A US airline has defended its decision to ban young girls from boarding a flight because they were wearing leggings.
A United Airlines gate agent reportedly ordered the girls to change or put on dresses over their leggings at Denver International Airport on Saturday. The girls looked to be aged around 10 years old and “looked normal and appropriate”, according to Shannon Watts, who observed the incident.
Watts, the founder of anti-gun violence campaign group Moms Demand Action, wrote on Twitter: “A United gate agent isn’t letting girls in leggings get on flight from Denver to Minneapolis because spandex isn’t allowed”.
She added: “She’s forcing them to change or put dresses on over leggings or they can’t board.
“Since when does United police women’s clothing?”
Watts said that when the gate agent was questioned as to why she was barring the girls from the flight, she replied by saying that she “doesn’t make the rules, just follows them” – implying that United Airlines had a policy of not allowing leggings on flights.
The agent’s behaviour was “sexist and sexualises young girls”, said Watts. The girls’ father was travelling with them and was allowed to board with no issue, she said – despite the fact that he was wearing shorts.
United Airlines responded to Watts’ claims on Twitter by stating that the airline has the right to refuse “passengers who are barefoot or not properly clothed” under Rule 21 of their Contract of Carriage.
However, many were quick to point out that the rules don’t specify what “not properly clothed” actually means – and that leggings are not widely considered to be inappropriate or “improper” clothing.
United Airlines said that it was “left to the discretion of the gate agents” as to what constituted acceptable attire and said the girls were “pass riders”, defined as passengers who are “United employees or eligible dependents” who fly as a “company benefit”. This suggests that the girls were likely related to a United employee.
“There is a dress code for pass travellers as they are representing UA when they fly,” United wrote. “Casual attire is allowed as long as it looks neat and is in good taste for the local environment.”
Jonathan Guerin, a spokesman for the company, told The Washington Post that “regular passengers are not going to be denied boarding because they are wearing yoga pants”, but that different rules apply to pass riders.
“We require pass travellers to follow rules,” said Guerin. “That is one of those rules.”
This explanation didn’t fly with many Twitter users, who took to the social media site to pledge that they would no longer be flying with United.
Celebrities have also waded in, with Chrissy Teigen writing that she has “flown United before with literally no pants on. Just a top as a dress. Next time I will wear only jeans and a scarf.”
Patricia Arquette, meanwhile, poured scorn on United’s suggestion that even child “pass riders” should wear business attire.
“Leggings are business attire for 10 year olds,” wrote the Oscar-winning actor. “Their business is being children.”
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