Can everyone just strike a Zen pose and breathe before hurling another day of tweet-invective at United Airlines?
The case of the girls in leggings who were kept off a flight from Denver to Minneapolis seems to have America tied up in knots. But this is a case of missed communication on both sides, with the Twitter-sphere impulse-sharing and magnifying outrage. The story should not have legs.
It all began on Sunday when a gate agent at Denver International Airport told three passengers wearing leggings they could not board United flight 215 to Minneapolis in that attire. One put a dress over the offending pants while two others had nothing else to wear and so the flight left without them.
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Another air traveler witnessed the exchange and began tweeting her fury. “Since when does @United police women’s clothing?” asked Shannon Watts. Ms. Watts has quite an audience, 34,000 followers and God love her, she’s a fierce advocate for ending gun violence in America with an organization called Moms Demand Action. Actress and model Chrissy Teigen also jumped on board, promising when she next flies she’ll wear nothing but jeans and a scarf.
Neither woman, however works for United and their positions on this issue are wildly disproportionate to the perceived offense. Here’s why.
According to United, the travelers were non-revenue passengers, meaning they were using passes issued to United employees that, as part of the deal, come with a behavior and dress code.
“Form-fitting lycra/spandex tops, pants and dresses,” are expressly forbidden.
And in case you are interested, other no-nos include midriff-bearing garments, clothes that communicate offensive or derogatory messages, exposed undergarments, revealing or provocative or see-through clothing and flip flops. FYI, jeans are okay but dirty clothes with holes and tears are not, so free-pass holders, think twice before heading to the airport in your new shredded denims.
United’s problem was that in the initial response to the Twitter storm, it referred to its policy for denying boarding to passengers. This is a vague “not properly clothed” reference in the contract of carriage that refers to all travelers and is about safety not decorum.
The day the airline had sent a special email advisory to gate agents reminding them of the restrictions for travelers using the company-issued passes, according to businessinsider.com.
The issue of the legging-clad girls was not about how all passengers should be clothed, but that these travelers failed to abide by the terms issued with their non-revenue passes.
This is the airline’s solid ground.
In taking the position that airline workers should always present themselves in the best possible light, even when they appear to be no more than fellow air travelers, United can have a say in what they wear if they are flying on airline-provided travel passes. This is well-understood by the pilots and flight attendants with whom I spoke over the weekend.
“Customer service reps prevail on who gets on or is barred for inappropriate attire,” a pilot for the airline told me.
“Pass travel rules and regulations have always had a dress code. It used to be business attire,” one of the airline’s flight attendants said. As a result, United employees traveling on passes were often the best-dressed passengers on the plane. A pilot for United, told me there was a time when men had to wear jackets and ties and women dresses and hose when using the non-rev passes.
“Current rules are much more reasonable,” he said. “If employees don’t want to comply they can buy a ticket and wear whatever they want. “
Other airlines also enforce dress codes for their employees, “You have to think a little bit about it, because you are in a way representing the company,” a flight attendant for a European airline told me. While the pilot above explained, “You might be able to go into a store dressed in a swim suit as a customer, but that would be inappropriate for an employee.”
We live in live-and-let-live times in America but when it comes to air travel, passengers are so thin-skinned and easily offended, the airlines can’t do anything right.
“Why don’t people mind their own business or try to get all the facts?” a United flight attendant asked me rhetorically after watching social media blow up on this issue on Sunday.
United, like most other airlines around the world, has a policy intended to do what so many paying passengers can’t get energized to accomplish, that is present a “neat and professional appearance” a dab of inoffensiveness in a tightly-packed airplane full of everyone else’s self-expression.
It’s not sexist, it’s not unjust, it’s not arbitrary. What it is, is nobody’s business but United’s.
Why The Outrage Over United Shouldn’t Have Legs – Forbes