Tuesday, March 28, 2017

United Airlines' Leggings-gate Controversy

Over the weekend, United Airlines’ PR team scrambled to rectify a highly-publicized controversy on Twitter regarding one of their gate agents turning away girls wearing leggings from boarding the flight.

After witnessing the gate agent deny boarding privileges to two young girls due to their improper attire, Shannon Watts, a well-known influencer and founder of Moms Demand Action, tweeted to United questioning why the girls were not allowed on the flight and added that maybe it was because they did not allow spandex.

Naturally, this opened a can of worms on Twitter and gained even more attention when public figures Patricia Arquette and Chrissy Teigan learned of the situation and shared their opinions.

Once United learned of the situation, they replied to Watts informing her that in United’s Contract of Carriage, Rule 21, they have the right to refuse transport for passengers who are not properly dressed.

Well, that reply put fuel on the fire. Twitter erupted with accusations that United was sexist and “leggings-gate” was born. The hashtag #BoycottUnited was even formed.

What United failed to mention from the very start of this situation was that the passengers who were denied entry were United Pass Travelers. These passengers are on an employee standby status that is subject to a separate set of rules and guidelines, including the dress code. Therefore, they are representing United because they are using an employee benefit.

So where did United go wrong? Their team did not address the issue until people dubbed this controversy as “Leggings-gate”. The immediate reply that United sent Watts did not explain that the denied passengers were subject to separate rules and guidelines due to their United Pass Traveler status.

I don’t know why they didn’t address that from the very start, perhaps they were busy investigating who these passengers were? If that was the case, they should have let users know that they were considering the situation instead of feeding them a vanilla blanket statement that sounds like all passengers are subject to this rule.

Needless to say, United will be working on damage control for a while after this controversy, because they did not communicate information timely.