedhub

        If you want to wear what you want, buy your own ticket.

    • Barton

      Corporations do allow leggings at work. I’ve just seen 5 women walk into my office building wearing them (with long tunics/sweaters on top).

      • Kassie

        Yep. I see leggings everyday at work. That includes women in much more senior positions than I have.

      • D.Robot

        Exactly, I doubt it’d be deemed appropriate without that extra garment that hangs down over the pelvis.

    • RBHolb

      I flew standby on employee passes on Northwest back in the day. I’ll bet I was the only college student who had to put on a coat and tie to travel on spring break.

    • asiljoy

      I wear them 2/3 days a week to work at a large corp. Fashion changes.

      • T.a. Butcher

        Totally. I was thinking in the context of women senior executives.

        • asiljoy

          I want to move up the food chain; I’m dressing the same way they do.

          • T.a. Butcher

            Do what you gotta do. I support that.

  • Rob

    Dressing up to fly? Please. When I’m in an overstuffed aluminium tube that smacks of being in steerage, the last thing I’m gonna do is wear overly nice clothes. If I had nicer legs, I’d be tempted to wear leggings while flying too.

  • Gary F

    If you are getting something for free maybe you should read the stipulations that come along with it.

    I flew once on the employee buddy system. I was told to what and what not to wear by my relative that got me the tickets. No big deal.

  • Al

    I don’t know why the women shouldn’t have had to wear skirts. I mean, really. STANDARDS.

  • Al
  • Jeff C.

    “If we could only go back to dressing up to fly.”

    After seeing pictures of my parents traveling around Europe in the 60s, I’ve started doing what they did – dressing up to *travel*. If I travel to another city, I don’t bring a pair of jeans. I don’t wear a tie everywhere like my dad did, and my wife doesn’t wear a skirt, pumps, and a cute hat everywhere like my mom did, but somehow it makes traveling a little more fun and special. The last time I flew I wore a suit jacket – it made me feel like a real adult (I’m in my 40s now).

  • KTFoley

    I read the NY Times article. I see the paragraph that says that Lycra or Spandex leggings are not allowed, but I don’t see anything that supports the jump in the narrative from “leggings” to “skin-tight leggings.” Is that reported somewhere else?

    Leggings are not skin-tight by definition and the versions worn by early teens and 10-11 year old girls — as these passengers are described in the article — are generally not the lycra version. This is why it’s so frustrating so read all the weighings-in on whether the enforcement of the dress code was arbitrary or not.

    Too revealing? On an 11-year-old? What exactly is it that we think those girls are revealing that contributes to the detriment of United’s image?

    • Angry Jonny

      Talcott Parsons would be proud.

    • seedhub

      Leggings are, actually, skin-tight “by definition.”

      • KTFoley

        We’re going to have to disagree on that.

        • seedhub

          Not if we can both just look it up in the dictionary: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/leggings.

          • KTFoley

            Anyone who’s worn a pair, run a set through the laundry, or purchased them for a young teen or pre-teen is having a good chuckle at that comment.

          • seedhub

            I’ve done two of the three, and yet, the contents of my dictionary remain unchanged.

  • KTFoley

    I’m interested in the reactions of parents of young teens & preteens to our assertions here that we, of course, all have the good sense & propriety to wear business casual. Early teens and 10-11 years old, remember?

    I’m also interested in the reactions of women who’ve been through this dress code experience in other settings, where “good taste” is so completely given over to the eye of the beholder that it’s completely no-win — too plain/comfortable and it’s not dressing for advancement, too dressy/feminine and it’s not no-nonsense enough to impress the very same sets of eyes.

    Remember all the eye-rolling not too long ago when the school administration “suggested” female students submit photos of their prom dresses beforehand for approval? And now we’re clucking over leggings? Here we are, being arbitrary in our decisions of when we think girls’ clothing is over the line.

    Sure, United has every right to enforce a dress code and it wouldn’t be the first time that applying the letter of the law directly subverted the intent of the law (i.e. “dad’s shorts”). From experience, my sympathy lies with teenagers and young girls (and their parents) who have to navigate this kind of stuff on a regular basis.

    • Veronica

      Thank you.

      Yes, mom of an 11 year old girl; the reality is, leggings are normal, accepted attire for them in the real world.

      The ongoing double standards for dress codes for girls versus dress codes for boys is ongoing. And as KTFoleypointed out, commenters for the most part were appalled by the prom dress story.

      What wasn’t answered last night in discussions on this issue– what about leggings makes them unacceptable? Is it tightness? Is there a similar restriction on men wearing jeggings? Who decided that leggings–the cotton kind that Target sells to millions of parents for our babies and girls– weren’t pants? Leggings are pants. Leggings aren’t tights. Leggings are pants.

      The double standards in dress codes boils down to sexualization of girls and women and further normalizing patriarchal nonsense that how we dress can justify how we are treated.
      http://neatoday.org/2016/01/06/school-dress-codes-gender-bias/

      • seedhub

        What characteristic differentiates between leggings and tights?

      • D.Robot

        Men in our society aren’t generally encouraged to wear form fitting stuff, outside of Athletics…. And then i think it’s a good idea to wear a pair of Umbro type shorts, to be more discreet…. I assume the father wasn’t going to wear cycling shorts on the plane. Why? It’s not comfortable.
        Covering a females pelvis with another layer of clothing over leggings I’d consider to be desexualizing, or being more discreet. Leggings or tights aren’t what I imagine to be the concern, just when there is a lack of coverage of the pelvis (and all the associated parts)

    • glenn woodson

      It is easy. If my children were given free or reduced fair tickets and needed to wear certain attire, they would wear that attire. As for navigating the regulations, they are not hard to read (not some novel with exceptions, etc.). Since they are companions, it is not even their job to read it anyway. It is my job to read and understand.

    • seedhub

      Can you cite an example of a dress code that isn’t arbitrary?

      • Kassie

        I can think of dozens of examples of non-arbitrary dress codes. For instance, nurses generally wear scrubs. It identifies them as nurses, it puts them in something that is appropriate for the work they do, and it isn’t based on a sense of morals or prudishness.

        • seedhub

          Dress code as opposed to a uniform.

          • Kassie

            But they aren’t uniforms. They can pick their own. At the clinic I go to, they all wear different ones.

            Or, how about this, I went to a class last weekend and was required to wear closed toed shoes and pull my hair back. That’s a dress code. It was for safety since we were doing woodworking.

          • seedhub

            Please allow me to rephrase my question. Can you cite an example of a dress code of the type being discussed here that isn’t arbitrary? Not one that satisfies a function (i.e. identifying or protecting the wearer) but rather one that stipulates formality?

  • Jaime Riotmuffin

    “Is it a sexist policy? We won’t know for sure until a man tries to fly wearing leggings. Please, no.”

    Definitely a sexist policy and definitely a sexist comment. What exactly is wrong with a man wearing leggings, Bob? Please explain. Does a woman in a suit coat offend your sensibilities, too?

    • Sure. I don’t want to see a guy’s junk when I’m flying.

      • D.Robot

        And not everyone wants to see women’s cameltoes, nor the exact shape of male or female glutes.

  • Mike Stevens

    I glad Har-Mar finally put on pants.

    • D.Robot

      I’m glad that pic was upside he was down so that what lies within wasn’t evident.

  • https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c377ec29f4149217bc8cc4c66372b6c8f24d4a4fa3f8ecc6f9786fcf50ce1ea7.jpg

    I guess we’ll have to get to the bottom of this “air travel” business, and soon!

  • Rob

    Just saw a news update noting that United says all customers paying regular fare are welcome to wear leggings. In light of this announcement, their anti-leggings dress code for employees and family members seems to make even less sense…

    • Not really an update. That’s what United said when they first explained their policy. That it doesn’t apply to people not flying on the company dime.

      • Rob

        So, a head-scratcher from the get-go.

        • seedhub

          Not only is it common for companies to grant their customers more latitude than their employees, it’s pretty much the rule.

          • Rob

            I’m familiar with the concept, and am all for logical, non-arbitrary rules wherein a company gives its employees less latitude than it does its customers. The use of swear words is a good case in point. O.K. for customers maybe, not so much for employees when they are amongst/interacting with the public. The anti-leggings rule doesn’t pass the smell test.

          • seedhub

            Whether it’s attire or speech being codified, the intent is to establish a minimum level of formality or respectability. One rule is no more logical or non-arbitrary than the other.

          • Rob

            Sorry; some rules are definitely more logical and non-arbitrary than others.

          • seedhub

            Obviously. But we’ve yet to hear why this rule is less logical and more arbitrary, other than the fact that it doesn’t meet some (arbitrary?) “smell test” of yours.

          • Rob

            Fred?

  • MReap

    The “you might end up in first class” argument doesn’t hold water. You can often upgrade for a few extra bucks (I’ve done it several times) – but no one checks your dress then. I’m usually pretty well dressed but I can see someone upgrading on a whim and being dressed “down scale”. Also, how would anyone have known the family were employees of United unless they publicly announced it when boarding??

  • Laurie K.

    I wasn’t aware that United Airlines hired teens and pre-teens. I can understand having a dress code, but since they clearly allow juveniles to use the pass-rider system, maybe United should consider having a dress code similar to what schools do for children.

  • Andy Combites

    I’m glad United is sticking to their guns on this one. And I wish there was a dress code for all passengers. Last week when I flew to New York, there was a man at MSP getting ready to board a plane, and he was wearing pajamas, a robe, and Crocs. It was WAY too casual.

    • Rob

      Crocs are always a croc.

  • ET

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1613d5e75434d8f4d9398010bdd6f8ad5d577f94447521a0f777742ec6fe22a0.jpg
    Can we at least agree that shoes should be worn at all times? Oh, and tray tables are not foot rests. Or changing tables.
    Let the kids wear the clothes that parents deem appropriate. As long as everybody keeps their clothes on.

    • Jack

      Oh that is just gross. Not using the tray table again. Thanks a lot.

  • Jerry

    At the rate we are going, we will all be wearing tight onesie pajamas when we travel. Here’s an example: https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0d7038ee9fac2ab7658f31c35ca3edbd638dd40b6cb5f33eadb1079836a740ea.jpg

  • D.Robot

    I think tights or what are being called leggings can be pretty immodest when worn without something else over them, covering the pelvis. I feel this applies to both sexes. Bobs links do a decent job of spelling it out in more detail.