Readers respond: Should airline have barred fliers wearing leggings?


Palm Beach Post readers, an exceedingly well-informed group with a variety of opinions, don’t usually come to a consensus, at least not about the stories I write. But in the case of my column about United Airlines’ controversial decision to not allow two young women flying on free employee passes to board their flight wearing leggings, you mostly seem to agree that the issue comes down to this - the importance of freebies and questionable parenting decisions.

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“If you accept a “perk”, that perk has rules attached,” reader Alan Prefer of Delray Beach wrote. “Either accept the rules with the perk or don’t accept the perk.”

Prefer, and others, were referring to the fact that the young ladies, attempting to fly from Denver to Minneapolis, were taking advantage of a sweet bonus that airlines provide to employees and their families - free or discounted air travel. Apparently one of the rules for those using such passes on United is a strict dress code that strictly prohibits leggings, because of the idea these passengers represent the airline.

Some critics of that policy questioned why anyone would assume young teenage girls not wearing United uniforms were affiliated with the carrier or why the policies seem harsher on women than men: “Their leggings were a shameful display causing would-be United customers to flee to other airlines in horror at the disgusting display of a child’s legs covered in a material that is close-fitting, not baggy,” one Facebook user wrote sarcastically.

And of course, I’m sure most guests weren’t clutching their pearls or fainting, but my point was that if following the rules is the only way to get free tickets, those rules should be followed.

And readers, including travelers who have used such passes, agreed: “I worked for a major airline from 1983 through 1986. They required female ‘non-revenue passengers’ to wear pantyhose (when wearing a dress or skirt) on flights where we were using a pass,” wrote Suzy Wilkoff of West Palm Beach. “I saw the world for next to nothing and gladly dressed as required.”

Samantha Elio of Hobe Sound wrote that her “children are airline brats. They knew from a very young age that we all got ‘dressed’ for a flight and we never told a seat mate that we were flying for free. Pass travel is a privilege, not a right, and we were privileged to travel the world with Pan Am, dressed appropriately.”

Some people agreed that free tickets are great but questioned why some airlines are concerned about appearances in some circumstances but not others. One Facebook user, a longtime Jupiter resident, felt that the experience could be emotionally scarring for such young girls, who “got held back and told that there was something wrong. I’m all about freebies too, and I am a rule follower but if they are letting those passes go to drunk passengers (I’ve seen it and they keep serving them) and turn a blind eye - but stop these little girls for wearing leggings - well - United picks on little girls.”

That commenter, and others, made me think about something I hadn’t considered. Initial reports had not mentioned that these young ladies were flying with their parents, including their father, who was wearing shorts that seem to have met United’s guidelines.

Because the girls were presumably not the United employees, the fault - and any raised eyebrows - might better be directed at those parents, who should have known the rules and made sure their kids followed them if they didn’t want to get stuck paying full price.

“I’m sorry that the parents put their kids in that situation,” wrote a long-time Lake Worth resident on Facebook. “They should have known better.”

For Jim Hamlin of Jupiter, the issue isn’t with United’s rules, but with the clothing itself: “We put leggings in the category of inappropriate attire, except for use in the gym,” he wrote.

Finally, Dan Feldman of Boca Raton took exception not with leggings on planes, but whether it’s really true that “women’s dress codes are held to a higher standard than men’s.” He thinks not.

“I remember standing in line for half an hour to get into Harrah’s, Atlantic City Pool Night Club. When I finally got to the front of the line the bouncer told me I couldn’t come in because I was wearing open toed sandals. I looked back at EVERY women with their pedis in full sight and said to the guy he has got to be kidding. Didn’t help, I couldn’t get in,” he writes.

Another time, Feldman says, he was denied entry into Houston’s in Fort Lauderdale when he pulled up on a boat in a tank top, because “what else do you wear on a boat? I walked inside and was told by the hostess I couldn’t be seated because tank tops weren’t allowed. Again, I looked around and half the women there had on tops skimpier than mine. Still I had to go back to the boat and found a dirty, smelly T-shirt with sleeves, just to get in.”

One wonders if that T-shirt would have been acceptable for an employee pass on United Airlines. Especially if worn with leggings.



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