United Airlines on Sunday barred two girls from boarding a flight because they were wearing leggings, attire the company said didn’t comply with its dress code for certain travelers. The incident sparked an uproar on social media, with everyone from fellow passengers to Hollywood celebrities chiming in to denounce the dress-code guidelines as sexist. Shannon Watts, a passenger at the airport who witnessed the incident, wrote on Twitter that she saw a “frantic” family at the gate arguing with a United employee. She said she saw two “young teens” barred from boarding, as well as another younger girl forced to put a dress on over her leggings in order to board. “This behavior is sexist and sexualizes young girls,” Watts wrote. Watts’s criticism was echoed by model Chrissy Teigen and actress Patricia Arquette, both of whom slammed the company on Twitter.
The airline defended its decision, however, saying the female passengers were flying on a United pass, which is usually used by company employees or their relatives. Jonathan Guerin, a spokesman for the airline, said the girls were traveling on a pass that meant they were “representing” United Airlines, and were therefore expected to adhere to a dress code that excluded leggings, ripped jeans, midriff shirts, etc. Guerin said the girls were allowed to board a different flight to Minneapolis after they “made an adjustment” to their attire. “Casual attire for ticketed passengers is fine. The passenger today was a United pass traveler and follow different guidelines,” the company posted on Twitter.