On Sunday Mar 25, two teenage girls were stopped by United Airlines from boarding their flight because they were dressed in leggings.
According to CNBC the two girls, who were using free passes for employees and family members of United Airlines, were told by a gate attendant that they could not get on the plane while wearing the form-fitted pants.
United spokesman, Jonathan Guerin told CNBC that passengers who use the passes are considered airline representatives, and are subject to a dress code that prohibits sleepwear, swimwear, torn clothing, and revealing attire.
The two girls were fine with the policy, it was a traveler by the name of Shannon Watts who overheard the situation who took offense, and sent a tweet that accused the airline of “policing women’s clothing” that quickly went viral.
According to CNN, Watts took further offense when she overheard a woman telling her 10 year-old daughter to put a dress on over her leggings. The woman thought the policy applied to all passengers when that’s wasn’t the case.
A spokesman for the social media analysis firm Birchman, Kellen Terry told CNBC that after the incident the Airlines mentions on Twitter, Facebook, and instagram increased from its average of 2000 mentions to 174000 with nearly 70 % of the mentions being negative.
In a phone interview Watts conceded that she initially did not realize that the girls were using passes that required a dress code, but regardless the policy was wrong headed.
She told CNBC “I don’t get why that’s the issue here, A dress code still shouldn’t be gendered and sexist. To be clear this was happening very publicly, right here in the gate.”
Guerin told the New York Times, “It’s not that we want our standby travelers to come in wearing a suit and tie or that sort of thing,” he said. “We want people to be comfortable when they travel as long as it’s neat and in good taste for that environment.”
The United employees who ran the Twitter account spent the day walking the tight rope of public relations, explaining to angry users how they weren’t wrong, and reassuring potential customers that they would not be stopped from boarding their flight if they showed up in leggings.