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United Leggings, Dress Code and the Golden Age of Air Travel

Wed, 04/26/2017
What To Wear On A Flight?

Two young girls were recently denied boarding from a United Airlines flight for wearing leggings.

The incident gave rise to a social media storm at the end of last month. The two girls were United pass riders, meaning that they were dependents of United employees, flying either at a discount of free of charge. For these passengers, United has a strict dress code, stating that they should be “well-groomed, neat, clean and in good taste”. This means that United has a ban on certain clothing items for pass riders, including tops that show midriff, short shorts, miniskirts and tight-fitting tops, dresses and bottoms.

The United Airlines Twitter team spent much of the weekend of the 25th and 26th of March extinguishing the wildfire that spread across the social media platform. Even celebrities such as Sarah Silverman, Chrissy Teigen and Patricia Arquette put in their two cents, showing their disapproval at United Airlines ‘policing’ of women’s clothing. 

What happened proved that literally anyone can be denied boarding, even for such trivial reasons as the clothes they are wearing.

There is, however, a reason why some airlines still have this policy for first class or privileged travellers like pass riders. This stems from the 1950s and 60s. During what might be called the ‘Golden Age of Air Travel’, families used to put on their best clothing to board a flight. The time spent on the aircraft would have been similar to a glamorous cocktail party, with everyone turned out looking perfect. But it wasn’t only the outfits which were different back then, the airlines would have served more lavish meals on fine china, air hostesses with puffed-up hair would have walked around serving stiff cocktails and flying would have been more like a party to which you would have been invited by Frank Sinatra … (Come Fly With Me)!

The 1970s and 80s brought growing competition and lower prices, meaning that airlines had to save money in other places in order to be able to keep up with their competition. Free drinks and nice meals were sacrificed. After this, flights no longer looked like a scene from Mad Men. As flights were affordable for more people, and those people were treated less and less like they were attending a party, the garments which people chose to wear started to change.

These days, unless you’ve paid for certain perks or are sitting in first class, flying is more like being on a bus in the air. People tend to want to be comfortable, particularly if they are planning to use the flight time to get some rest, are flying early in the morning, late at night or have a long-haul flight. Not only have the airlines changed, so has the way people choose to travel. Plus, people dress more casually today in general than they did 50 or 60 years ago.

What do you choose to wear when you travel?

If you are denied boarding on any flight within the EU, you may be liable to claim compensation from the airline.

Get Paid When Delayed is a free online community platform dedicated to passengers’ rights under EC 261/2004, an EU regulation establishing rules for compensation and reimbursements for delayed and cancelled flights and cases where passengers have been denied boarding.

If you’ve had luggage damaged, delayed or lost during transit go to your Lost & Found section.

Or get in touch if you need advice on your rights, read our blog for more about aviation, go to the flight distance calculator to find out how long your flight was or the airline contact database to find and contact your airline.