Dress codes are common in high school classrooms and the workplace. But one wouldn’t expect to see them on an airplane.
As reported by the New York Times, two teenage girls were refused entry to their flight by a United gate agent for wearing leggings. Additionally, a child travelling with her family was forced to pull a dress on over her clothes because of her leggings.
Shannon Watts, a passenger at the neighboring gate who witnessed this, first reported the incident on Twitter. In her New York Times interview, Watts added that there was “no issue” that their dad “had on shorts that did not hit his knee.”
United confirmed the incident, and doubled down on their employee’s dress code enforcement. The two young women barred were apparently “pass travelers” travelling on United Airlines employee passes. As reported in their statement, United policy is that those travelers must ‘represent the company’ in what they wear.
But United further explained on Twitter that enforcement of dress code rules for pass travelers is “left to the discretion of the gate agents.” United’s dress code rules are not enforced uniformly, and cannot be enforced uniformly, if they are up to an individual’s opinions. If it’s not always enforced in the same way, then what’s the point of having a dress code?
Maybe these teenage girls wore leggings on a different flight as pass travelers. If they had, and their gate agent hadn’t stopped them then, they wouldn’t even know about the rules. Leggings are a casual clothing item for many women, especially on airplanes, where comfort is of the utmost importance. An airplane isn’t a workplace, even for pass travelers who work for United in other capacities, and especially not for those travelers’ families.
One passenger’s father was, as described, allowed to wear his shorts on the plane.
What’s the fundamental difference between leggings and shorts? Unlike shorts, most leggings cover someone’s entire legs. When this gate agent went on their crusade against leggings on minors, they did not have any comments about the father’s shorts. The gate agent considered women’s legs to be inherently more inappropriate than men’s, reflecting the unfair ways in which dress codes are applied nationwide.
In school environments, dress codes are often justified by saying that otherwise, girls will “distract” the boys in their classes. This is a sexist argument — it shouldn’t be a woman’s responsibility to ensure that she isn’t objectified. Instead, we should teach people not to objectify strangers and classmates in an academic setting.
Beyond that, the argument that leggings are a distraction doesn’t make sense in this case.
Who’s going to get distracted on a plane? If it’s the pilot, he really shouldn’t be flying anyways.
Leggings are just leggings. People should wear what they want on planes, if that’s a nun’s habit or shorts.