United Airlines
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

Two Girls Not Permitted Aboard Airplane Due to What They Wore — and Why

A  promulgation of social media and weblog articles occurred pertaining to two girls who were initially not permitted to board an airplane operated by United Airlines because they were wearing “leggings” — but the two girls were reportedly permitted to board once they changed into more appropriate attire.

Two Girls Not Permitted Aboard Airplane Due to What They Wore — and Why

The brouhaha apparently all started with a “tweet” from Shannon Watts which read “A gate agent isn’t letting girls in leggings get on flight from Denver to Minneapolis because spandex is not allowed?”:

This was followed by a second “tweet” which read “She’s forcing them to change or put dresses on over leggings or they can’t board. Since when does police women’s clothing?”:

Since when does United Airlines police women’s clothing? Why, that policy has been around for many years — and not simply towards clothing which women wear; and not only from United Airlines.

Multiple sources cite that the two girls were traveling on what are known as buddy passes. Of the eleven reasons why you may not want to use a buddy pass when traveling about which I wrote in this article, the last reason specified that you must dress at the appropriate minimum standard as set forth by airline policy:

Do not even think about wearing clothing which is considered ratty, filthy, unkempt, sexually provocative or sports profane messages. Wearing comfortable casual clothing in a neat manner is acceptable — although some airlines might require business casual as a minimum dress code when traveling using a buddy pass.

Ensure that your personally hygiene is minimally acceptable as well. Do not look like a slob or emit offensive odors, for example.

If the dress code does not appeal to you — or if you feel that it interferes with your appearance, which reflects your personality — then do not consider traveling using a buddy pass.

Another article which I wrote pertains to ten tips on how to use buddy passes to prevent your trip from going horribly wrong — complete with examples which actually occurred. This specific incident could have very well become yet another one of those examples.

Delta Air Lines relaxed the dress code several years ago for passengers — including those who travel using buddy passes — but according to this document offered by Delta Air Lines back in 2011 which details the proper business etiquette when traveling while using a buddy pass:

Delta has a relaxed dress code for pass riders, including Buddies. The standard is based on respect — for our customers and for you. Delta trusts your good judgment when traveling on a Buddy Pass. Just remember, Delta has a relaxed dress code for pass riders, but that doesn’t mean a sloppy appearance is acceptable. You should never wear unclean, revealing or lewd garments, or swimwear or sleepwear on a flight. The relaxed dress code also applies for Buddy Pass travel on Delta Connection carriers.

“The standard is based on respect” is the key to that paragraph. No one wants to sit next to a slob who has unbearable body odor and halitosis. The airlines are simply attempting to promote a respectable atmosphere in which passengers can enjoy traveling while aboard their airplanes — and in most cases, those minimum standards really are not outrageous or significantly restrictive.

Is United Airlines Promoting a Double Standard?

Jeff Yang wrote in the following “tweet” that United Airlines blocks “girls in leggings from flights but you’re promoting yourself w/THIS tweet?”

In case that “tweet” is deleted, it contained the following “tweet” from United Airlines which contained a photograph of a woman engaged in a yoga routine near a window at an airport with airplanes in the background outside while she was wearing yoga pants:

That is correct, Jeff: that “tweet” from United Airlines was marketed towards customers, not passengers traveling on buddy passes. There is a difference; and that difference was explained by the aforementioned document from Delta Air Lines.


The buddy pass is a privilege and not a right. Passengers pay as customers to fly aboard airplanes from one location to another; whereas buddy passes cost a significant fraction of a typical airline ticket and are allotted to employees of the airline to be used by friends, family or colleagues as they see fit…

…and if the person does not follow the rules of the buddy pass, then the employee may be responsible for the behavior of the passenger. Users of buddy passes are supposed to set an example for other passengers by maintaining a minimum required decorum as set forth by the airlines. Passengers who travel via buddy passes in effect are representatives of the airline for the duration of the flight; and from airport to airport until their travel has completed. As a result, they are held to a higher standard than conventional passengers.

Even paying customers are expected to adhere to some minimum limits as imposed by the airlines. As one of many examples, remember back in May of 2016 when a burlesque performer was denied permission to board an airplane at the international airport in Boston for a connecting flight to Seattle operated by JetBlue Airways because her shorts were too short, causing her to search the airport to purchase a pair of sleeping trunks for $22.00 so that she can get home?

The airline has every right to set a minimum standard dress code aboard the airplanes which it operates — especially for employees and passengers who travel on buddy passes — and, in fact, most airlines have a dress code of some sort.

The official statement via a “tweet” pertaining to this incident was simple and quite clear:

“The passengers this morning were United pass riders who were not in compliance with our dress code policy for company benefit travel.”

Despite the fact that I prefer to travel in a t-shirt or polo short, a pair of jeans and a pair of sneakers — and no, I do not dress slovenly whenever I travel — I wholeheartedly agree with United Airlines with respect to this particular situation…

…and while people have a right to opine pertaining to whether or not anyone should or should not wear certain attire aboard an airplane is not up to us to decide or dictate — even if the majority of people might disagree with the policy of a dress code.

If you do not like the dress code of an airline — or any particular establishment in general — then do not patronize the entity. It is as simple as that.

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Non-story. If anything, the point of the story should be that whoever provided these buddy passes did not adequately inform the passengers of the dress code.

    1. That may very well be a possibility, gobluetwo — or perhaps the person may not know the policies well enough…

  2. Well-written. Sooooooo over self-absorbed narcissists with zero concept of “common space”. Glad the airline did this – makes me more inclined to use them given they actually enforce SOME kind of passenger decorum standards.

    1. The problem is that the threshold of passenger decorum standards in common spaces is subjective from person to person and therefore differs, VoiceOfReason.

      LAXBob offers an excellent example in the comment below…

  3. Deeper story here is that the person who perpetuated this is supposed to be a journalist. She did zero fact checking about the situation and just tweeted opinions. She has yet to correct the story or apologize, but instead tries to turn it into a lesson on company social media management.

    I personally feel yoga pants are trash in a general setting. Despite me judging flyers in them, it is the paying customer’s right. These were not paying customers. They agreed to a set of rules, whether they were teens or not, and should have followed them.

    1. I am not fond of yoga pants myself, LAXBob — but outside of the buddy pass rules, I am not sure that they are not appropriate in a general setting.

      Then again, there was a time where jeans, sneakers and a polo shirt was not considered appropriate in a general setting either — today, it is more generally accepted — and some people might attribute that as a minor factor to the denigration of society…

  4. Good post – non-revs should know the rules; I know, having been one before. If you don’t like it, don’t try to fly for free.

  5. Just because UA used that yoga girl in promotions does not mean you can wear that suit onboard, this does not even require an inference, any amount of common sense will supply the conclusion.

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