United Airlines came under fire at the weekend for delaying the boarding of two female teenage passengers because they were wearing leggings. Another passenger tweeted about the incident, and a wave of fury was unleashed. Chrissy Teigen, Sarah Silverman and Patricia Arquette – among others – took to social media to voice their anger and dismay at the way these girls had been treated.
All of which would be totally fair enough if the girls had been regular passengers being prevented from travelling by dint of donning some Lycra pants. But the girls were actually guests of employees of United, using its ‘pass rider’ scheme which offers free or discounted flights. Users of the scheme are asked to respect a dress code of being ‘neat, clean and in good taste’ and which prohibits midriff-revealing tops and clothes in Lycra or spandex.
Fair enough, I say. If I was being given free flights, I’d happily wear a ball gown to be allowed access. Furthermore, the culture of ‘comfort dressing’ on planes has become somewhat ludicrous. I blame those supermodel interviews, when they invariably titter that they never travel without a cashmere shawl and silk eye mask. For long-haul, it’s totally fair enough to have cosy pjs and a blanket to hand. But for short flights, all you’re really doing is sitting down for a hour or two. Just as you do in the office. Is it really necessary to change into an entirely specific travel outfit for those few hours?
Travel used to be so glamorous. Think of Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, boarding a (sleeper, ie long-haul) train in heels and a chic little suit. Think of the Beatles emerging from their trans-Atlantic plane blinking in the light of a thousand flash cameras, hair combed and suits pressed. I can’t imagine Katherine Hepburn swapping her red lipstick and silk blouse for a pig-themed onesie, or Audrey Hepburn turning up in a slanket.
Of course, all women have clothes they go to for comfort. Massive, containing PMT knickers from M&S. Greying thermal vests for wintry days. Slouchy jumpers for lazy Sundays, hideous boots that are perfect for a long walk. And so they should: comfort is an important aspect of what we wear. But so too are smartness, fitness for purpose, respect and dignity. The woman who happily slouches around the house in VPL-exposing leggings wouldn’t wear them to a board meeting. We all know what is acceptable and appropriate for certain situations, and we tend to stick to it. I would defend anyone’s right to freedom of choice, but – like good manners or personal hygiene – appropriate clothes keep the world ticking along politely.
Like all airlines, United has a dress code for its staff. What – you thought the stewardesses just happened to show up looking like that? It is fair enough that guests of the staff, enjoying its benefits, should follow the code too.