Airline Bans Teen Girls From Flight for Ridiculously Sexist Reason

We hear a lot of stories about people being banned from flying for infuriatingly invalid reasons, but this weekend, two girls were prevented from boarding a United Airlines flight for perhaps one of the most infuriatingly invalid reasons we've ever heard: because they were wearing leggings. The incident was initially tweeted about by shocked onlooker Shannon Watts (the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense) and then confirmed by a United Airlines rep, who said the girls (who were apparently teens) were traveling using a United employee pass and "were not in compliance with our dress code policy for company benefit travel." But why in the world are leggings considered "inappropriate" to begin with?


According to United Airlines spokesman Jonathan Guerin, an "internal policy" for employees using the airline travel benefit specifically forbids leggings while traveling. However, this tweet highlights the incredibly nonspecific section of United's passenger general contract, which apparently allows the company to ban travelers based on its determination of "proper" clothing:

tweet about united_cingraham/Twitter

Guerin also said that the girls were aware of the policy, which is how United Airlines is justifying the fact that they weren't allowed on their flight (a third girl was reportedly allowed to board after putting a dress from her backpack on over her leggings). In a statement, United explained that leggings are fine for "paying customers," but that "pass riders" must follow the company dress code:

"Like most companies, we have a dress code that we ask employees and pass riders to follow .... The passengers this morning were United pass riders and not in compliance with our dress code for company benefit travel."

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But the issue here isn't whether or not these girls were following the rules -- the issue is that the rules are flawed in the first place. 

It's safe to say that United Airlines doesn't have a problem with casual dress, otherwise we'd be hearing about passengers (even those using employee passes) being banned for wearing cut-offs or T-shirts all the time, presumably. The problem is clearly with women's bodies -- or with clothing that displays women's bodies in what United Airlines feels is an "inappropriate" manner. Which brings us back to the question: Why are leggings inappropriate? Leggings cover more skin than even a pair of knee-length shorts. Yes, they're tight -- but so are men's skinny jeans, and we haven't heard of any hipster guys being turned away at the gate. However seemingly benign it may be, this "not properly clothed" caveat gives the airline a loophole to police women's bodies and get away with it ... and that's just not okay. 

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The worst part, of course, is that these weren't even grown women who were shamed for their leggings -- they were teenage girls. What kind of a message does this send to those girls and countless others? That the very shape of their bodies is something so deviant and dangerous that it must be hidden at all costs?

Not only is this policy unbelievably archaic and sexist toward women of all ages, but it also objectifies children's bodies. This is the kind of thinking that leads to victim-blaming. This is the kind of thinking that leads to sexual assaults going unreported and perpetrators getting away with their crimes. Dress codes like these are bad enough when they're enforced in schools -- but on an airplane? What harm could possibly come of allowing children to fly in leggings? It's unfathomable.

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As a woman and mother of a teenage daughter, I find that this story makes my blood boil. This is not 1957, it's 2017. There is no place whatsoever for this kind of systemic misogyny in our society, and we cannot allow it to keep happening. This might seem like a relatively minor injustice, but we cannot afford to tolerate injustice at any level. Not when our fundamental rights as women are increasingly under attack. Not when we have a president whose consistent disrespect of women wasn't enough to keep some people from voting for him. We can't let this slide. We cannot be silent. 

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