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Yesterday, the Internet was abuzz about a situation involving 2 pre-teen girls in a family flying from Denver to Minneapolis who were denied boarding for wearing leggings.  Blog-wise, I saw coverage from Live and Let’s Fly, One Mile at a Time, View from the Wing, Point me to the Plane, and others.

United’s non-rev dress code

It turns out that these passengers were what’s called “non-rev” travelers, which means that they were likely either family of airline employees or friends on a “buddy pass”.

So if you want to wear leggings on a United or any other airline flight, you absolutely can…. if you pay for your ticket.  When United is letting you fly for free, you agree to a stricter set of rules.

Learning from the Pirates of the Caribbean

I was reminded of a scene from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean (the first movie aka the only good one)

CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow informs Will Turner that there are only 2 things that matter: what a man CAN do and what a man CAN’T do.  In United’s situation, there’s the matter of what United CAN do and what UNITED CAN’T do

What United CAN do

I think that United was well within their rights as well as their policies to deny boarding, based on their non-rev code of conduct.  My wife and I flew non-rev on buddy passes once (never again!) back in 1999 and our friend, who was a Delta flight attendant, made it very clear to us that there was a dress code.  I remember us wearing business casual (but it’s been nearly 20 years so the details are a bit hazy…).  As The Unaccompanied Flier (a frequent non-rev traveler) put it, when you fly on a buddy pass or similar, you are acting (in a way) as a representative of the company.

Personally I think dress codes in 95% of life situations are outdated, so a good look at their policy is probably in order as well.  One Mile at a Time wonders if their policy is somewhat sexist, since it focuses specifically on clothing worn by women.

What United CAN’T do

What United CAN’T do, is ignore the repercussions of perception.  As we found out, nobody else in the terminal can tell who is or is not flying on a buddy pass and most people don’t really care either.  As I put it in the title of this post

You’re not going to get far in life by being a jerk to 10 year old girls

Perhaps this would be a situation where some compassion on the gate agent’s part would have gone a long way.  I have my own opinions about whether leggings / yoga pants are appropriate public apparel, but that ship sailed a long time ago.

I’d also support discipline against the employee who gave out the buddy passes.  It is his or her responsibility to share the rules of buddy pass travel.  And while they eventually came out with an appropriate response / press release, their initial response on Twitter was not very compassionate.

Readers – what about you?  What are your thoughts on the situation? What SHOULD United have done?

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