0 min left

United Is Not a Misogynist Regime, so MYOB

All of us in the airline industry have our “nonrev” (non-revenue standby passenger) outfit.

Mine is a denim dress with black flats and a cardigan. It’s comfortable, loose, presentable and exceeds nearly every airline’s criteria for acceptable attire as a guest of their airline representing my own. Many carriers no longer require nonrevs to wear business casual attire and now permit sneakers and jeans, but I still feel most comfortable dressing up a little more than that, just in case. It’s very comfy and presentable.

When most people choose jobs in the airline industry, a huge draw for them is the flight benefits. Most airlines worldwide allow their employees free standby travel on their own airline, and nearly free travel on many others. As if that isn’t enticing enough, the benefits are usually extended to spouses, parents and children, with buddy passes also offered for anyone else the employee would like to offer them to. These perks are about as wonderful as getting keys to the world. I still feel like I stole something whenever my name is called by the agent to claim my free seat.

In return, our employers make very clear what they would like from us and others to whom we extend our privileges. They take great pains to spell these simple requirements out: We are to not abuse the benefits we are given by selling passes or fraudulently adding dependents, we do not cause a fuss if there is not a seat for us and, lastly, we have to observe the dress code. It doesn’t seem a lot to ask, especially now that the requirements have been eased to the point where a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers are permissible. My dependents have never had a problem with it, and neither have I. Nor have I ever heard complaints from others in the industry.

The United fiasco sparked national outrage in which many – even well-known celebrities – involved themselves without understanding the facts. It was later learned that the leggings-clad teens were not paying passengers but nonrevs, who are held to this dress code. In fact, it is now believed that the young girl and her family were actually paying passengers who’d overheard and misunderstood the agent’s conversation with the other young women, having their daughter change into a dress believing that the nonrev dress code also applied to them. People who are entirely unfamiliar with the rules in place within the airline industry worldwide have been taking this issue up as if we were an oppressed people dying to be freed from a tyrannical regime. It is confusing and frustrating. We can all only speculate as to what happened, but the people in question seem like they were merely dressed too frumpy, not suggestively.

For those that also think the rules are probably gender-biased, I must disagree as well. I have seen as many men as women be spoken to about dress or appearance if the dress code isn’t met, which is very infrequent. No gender or group is singled out and it has never been an issue before this. In fact, almost all of my colleagues support a dress code – even for their own children. It’s anything but strict. Would it kill people to look presentable?

Most of us believe in dressing nicely in the workplace – and for flying in general – and we want our dependents to do the same. I send all my friends a giant caveat email prior to flying on my benefits. I make sure they understand what is expected of them so that there are no surprises, and they always comply and have never felt put out by it. Instead, they are grateful to be a guest on my airline. When people don’t follow these very basic rules, they can be denied boarding. If a nonrev makes a lot of trouble, the employee can lose flight privileges or even be terminated.

Here in full is the list of prohibited clothing for United employees and their dependents:

– any attire that reveals a midriff

– attire that reveals any kind of undergarments

– attire that is designated as sleepwear, underwear or swim attire

– mini skirts

– shorts that are more than three inches above the knee when in a standing position

– form-fitting lycra/spandex tops, pants or dresses

– attire that has offensive and/or derogatory terminology or graphics

– attire that is excessively dirty or has holes/tears

– any attire that is provocative, inappropriately revealing or see-through

– bare feet

– beach type rubber flip-flops

These rules are very similar to the rules laid out at my airline at at most others. These are likely the same rules (and probably even less strict ones) that are in effect at your own workplace.

In short, it’s situations like these and the fiasco at Madrid Airport last summer or the Jetblue passengers stuck in Salt Lake City that makes many of us loath to share our travel benefits. In this case, other than the passengers showing up not meeting United’s criteria, they caused no problems with the agents. The tweets that caused the uproar were from someone not involved or even on the same flight. But social media is a powerful tool – powerful enough to write headlines on topics that don’t deserve them. Most of us see this matter as incendiary as Cathy from accounting attending a meeting in sweatpants. But the consequences for trouble caused while on travel benefits is very high – this can absolutely cost the employee related to the leggings-clad teens his or her flight privileges or even job. Airlines may even decide that the PR nightmares brought on by employee travel gone awry are no longer worth it and end free travel for good.

So to those trying to defend us and our families from the horrors of dressing neatly: Thanks, but no thanks. The airline industry isn’t on your side on this one.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

Comments are Closed.
jamar April 9, 2017

All I'm going to say is, to people like seanh303 who want the lady who posted the first tweet "held accountable", I highly doubt the legal team at United wants to open that can of worms. Letting it blow over is the smartest move at this point.

IanFromHKG April 5, 2017

I generally agree with the insightful posts made by rkt10 and John Aldeborgh My other thoughts: Free/discounted travel is a privilege, not an entitlement. For example, I have friends who have this benefit and it is a great perk, but only up to a point. As MVB59 notes, it really isn't reliable. A good friend of ours was "entitled" to get first class international travel for 10% of the fare, but rarely used it because he couldn't be sure of getting where he wanted to go on time - it was on a standby basis and just wasn't guaranteed. We have also seen another good friend (who is the CFO of the major airline concerned!) hanging around at the first class check-in with his family, with his wife plaintively saying to the check-in staff "Well, where CAN we go then?". On the one hand, I can see that airlines want their representatives to be presentable. On the other, though, if the airline also has a goal of disguising non-rev passengers from the rest (as rkt10 asserts), I have to query what purpose the dress code serves? Either they are transparently representatives of the airline (uniform or badge) or they're not. If they aren't - and this doesn't seem to be disputed - then does it really matter what they wear? Ah well - if only this was a real problem for me. However, since I don't get buddy passes, it isn't. I will just have to rely on cold hard cash or FF miles for my flights. And I will wear what I like (dark shoes, dark trousers, and a non-patterned, non-luminescent, long-sleeved shirt, all because it is all comfortable and I am not trying to make a statement).

beagle77 April 3, 2017

One more reason I'm glad I don't fly United more than a few dozen times a year. It's all about the crew and airline, nothing about the women and children who are continually overhearing these conversations and put in panic mode. UA is as self-centered as a airline gets.

SamirD April 2, 2017

It's because of thoughtful and insightful articles like this that I enjoy the author's articles--especially when coming from a first-person view on the issue. In this world of 'entitlement gone wild' it seems that everyone believes they are above rules and that rules don't apply to them, yet they want whatever service/product for free. Not happening. The world is a business and businesses have big bills to pay and have the right to set rules that are for the businesses' benefit. If someone doesn't want to comply, they are welcome to try another business--that's capitalism. I never realized how many 'frumpy' travelers there are on a regular basis until I read this article and thought about my more recent trip a few days ago. There are always the eye-grabbing insanely attached leggings (seriously--why even wear pants?), the flip flop and pajama pants with the pillow, the guy that drank 3 beers while watching some movie with a sex scene without headphones in first class (happened to be the guy next to me), the guy who believes just because he's muscular/larger that he has the ability to 'bully' most of my seat, and the list goes on. Manners in social situations such as transportation have simply declined over the years. And I think it's about time that the businesses doing the heavy lifting (pun intended), put their foot down. News media has a legal liability for false/fraudulent stories. As of current case law, social media outlets do not have legal liability for the same offenses as would an 'official' news outlet. But that is the root cause of the rash of false or unverified stories being released, damaging reputations (in this case United's reputation and possibly revenues), and ultimately doing more harm than good. United probably has legal rights to sue the passenger that damaged their reputation unfairly as well as rights to recover damages--but then that would turn into another pr issue. United loses either way. And all the while, the social media outlet benefited from the fiasco, generating revenue. That's an injust cycle that's ripe for exploitation by social media and individuals until § 230 of the Communications Decency Act is revised to reflect that courts should entertaining claims that would place an interactive computer service [social media] in a publisher's [news outlet] role. Once that act is revised, all of this slanderous noise would stop.

TWAflyer March 31, 2017

The comments about the "perpetually offended" mentality, people jumping to assumptions without bothering on the small detail of checking the facts, and the ridiculous elevation of social media to being "real news" are spot on. Carriers have the right to set dress codes for non-revs, as they are representing the airline when they travel (even if no one besides the gate agents and flight crew know who they are). I would be in favor of carriers establishing dress codes for all PAX (e.g. "business casual" or equivalent). I do recall when people had civility and respect for others (besides themselves!) and cared about how they appeared in public with other people around them. Flying today is like being in people's bedrooms or when they're just "hanging out" at some party. And as for the all important social media, it's about time "mature" people, regardless of actual age, put Twitter et al in their place by ignoring them.