The friendly skies came off as not so friendly yesterday when a United Airlines agent told two teenage girls that they would not be able to board their flight because they were not dressed properly. Shannon Watts, a fellow traveler who was nearby when the incident took place, sent out a firestorm of tweets recounting the exchange and exclaiming that the airline was specifically targeting the young women. A post on her feed read, “This behavior is sexist and sexualizes young girls.” Celebrities also started to weigh in, especially Patricia Arquette and the outspoken Chrissy Teigen, who tweeted, “I have flown United before with literally no pants on. Just a top as a dress. Next time I will only wear jeans and a scarf.”
The shunned travelers were participants in United’s pass program, which allows relatives or friends of airline employees to fly for free or at discounted rates. The catch? There always is with a major airline; in this case, there is indeed a strict dress code in place for pass fliers. In a statement posted on United’s website this morning, the company explains it as such: “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.” It added, “The passengers this morning were United Pass riders and not in compliance with our dress code for company benefit travel. . . . To our regular customers, your leggings are welcome.”
So there you go. United doesn’t hate your yoga pants, folks, they just don’t want its airline associated with athleisure. Generally speaking, dress decorum at the airport is a polarizing topic. Among Vogue editors, habits range from wearing jeans to the airport and changing into sweats on a flight to sporting a pair of roomy camo pants. Others said they wore leggings and sweats often when flying. And we all know that in celebrity-land, anything goes—when was the last time anyone saw a gate agent shoo off Bella Hadid for wearing a bra top in the TSA pre-check line?
Rules are rules, but it should also be said that in a time when women’s rights are on the political chopping block and hate rhetoric is so widespread, perhaps United could have taken a more thoughtful approach and not turned the girls away so quickly. They were eventually able to board a later flight after changing into dresses. A warning probably would have sufficed, and the airline would have dodged the bullet-gone-Internet-viral.
In the end, who really cares what anyone wears to the airport to get from point A to point B? Whether it’s someone in a pretty dress, printed tights, and a tee or an airline employee’s cousin in a pair of Lululemon pants, anything should fly.
This story originally appeared on Vogue.
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