The Legging-Gate Hysteria

March 28, 2017
It seems like the news media cannot stop talking about the teenage girls who were not permitted to board a United Airlines flight because they were wearing leggings. A tweet, a share, and a couple movie stars (with their limitless authority) weighing in, and within hours, media outlets were reporting outrage for this “sexist policy”.

Misinformation abounded.

So perhaps we should look at the facts. This whole ordeal started when Shannon Watts, a passenger on an entirely different flight, became enraged about a situation she spied at a nearby gate involving the use of employee passes. To the best of my knowledge, Ms. Watts is not an airline employee nor is she familiar with the dress code policy that accompanies free employee pass travel. However, that did not stop her from appearing on various news shows across the country to give her analysis of how sexist the dress code (of which she was not familiar) was.

The scenario that got Ms. Watts so incensed occurs numerous times every day around the country. It’s called “following the rules”. It’s a concept that allows for civilization. The travelers in question were traveling on employee passes. In other words, they can travel for free in first class if they don’t dress like slobs. As far as the policy being sexist, as Ms. Watts claimed in a news follow up, it isn’t. Men are not allowed to wear leggings either.

United, and every other airline, has rules regarding apppropriate dress when traveling on employee passes. For one thing, the pass travelers, whether they want to or not, are representing the airline when in public. For another, it is completely within the airline’s purview to establish dress and behavior rules for employees and their pass travelers who are flying FOR FREE. If the airline wants pass-travelers to genuflect when they board, so be it. It’s a small price to pay for a first class ticket.

So far, we have not heard a word from the employee whose pass travelers were not adhering to the rules. No wonder: failure to adhere to appearance and behavior standards while on pass travel may result in loss of pass travel privileges. Before e-tickets, employee travel passes were paper documents which had the dress requirements clearly spelled out. Now, the requirements are specified on the airline’s employee-only website. An employee can’t list for a flight without seeing them. The employee in question is probably mortified that the travelers in question, who represented him or her, could not adhere to these reasonable, professional appearance standards.

In my 30-plus years as an airline pilot, I have always worn a coat and tie when traveling at airline expense, even long after the dress rules were somewhat relaxed. And, to this day, all of my authorized pass-riders dress with the same sense of propriety. As a United new-hire, I learned that pass-riders clearly represent the airline, and if we wanted to wear pajamas, we could BUY OUR OWN TICKETS. Or travel by Greyhound.

In the past 40 years, I’ve seen passenger attire go from coat-and-tie to cut-offs and flip-flops. Personally, I preferred the former and wish the trend could be reversed, but that ship sailed long ago. What the ultra-casual travelers do not realize is the serious risk they impose on themselves in the event of an aircraft evacuation.

Anyway, the solution to the legging fiasco is rather simple and straight forward: adhere to the rules or BUY A TICKET!