Why United Airlines ‘Girls In Leggings’ Dress Code Policy Is Not Unusual Rule [Opinion]

This morning, former and current airline employees are eating up the chaos that is surrounding the Twitter war about the three young girls in leggings who were denied boarding on a United Airlines flight from Denver to Minneapolis. In fact, the original tweeter, Shannon Watts, decried this as a sexist action by United Airlines.

Shannon Watts is an activist who is not afraid to speak out. Her Twitter bio reads as follows.

“Founder of @MomsDemand, the grassroots army working to end gun violence in America. @EmergeAmerica Board member. Mother of five. Coloradan.”

When she saw the three girls were denied boarding, she protested on Twitter, causing a huge United Airlines PR disaster.

She spoke to Teen Vogue and decreed that this incident “sexualizes little girls.”

“I have five kids; four of them are women. 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.”

But did she get all of her facts right before she protested this issue? Doesn’t sound like it. She pointed out that the father, who was actually on a paid ticket, was wearing shorts. Yet, the girls in the casual leggings were not allowed to non-rev, which is airline employee speak for being a “non-revenue” employee. She failed to get all of the accurate info on the ticket status of the father and that the girls were non-revs.

This strict clothing attire rule is not random in the airline business. What is the United Airline’s overall pass travel attire? How strict is airline dress code policy? Most airlines could deny employees their pass privileges who do not comply.

A few years back, before Twitter became the way for people to complain or presidents to express grievances, on the travel forum Flyer Talk, there was a discussion about a traveler who was at the gate and overheard that the guy in front of him could not fly first class because he was not properly dressed. This led to a discussion about whether airlines have dress codes.

Customers do not have dress codes, but employees who are paying as low as $10 per non-revenue ticket do have to comply with the dress code in exchange for that perk.

United Airlines, like all airlines, believes that any flight attendant, pilot, gate agent, or other employee taking a trip is representing the company. Their dress and actions reflect on the company. When they get on the flight, should there be a meal, they must identify themselves as a non-revenue employee. The paying customers are first. Should there be an emergency, that employee might be needed to assist other passengers.

So what is the dress code? On Flyer Talk, l’etoile, the senior moderator of the forum, posted the full employee dress code for non-revenue passengers for United Airlines. It should be noted that the introduction of denim in all classes and the removal of the requirement of jacket and tie for men was a milestone for non-revs.

“* Jackets and ties are not required in any class of service
* Jeans and other denim clothing are acceptable in the Economy cabin provided they are clean and neat and do not have patches or holes
* Athletic and tennis shoes are acceptable in the Economy cabin provided they are clean
* Loose fitting knee-length Bermuda shorts are acceptable in the Economy cabin on flights within the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico
* Dress sandals are permitted in all classes

Unacceptable attire in First and Business class:

* Jeans and other denim clothing
* Athletic and tennis shoes
* Hiking or military style shoes and boots
* Shorts
* Baseball caps
* Skin-tight or form fitting pants except when worn with a mid thigh length top
* Any item in the Unacceptable attire in all classes list

Unacceptable attire in all classes:

* Any clothing that is worn, torn, frayed has patches or holes
* Sweat clothing or workout attire such as sweat shirt, sweat pants, leotards, tights and jogging suits
* T-shirts
* Bare feet
* Bathing suits
* Beach sandals flip flops and thongs
* Bare midriffs
* Extreme mini-skirts
* Halter and bra tops
* Sheer or see-through clothing
* Tank tops, sleeveless or muscle shirts
* Undergarments worn as outer garments


The dress code policy applies to all employees and other entitled travelers including children 12 years of age and over. Children under the age of 12 must be clean and neatly attired.”

However, the United Airlines “no leggings” pass travel policy is just the tip of the iceberg for many employees of companies in the United States. For example, department store chain Von Maur requires that all women wear dresses — no Hillary Clinton-style pantsuits are allowed for female employees of the store. Maybe Shannon Watts needs to rethink what is a sexist issue? Disney and Starbucks are just two companies that have strict dress codes.

Airline employees have long been accustomed to adhering to a strict dress code. For example, for years, Minneapolis-based Northwest Airlines would not allow employees in the reservations area to wear any type of T-shirt that did not have a collar. Only golf shirts were allowed, and no shirt with any logos or sayings were allowed.

For those who think that that the rules apply only to females, male gate agents, customer service agents, flight attendants and anyone else who works in front of customers could not come into work in the process of growing a beard. If a male wanted to grow a beard, they would need to do that during their vacation. And, of course, it would be required to be properly groomed. No shaggy Todd Hoffman goatee allowed! There are rules on earrings, tattoos, and even changing hair color.

What no one has mentioned is how the United Airlines employee, who was required to sign the company travel benefit contract, did not prepare the girls with the proper flying attire. This lack of compliance could not only jeopardize future travel benefits, but it could also affect continued employment with the company. All non-rev employees are aware of the rules. Preventing passengers from efficiently boarding a flight is never acceptable, let alone cause an internet sensation.

What are your thoughts about the girls who wore leggings? Do you think Shannon Watts blew this out of proportion, or do you agree with her?

[Featured Image by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images]