United Airlines tells passengers 'leggings are welcome' after dress code row

Rob Crilly
Four young women wear US flag leggings - AFP

United Airlines has told its customers “leggings are welcome,” after it found itself caught in a social media storm after refusing to allow two teenage girls to board their flight because they were wearing leggings.

The airline was accused of sexism and of policing women’s dress after it stopped the two girls from flying from Denver to Minneapolis on Sunday. Their father, wearing shorts, and a girl aged around 10, travelling with them, were allowed to board – but only when she had put a dress on over her leggings.


She added that the member of staff at the gate insisted she did not set the rules but was merely enforcing them.

As social media exploded with anger, the airline said the two girls had been travelling on standby as relatives of employees which meant they were representing United and subject to a stricter dress code than applied to other passengers.

United responded to Ms Watts criticism of sexism, saying: “We appreciate you being our eyes and ears. The customers this morning were United pass travellers.

“There is a dress code for pass travellers as they are representing UA when they fly.”

Ms Watts said she was unimpressed by the response. She said the policy was sexist and risked “sexualising” young girls.

“As the mother of 4 daughters who live and travel in yoga pants, I'd like to know how many boys @United has penalised for the same reason,” she wrote.

• After United leggings row, women discuss the first time they were shamed for their clothing

United published a statement on its website saying: "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."

On Twitter, many began discussing airline travel dress codes.

“I grew up flying standby on Delta and the rules used to be SO strict,” said Saeed Jones. “Had to wear a shirt with a collar. No jeans, etc.”

Another user, Shauna, wrote: “I flew @united non-rev for 1 yr, I was not allowed on board in Hawaii wearing flip flops. Flying FOR FREE is a privilege, I put shoes on.”

But frequent flyers remained unimpressed.

Chrissy Teigan, the model, said that she had previously flown on the airline without any trousers – just a top, worn as a dress. “Next time I will wear only jeans and a scarf,” she joked.