March 27th, 2017 – When an airline cancels your flight or loses your luggage, they often receive a phone call or tweet from the offended traveler. But when they ban three young girls from boarding a flight due to being dressed in leggings, they receive tweets from thousands of offended people on behalf of the traveler. United Airlines found themselves playing a terrible game of PR defense after a fellow traveler live-tweeted an incident involving young girls flying with their family.
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, was flying out of a neighboring gate and saw two visibly upset teenage girls around 8:30 Sunday morning. She spoke to The New York Timesand said she approached a “frantic” family contentiously speaking with a gate agent who declared “I don’t make the rules, I just enforce them.”
The mother told Watts that the girls were barred from boarding, because their leggings were deemed inappropriate attire, which the gate agent had the right to police. Watts said the two teenage girls were not able to make the flight, but the younger girl (she thought around age 10) was able to slip a dress over her leggings.
“The girl pulled a dress on,” Ms. Watts said. “But please keep in mind that the dad had on shorts that did not hit his knee — they stopped maybe two or three inches above his knee — and there was no issue with that.”
1) A @united gate agent isn’t letting girls in leggings get on flight from Denver to Minneapolis because spandex is not allowed?
The twitter back-and-forth between United and Watts quickly drew attention from, well, everybody. Everyday travelers, airline employees, other airlines and even William Shatner. Celebrities quickly voiced outrage, personal stories and even boycott warnings all before United addressed the particulars of this incident. Instead, they simply called back to what many referred to as outdated, sexist policies against women.
Following the deluge of angry Twitter users, United began tweeting information that shed a little more light on exactly what happened with the particular travelers. The family was considered “pass travelers,” which means they are flying for free or a greatly reduced rate due to a friend or family member working for the airline. As a pass traveler, you are held to a certain dress code, because United views you as a representative for the airline.
That term, however, didn’t seem to be understood by most users – that misunderstanding paired with the original perceived outdated, sexist policy and United’s rehearsed messaging made the incident explode further.
@armillspaugh Hi Andrew, as you aren’t a pass traveler, your attire doesn’t need to meet the United pass travel clothing requirements. ^AH
By the day’s end, United had pulled together a company response tweeting out a post that read “To our customers…your leggings are welcome! Learn more about our company’s pass travel privilege:”
Nevertheless, the @ replies persisted. One of the top responses to the statement summed up the continued outrage over United’s policy and their handling of the situation. “@united You’re just repeating a simplistic & disingenuous claim. Rules DON’T mention leggings. She was a CHILD! You let a guy in shorts on. @united Instead of apologizing & telling workers not to ban kids wearing leggings under this policy, you double down on it. #SHAMEFUL”
Does United Airlines have the right to patrol young girls’ clothing? Is their policy for pass travelers outdated and sexist? Is #leggingsgate Funny or Offensive? Vote and comment below.