It appears that few if any companies have learned much from Uber’s most recent PR disaster. This time, United Airlines—specifically a gate agent and the person who Tweets for them—have created a thunderstorm of controversy over two girls who wanted to board a flight while wearing leggings.
Shannon Watts, Founder of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots army working to end gun violence in America (but not to end gun ownership), didn’t know when she posted her first tweet on Sunday morning to United that she was about to unleash a backlash of media attention and a surfeit of opinions.
“My husband and I were off on a much-needed week away,” said Watts in a phone interview earlier today. I witnessed a really strange situation while we were waiting at our gate: a gate agent was barring two girls in their early teens from boarding a United Airlines flight Sunday morning from Denver to the Twin Cities because the leggings they were wearing were considered “improper.” They also singled out another girl, roughly 10 years old, for wearing leggings.”
This tone deaf response from United’s twitter account unleashed the kind of national attention that only Twitter can produce: celebrities, reporters, annoyed individuals—the whole Twitterverse suddenly exploded and “leggings-gate” was born within hours of Watts’ original Tweets.
“I’m a frequent traveler and a mother of four daughters,” said Watts. “We often live and work in yoga pants. How is it that the father — who was wearing shorts — was allowed to board the plane showing so much leg? How many times has United stopped young boys or men for “improper” clothing?”
Watts feels strongly that policies like this one suggest a misogynistic society. One that encompasses a “huge problem with inherently disadvantaging women and girls. Regardless of the intention, if this is United Airlines policy as the rep on Twitter claims, it’s sexist and sexualizes young girls. She’s got a point.
Do you remember the man who, last December, made the news when he spent five hours on a plane in is boxer shorts? If not, read on.
Watts also feels—and I wholeheartedly concur—that it adds to the travel stress of the people who were trying to board, as well as others on the plane and even to those who witnessed it. During a time when everyone is already concerned about terrorist attacks on planes, we hardly need this kind of nonsense from gate attendants.
I appreciate that United swung into damage control as soon as they became aware of what was going on. But as usual, companies seem not to be interested in addressing issues until the water is rising over the heads.
To their credit, the company has largely confirmed Ms. Watts’s account earlier in the day in a response to her on Twitter, but that did little to mollify public concerns. They also stood firm as to their policy, but explained that family members flying on United, according to the airline’s social media account, were “United pass travelers,” which refers to an employee standby status that is subject to a separate set of rules and guidelines, including the dress code.
“It’s not that we want our standby travelers to come in wearing a suit and tie or that sort of thing,” said Jonathan Guerin, a spokesman for United. “We want people to be comfortable when they travel as long as it’s neat and in good taste for that environment.”