Why were two teen girls recently prevented from boarding a United Airlines flight because they were wearing leggings? And does the airline have a sexist dress code that needs to be modernized?  Here’s what our Standby TravelingMom has to say about the recent incident that has social media in a tizzy. Do you agree or disagree?

No Leggings on a Plane

On Sunday a story about two early-teen girls in leggings prevented from boarding a United Airlines flight blew up on social media. It was reported that one girl was just 10 years old and traveling with her father. The gate agent gave both girls the opportunity to change before boarding the flight. The 10-year-old girl put a dress on over her clothes and made the flight. A passenger on another airline from an adjacent gate witnessed the interaction and tweeted about it.

United Airlines Bans Girls Wearing Leggings from Flying

United Airlines Bans Girls Wearing Leggings from Flying


United Airlines Bans Girls Wearing Leggings from Flying

United Airlines Bans Girls Wearing Leggings from Flying

It’s understandable that someone might question why a gate agent is dictating what paying customers can wear on the plane. However, these weren’t paying customers. It was later confirmed by the airline that these were non-revenue or standby travelers.

Non-rev travelers are airline employees or the family or friends of an airline employee who have been given special privileges to fly for free if seats are available. Airlines consider anyone flying non-revenue to be representatives of the airline. Therefore, they must adhere to the company’s dress code.

Photo by Deb Steenhagen, TravelingMom with Daughters

Airline Policies

Airline policies differ, but in this case, the girls’ leggings violated United’s dress code:

  • Pass riders’ overall appearance should be well-groomed, neat, clean and in good taste.
  • Attire should be respectful of fellow revenue passengers, employees and pass riders.
  • Pass riders may wear denim attire (such as jeans), shorts that are no more than three inches above the knee and athletic shoes when traveling in Coach or Business cabin.

The following attire is unacceptable in any cabin but is not limited to:

  • Any attire that reveals a midriff.
  • Attire that reveals any type of undergarments.
  • Attire that is designated as sleepwear, underwear, or swim attire.
  • Mini Skirts
  • Shorts that do not meet 3 inches above the knee when in a standing position.
  • Form-fitting lycra/spandex tops, pants and dresses.
  • Attire that has offensive and/or derogatory terminology or graphics.
  • Attire that is excessively dirty or has holes/tears.
  • Any attire that is provocative, inappropriately revealing, or see-through clothing.
  • Bare feet
  • Beach-type, rubber flip-flops

Appropriate Airline Dress Codes

As stated above, form-fitting pants are not allowed. This dress code is definitely a lot stricter than the one we must adhere to for flying standby on Frontier Airlines. Frontier, the airline my husband flies for, has progressively relaxed its guidelines over the past 10 years.

Ten years ago, we were required to wear dress pants/slacks, knee-length or longer skirts (for women) and dress shoes. No longer. Frontier’s dress code is more in line with many of the other carriers I’ve seen:


Shorts, dresses, skirts that are all finger tip length when hands are at the side, sandals, flip flops or other footwear (excluding bedroom slippers), neat, clean and un-offensive clothing.


Shorts, skirts, dresses that do not reach the fingertips when hands are at the side, tank tops, attire that violates public decency laws, exposing undergarments and bare stomachs, sleepwear, beachwear, undergarments, shear, revealing, vulgar, offensive or suggestive clothing (may include some T-shirts and ball caps), dirty or stained.

We have accepted these guidelines without question for the privilege of traveling for free anywhere Frontier flies. We are also sure to share the dress code and ensure friends understand the code of conduct whenever we share buddy passes with them.

The dress code is printed at the bottom of the itinerary that is emailed to the traveler. But we usually reinforce it just so no one is caught off guard. In any case, it is up to the non-revenue traveler to know the policy before flying; in this case, the adults in charge. With great privilege comes great responsibility.

San Francisco Bay Area Airports - SFO 1

Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

How Do Non-Revenue Travelers Represent the Company?

Sometimes a paying customer may discover through casual interaction or observation that another passenger is non-revenue. That passenger represents the employee who gave them that pass, and the employee represents the company. So, in an indirect way, all non-revenue passengers represent the company.

Is United Airlines’ Non-Revenue Dress Code Sexist?

The question being asked since this incident is: Why are there so many restrictions on women’s clothing but not men’s? Isn’t it sexist to limit the ways women can dress while flying?

My answer is that I’m sure the “no leggings” rule applies to boys/men too, as do the following: no crop-tops, revealed undergarments, see-through or provocative clothing. I’m sure if a man showed up wearing lycra bike shorts, or his pants were hanging low enough to reveal his boxer shorts, he too would be asked to change. Or put on a belt.

Ask yourself, “Would I wear this to work?” If the answer is no, then it is probably not appropriate to wear as a representative of the airline extending you flight privileges.

Remember the airport security personnel are people too

Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

At What Age Are Leggings Inappropriate?

The no leggings dress code was applied to a 10-year-old girl. That seems excessive to me and probably to most people reading this. It sexualizes a girl who may not have even reached puberty yet. I’m sure that was not the intent of the gate agent who was just doing her job.

Perhaps United instructs their employees to apply the dress code even-handedly to all ages above infants. I hope. United Airlines is definitely being hit hard with questions right now and perhaps the company will revise its policy somewhat to be more lenient on the younger set. Or remove the leggings ban altogether.

My own 10-year-old daughter runs around in leggings and t-shirts all the time. While it’s not my favorite look, I’ve decided she’s young enough to get away with it. Even while flying.

What do you think about the United Airlines no leggings incident?