United Airlines found itself in a PR crisis as it attempted to explain why two young women were not allowed to board a plane in Denver this morning.
It all started when a Colorado woman at Denver International Airport tweeted that a gate agent for United Airlines was refusing to let “girls in leggings” get on a flight to Minneapolis.
Shannon Watts wrote that the agent was “forcing them to change or put dresses on over leggings … Since when does @united police women’s clothing?”
United has confirmed that two girls were not allowed to board. They were flying for free using special stand-by tickets for employees, a perk that comes with a special dress code, according to the company. Meanwhile, Watts’ thread had some 1,500 retweets and United is weathering a wave of complaints and questions.
Watts reported that two young women were turned away because they didn’t have clothing to replace their leggings, while a third passenger was able to change into a dress. (Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and has a significant following.)
United’s initial response on Twitter was that the company “shall have the right to refuse passengers who are not properly clothed via our Contract of Carriage.”
That contract does not specifically spell out any rules about leggings or other clothing. Later, the airline posted that “the customers this morning were United pass travelers … There is a dress code for pass travelers as they are representing UA when they fly.”
A pass traveler is someone who is using stand-by tickets that airline employees can get for their friends and family. Basically, you show up at the airport and hope there’s space for you on the plane. It can come with some particular rules and restrictions, especially about clothing.
“Casual attire is allowed as long as it looks neat and is in good taste for the local environment,” the company tweeted.
Jonathan Guerin, a company spokesman, told Denverite that the code specifically forbids uncovered leggings. Employees are regularly reminded about the restrictions on their friends and families, he said.
“I think it goes back to representing the employee that is extending this privilege to them,” he said.
As that explanation emerged, Watts responded: “A 10-year-old girl in gray leggings. She looked normal and appropriate. Apparently @united is policing the clothing of women and girls.”
Watts further noted that a father of one of the girls was allowed to board in shorts. (Guerin described the two passengers who were turned away as teenagers, adding that they were part of a party of three. He could not confirm whether a father in shorts boarded the plane.)
If you want, you can watch United attempt to explain the situation over and over again on Twitter.
“We acknowledge the severity of the situation, and are looking into it,” the airline told one person. “We appreciate your honest feedback.”