When you get on a plane, the main goal for most people is to be comfortable. You know what’s comfortable? Leggings. They’re warmer than tights, stretchier than jeans, less “I’ve given up-y” than sweatpants. You might say they’re the ideal plane clothing—unless you’re flying United.
Shannon Watts, founder of the anti-gun violence organization Moms Demand Action, was boarding a United flight from Denver to Minneapolis on Sunday morning when she noticed that gate agents were refusing to allow three young girls to board on the basis of their stretchy pants, ultimately forcing two to miss their flights. Perplexed, she started tweeting:
United’s social media rep stepped into the fray, explaining that the airline maintains the right to refuse passengers who are “barefoot or not properly clothed,” and that the definition of proper clothing was “left to the discretion of the agents.”
Watts did not find this vague explanation satisfying, and neither did many others—including Patricia Arquette.
At some point in the scuffle, United decided to justify its behavior by referring to the children as “United pass travelers,” prompting understandable confusion. The hell is a “United pass traveler” and what sort of Elizabethan torture girdles are they expected to wear?
United eventually explained that “pass travelers” are “United employees or their eligible dependents standing by on a space-available basis. Pass riders are prioritized last, and are only assigned seats after all other standby customers are accommodated.”
The airline also linked to a “flight standby FAQ,” which reiterated that pass travelers are basically steerage, but did not expound upon the strict dress code to which they must adhere. If anything, shouldn’t such travelers have all the more reason to dress comfortably, given that they’re forced to live with the uncertainty of whether they’ll be given a seat or simply folded into a tub next to the Popchips? Also:
United did not respond to repeated requests for clarification on the dress code for “pass travelers.” A spokesman did, however, tell the Washington Post that
An internal policy for employees using the airline travel benefit, he said, specifically forbids leggings while traveling. It is unclear why United considers leggings to be inappropriate and whether other articles of clothing are barred under the policy.
“Our regular passengers are not going to be denied boarding because they are wearing leggings or yoga pants,” Guerin said. “But when flying as a pass traveler, we require this pass travelers to follow rules, and that is one of those rules.
“They were not compliant with the dress policy with the benefit,” Guerin said, noting that the girls were aware of the internal rule. “This morning, the attire of the pass travelers on this flight didn’t meet the dress code policy.”
The airline has also not publicly commented on the appropriateness of Zubaz.