United Airlines claims plenty of reasons to refuse a passenger. Wearing leggings shouldn’t be one.

A United Airlines counter.
A United Airlines counter. Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Is it just me, or does the Supreme Court need to hear a case on yoga pants ASAP?

In case you were out doing actual yoga and missed the country’s latest spandex-related incident, things erupted on Sunday, when United Airlines stepped onto the third rail of American style and refused to let two teens (and initially a child) wearing leggings board a flight from Denver to Minneapolis.

The issue exploded on social media — lesson to United: Don’t pick a fight with the Sisterhood of the Comfortable Pants — but rather than take a “Sitali Pranayama,” or calming breath, United defended its gate agent, and posted Rule 21 of its Contract of Carriage.


To be fair, many sections of Rule 21 make sense. I agree that passengers who assault a United employee, or who become otherwise violent or abusive or interfere with flight operations should be removed, even if they aren’t wearing leggings. Godspeed!

I even partly agree with the section of Rule 21 that United cited in self-defense, which says that for reasons of safety it may be necessary to remove passengers who are “barefoot or not properly clothed.”

Let’s consider “barefoot” first. This is not totally outrageous, and perhaps should be decided on a foot-by-foot basis, based on the date of the foot’s last pedicure, and the reasons for a person’s barefoot status. Among acceptable excuses: “Couldn’t find anyhing to go with my outfit.” “High heels killing me.” “Daughter borrowed only pair of cute flats.”

The second part of that rule — “not properly clothed” — is what inflamed Twitter.

The story was broken by a passenger at Denver International Airport, who, unfortunately for United, is the founder of Moms Demand Action, an anti-gun-violence group and a woman with 34.4K Twitter followers.

Shannon Watts’s Sunday morning tweets about the gate agent’s actions set off a storm even @RealDonaldTrump might envy.


“She’s forcing them to change or put dresses on over leggings or they can’t board. Since when does @united police women’s clothing?”

As the day progressed, United found itself under attack from celebrities, too.

“@United Leggings are business attire for 10 year olds,” actress Patricia Arquette tweeted. “Their business is being children.” (The child did get on the flight after putting on a dress over the offending leggings.)

Model Chrissy Teigen added, “I have flown united before with literally no pants on. Just a top as a dress. Next time I will wear only jeans and a scarf.”

Who knows what next United will decree “not properly clothed?” White after Labor Day? Pearl earrings and a pearl necklace (too matchy-matchy)?

@United, here’s a serious recommendation: Instead of discriminating against those wearing leggings or yoga pants, I think we should be accommodated. Sometimes a person takes to leggings because her jeans are too tight, or because of the kindess yoga pants have shown her — they’re comfortable, forgiving and slimming, and don’t show dirt — has so warped her sense of perspective that she wishes she could wear them to a formal event (accessorized of course).

Lost in the uproar was United’s belated explanation that leggings violated the company’s dress code policy for “pass riders,” which is a benefit that allows United employees and their relatives or friends to stand by for flights for free or discounted travel. But apparently not in yoga pants.


On Monday the airline issued what it surely hoped was a reframing statement and issued an invitation to the no-doubt multi-billion-dollar women-in-spandex constituency:

“To our regular customers,” United said, “your leggings are welcome.”

United, how about this instead? We’ll look the other way when an employee or pass rider wears leggings, and you give us more leg room and reduce ticket prices?

As far as the Supreme Court goes. Perhaps we should have a litmus test for justices. I want to know how Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch, feels about leggings, and whether he believes any rule banning yoga pants or leggings would also have to disallow cargo shorts for men.

If the ACLU — or the ACLU-LULEMON — needs a plaintiff, I’ll offer myself as Yoga Doe.


Beth Teitell can be reached at bteitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.