DENVER — Two teenage girls were barred by a gate agent from boarding a United Airlines flight from Denver to Minneapolis on Sunday because they were wearing leggings, according to a spokesman for the airline.
The girls, whose ages were not specified, were not allowed onto the morning flight because they were traveling under an employee travel pass that includes a dress code, United spokesman Jonathan Guerin said.
The dress code bars pass travelers from wearing spandex or Lycra pants such as leggings. The teenagers agreed to change their clothing and take a later flight, Guerin said, but the airline’s actions sparked a quick backlash on Twitter.
Activist Shannon Watts of Denver tweeted that she witnessed Sunday’s events and questioned United’s decision to police women’s clothing.
Watts said the girl’s father was allowed to board while wearing shorts and called the airline’s policy sexist.
Regularly ticketed passengers are not subject to the same dress code and can wear leggings, Guerin said. But the airline was standing by its policy for pass travelers because they are essentially representing the company, he said.
“We would ask the same of pass riders who were wearing flip-flops or who were wearing clothing that revealed their undergarments or torn, tattered jeans,” Guerin said.
Another girl who was wearing gray leggings had to change before she was allowed to board the flight from Denver to Minneapolis, a witness said.
“She’s forcing them to change or put dresses on over leggings or they can’t board,” Shannon Watts, who was at a gate at Denver International Airport, said on Twitter. “Since when does united police women’s clothing?”
United, responding to tweets about the incident tweeted that “United shall have the right to refuse passengers who are not properly clothed via our Contract of Carriage.” And added, ” This is left to the discretion of the agents.”
The airline’s passenger contract says for the safety of all passengers and crew members, the airline can refuse to let a passenger on board if the passengers is “barefoot or not properly clothed.”
The airlines, however, does not define “properly clothed.”
Travelers familiar with the airline employee travel pass say it has long been a requirement for those using the benefit to dress up more so than paying passengers.
Social media exploded Sunday with users called the incident horrendous, outrageous and a nonsense. Several users asked why leggings aren’t proper clothing and promised to take their business— and leggings— to another airline. Many women wear leggings, yoga and athletic gear for comfort while traveling.
Watts was traveling on vacation to Mexico when she heard a family next to her panic. Then she heard the female agent explain to the young travelers that they couldn’t get on the plane wearing Spandex.
— The Washington Post contributed to this report.