Airlines do not have it easy in the social media age. If something awful, boneheaded or just plain questionable happens, the world is going to hear about it and sympathy will be in short supply. The latest case of backlash bubbled today up when The Internet® had a lot of thoughts about a story involving two girls and United’s decision to boot the passengers off the flight over their attire.
Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts tweeted her dismay and frustration over an incident where two United customers were barred from their Minneapolis-bound flight over their leggings.
United’s defense on the issue? The airline has the right to refuse service to customers deemed to be dressed inappropriately. Or in other words, United decided Sunday was a good time to knock over Pandora’s Box.
The customers in question were United Pass users, a designation that has a different brand of dress code than other passengers. That explanation (understandably) did little to quell the backlash over the decision to deem the travel wear inappropriate.
What qualifies as inappropriate seems to be lacking a hard and fast set of rules in this regard. Anyone that’s had to share a seat next to a dude with his scrunched up dink mushed into thin sweatpants knows that airlines seem pretty darn flexible on what is considered reasonable attire. The issue quickly grabbed the attention of Twitter with Chrissy Teigen, Sarah Silverman and Patricia Arquette among the voices slamming United over the choice to enforce this rule over girls in leggings.
United have been repeatedly stressing that they have the right to refuse service over what they deem inappropriate for company benefit travel. While United remains technically correct, this stance is doing the opposite of endearing themselves to customers.
To suggest a tween is dressing inappropriately for wearing leggings on a flight (even as someone taking advantage of a corporate service) is presenting a public face of policing what women wear and projecting internal biases on what clothing means. Instead of deftly handling the situation, the airline now has to deal with a stigma of sexualizing the attire of girls and valuing the rights of their policy over common sense. Leggings may be considered “inappropriate” for the company’s pass rider dress code, but the optics of being called out publicly by Sarah Silverman and Chrissy Teigen for barring service is much worse look.