Earlier this week, two teenage girls were barred from boarding a United flight because they were wearing leggings. By now, we’ve all heard about the drama. We saw the media erupt with articles and memes, with a sprinkle of celebrity outbursts on Twitter. Most of these public reactions intended to expose what seemed like sexism, but as always, there’s more than one side to the story.
As a flight attendant, frequent pass rider and airport regular, I’m here to tell you what ACTUALLY went wrong at the now trending #LeggingsGate.
First of all, these weren’t normal passengers.
The truth came out pretty shortly that these women were traveling on buddy passes. Each employee for the airline receives these every year to give family and friends as a part of their benefits. These passes cost little to nothing, and are for standby reservations.
Therefore when pass riders travel, they represent the company. The employees are responsible for informing them about the rules, and are liable for their behavior. One of the main regulations is a dress code, which is not required of revenue passengers, but serves as a guideline to properly represent the airline while traveling.
The pass rider guidelines are actually not sexist at all.
No, unfortunately we haven’t revealed another pocket of sexism here. The dress code is listed with requirements of all people, and doesn’t mention gender. In the incident this week, the women were wearing leggings. Along with things like sleep and swim wear, it’s listed explicitly that “form-fitting lyrca/spandex tops, pants and dresses” are not permitted.
This rule, along with all others, never states or implies any gender normative. Furthermore, because pass riders have access to air travel at little cost, it is not unreasonable for United to hold them to a representable standard.
Regardless, the situation was not handled properly.
I DIGRESS. In no way am I trying to claim that I agree with the way this incident was addressed. First of all, the employee who gave them buddy passes should have informed them of the dress code. Next, the gate agent should not have made the conversation noticeable to other revenue passengers, who don’t understand the differences in expectation. Pass riders look like everyone else, so it’s understandable why bystanders were taken aback.
When a pass rider is violating dress code, the situation is addressed by the gate agent. Sometimes, if allowed, they even can change clothes. Regardless, whether it be because of time or discretion, these women were barred from boarding. Cue the public outrage.
At the end of the day, it makes sense that the initial reaction spread the way it did. Keeping innocent girls in athleisure-wear from occupying a cramped seat to Minneapolis seems absurd. When we break down the facts, we find this whole mess was just one string of miscommunication to another. The upside? At least now we all are aware, so we’ll never have to deal with Chrissy Teigen threatening to fly topless again.
Yours truly (in well-groomed and representable taste),
Miss All Over the Place