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United Is Not a Misogynist Regime, so MYOB

United Is Not a Misogynist Regime, so MYOB
Amanda Pleva

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]

View Comments (34)


  1. Chuckles

    March 28, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    WOW, someone got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning! Unless United told the people around then that these were non-revs, and that they had to comply with a specific dress code policy, how oh how would anyone know differently then what they saw happening? Geeze!

  2. strickerj

    March 28, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    I think the author’s point is that you don’t, essentially, go to the press (which is basically what social media is now) when you don’t have all the facts. The (paying) passenger was way out of line on this… If she felt that strongly about it, she could have discretely asked someone involved what that was about and avoided this whole meltdown (though IMHO even that would have been an intrusion).

    We seem to be collectively bent on always being offended about something. I really don’t get it… I have enough problems of my own without also having to be outraged over everyone else’s. 😉

  3. Dave737

    March 28, 2017 at 5:57 pm

    does it directly affect them? no? then they don’t need to know. keep walking and mind your own business.

  4. skidooman

    March 30, 2017 at 3:21 am

    I guess the issue here is what can be considered as frumpy. Because that evolves with time. What was considered classy 100, 500, 1000 or 2000 years ago is not what is considered classy today. Try to get onboard with a Roman toga and you will probably be denied, even as a rev in first.

    Question is, are leggings for a 11 years old girl something frumpy today? Not so sure. I see the point to mandate a dress code, but I am not sure regular, non suggestive leggings fit belong there. I will hold judgment because I did not see the picture so to speak but I wouldn’t make it a fast rule.

    As for not being our business, well in the market economy customers are kings and they are enabled to vote on anything by speaking up and/or voting with their feet. You may take exception with some of the choices made, I often do (getting into a crazily small and cramped seat to save 10 bucks strikes me as pure craziness), but as long as the referree of the market (the govt) doesn’t step up as says “these will be the rules” (and for safety purposes I think seat dimensions should be regulated), then all rules made by United or any other company can be under the microscope. You don’t need to like it, but this is the way it is, and I would suggest most of the time it works the the benefit of everyone.

  5. DallasDave

    March 30, 2017 at 3:31 am

    Thanks for the information! Did not know they were non-revs and that completely changes my opinion of what happened. Yes, a company has a right to insist on a reasonable level of dress. If they young ladies don’t like it, they can work elsewhere. I wish more “news” had more actual news in it so we could better understand issues. It’s possible the “reporters” had an agenda to polarize. That’s what they seem to do with all news in order to be better “click bait”.

  6. yrush

    March 30, 2017 at 4:13 am

    My wife worked at PanAm and we frequently traveled on nonrev tickets.
    And we had to dress-up ant it was never a problem and most of the passengers were dressed neatly and appropriately.
    Look around how people dress… Walking around the plain in sleepwear and underwear is not appropriate.
    You are in a public place, not in your bedroom.
    Have some respect for other and for yourself!

  7. see2xu

    March 30, 2017 at 4:32 am

    One of the larger issues we face, collectively, is the growing desire of one group of people to impose their views and values on another, beyond what is necessary to maintain civil order and respectful interactions in public. Here again, “identity politics” drive someone with no skin (pun accidental) in the game to take up a cause that most sensible people, after consideration of the facts, would reject. General Motors gives their more senior employees the free use of a new car, but nobody other than the employee or their spouse/partner may operate it. Regardless of race, creed or color. Nordstrom affords its workforce large discounts on merchandise, but prohibits their reselling it, even were the intended beneficiary to be a member of a designated oppressed minority. And the author’s point, that these are privileges, which can be revoked at any time (again, without limitation as to gender, orientation, or socioeconomic standing) is an overriding argument for abiding by those requirements. Or, if someone feels that strongly, don’t accept the benefit.

  8. flyfinn

    March 30, 2017 at 4:40 am

    I totally agree with you , I have been in my life both a spouse none rev traveller and a full fare paying pax at the same time , and yes even though I was a full first class pax most of the time when I travelled non ref they liked to see a tie on in those days. I think they airlines have every right to have a dress code for employees who travel free

  9. nitab62

    March 30, 2017 at 4:58 am

    I am with Dave, mind your business if it is not directly affecting you and yours. Of course, if people had any common decency, they would not dress like they were in the bathroom, bedroom or house, lounging around in clothes that some of us would not be caught dead in.

    Having discussed this with a bunch of associates who work for the airline, this is why they don’t give passes to friends and family since it is their jobs at stake. Of course, we have folks who think their lack of standards should apply to all instead of them having some common courtesy.

    Next time, let them pay for their ticket and then dress how ever they want; oh yeah, always wanting something for nothing. You can’t have it both ways.

  10. weero


    March 30, 2017 at 5:01 am

    .That comes solely from treating Twitter as a serious news exchange.

    That frustrating exchange with that Shannon person who sees nothing but her 15 millisecond of twitter fame illustrates why not spending money or attention on Twitter is a good and cheap investment.

    She could have posted much more outrageous rubbish and the villain from the House of Bolton and Ms Arquette could have doubled down and the offended would still have picked UA based on price or FFP. There’s nothing to be gained here.

    Be an ePioneer United! Do what everyone is about to do – let Twitter die!

  11. sarapalms

    March 30, 2017 at 5:06 am

    Let’s not worry about United dress codes. Let’s worry about the 30 inches of legroom in coach, and their constant disregard for passenger comfort and loyalty by greedily raising prices and cutting down on legroom
    Sons of Bitches!.

  12. ReiseGuyFred

    March 30, 2017 at 5:12 am

    The good news is, this episode is much less weighty or annoying than other instances of “ready, fire, aim.” strickerj is Right On as to our collective thin skins (guilty as charged).

    But my primary reaction was, if you let me travel for free or small $, I will gladly obey the non-rev dress code! Where do I sign up?

  13. laperk1028

    March 30, 2017 at 5:52 am

    If you are “loath to share travel benefits…..don’t share your travel benefits! Agree that we should all just mind our own business – but I’ve spent approx. 5k-10k per month on air travel for the past 20 years, so I love my airlines and put in my 2 cents. The airlines need to update their guidelines to reflect 2017 clothes for the non-rev’s. So archaic, it makes me wonder about their other policies. Also, the clothing requirements should be updated regularly and I’m sure they are. After all, we wouldn’t want women to have to wear the gloves and hats from the 50’s. Regarding going to the press – I agree with the author, but unfortunately, that is super-naïve in today’s social media society.

  14. mhaney0926

    March 30, 2017 at 5:53 am

    While I might disagree about the headline, nonrev dress code has nothing to do with it. Just look at the board, less than 10 pct are women.

  15. kevindavis338

    March 30, 2017 at 5:59 am

    If I was an employee of an airline, I would comply with the dress code if I was a passenger of an airline.

  16. rkt10

    March 30, 2017 at 6:10 am

    Regardless of the appropriateness of United’s actions, the bottom line is that there is a contract between the passenger and the airline: if you want to fly using a buddy pass you must conform to specific requirements. If you don’t want to comply with those, then that’s fine. You can fly on a regular paid ticket without the dress code.
    I’ve flown on Delta using a buddy pass many times and the other requirement they place on the “deal” is that the passenger not reveal that he/she is flying non-rev. You’re supposed to be discreet about it, so that other passengers don’t see employees & other eligible flyers being given special treatment. Naturally the potential exists for someone to figure it out (just look at who’s left in the gate area after most passengers have boarded, and you can tell). But the passenger also recognizes that they might be assigned a first-class seat, even before a paying customer.
    Clearly any business has the right to offer whatever benefits it wants to their employees, even if it’s something that their regular customer might desire. And the general public doesn’t have the right to condemn that business for the terms and conditions.

  17. John Aldeborgh

    March 30, 2017 at 6:28 am

    This is a well written and balanced commentary and I agree with the conclusions. As a frequent traveler I appreciate the airlines trying to make invisible the non-rev activity. I also understand this is a very valuable perk for the airline employees. It would be a shame if social media activists, in there quest for a perfect world (from their limited perspectives only) were to cause the airlines to reconsider this long standing employee benefit, that undoubtedly costs the airlines millions of dollars yearly but is highly valued, by likely millions, of airline employees and their families. I also agree with ‘strickerj’ (above) that social media is effectively the ‘press’ today and we are all required, at least morally, to check our facts before launching out tweets or Facebook posts, this stuff goes viral and every idiot and his/her cousin piles on pushing some ‘social’ agenda, under the notion of ‘never let a crisis go to waist’.

  18. seanh303

    March 30, 2017 at 6:45 am

    Please help support hundreds of other United employees who want to see her held accountable for her callous and damaging actions.

  19. squiddy

    March 30, 2017 at 7:04 am

    “The United fiasco sparked national outrage in which many – even well-known celebrities – involved themselves without understanding the facts.”

    No, this can’t possibly be true?! When have people and celebrities reacted loudly with self-righteous outrage against stories stories while failing to understand / totally misunderstanding the basic facts?

    Other than “Every. Single. Day.”, that is …

  20. ijgordon

    March 30, 2017 at 7:28 am

    Exactly. People need to mind their business more. There are more important, real, injustices in this world that deserve our focus. Not this.

  21. BDLer

    March 30, 2017 at 7:50 am

    Well, when I read articles on the topic, I understood all those points. I still thought it was a bad call to not let young girls fly in leggings and that’s what has given the story legs (no pun intended). After all is said and done, the dad gets on with shorts and a pre-teen girl can’t get on with leggings.

  22. Ocean2Ocean

    March 30, 2017 at 7:55 am

    So as a long time flyer it wasn’t that long ago that even revenue passengers who were considered for “courtesy” upgrades needed to have proper attire. What’s changed is there are 100 cameras per square yard around an airline gate and everyone acting as judge and jury when any conflict occurs. I don’t think it’s the gate agents job to get on the mic and announce “its a non-revenue passenger issue” as if anyone other than a FF would know what that meant.

  23. broby

    March 30, 2017 at 8:51 am

    Thank you for your post. Spot on! I started with United Airlines in 1989 when you have to be in a business suit to use “pass” travel and hoped to just get any seat on the plane. It was a privilege, not an entitlement, that had rules to use. Just as any other place you work or volunteer there are requirements, even here in the technology world of San Francisco.
    In our overblown social media world being the “news” has given credibility to hearsay as fact. I miss the days when your news was properly vetted and not shared until the story was known.
    I am sure I have posted online when I didn’t know the whole story being upset about a perceived situation, but I also believe I have been willing to follow up with the proper information to apologize when it was NOMB! 🙂

  24. KevAZ

    March 30, 2017 at 9:10 am

    I planned to respond, but rkt10 said it all for me.

    As for social media? America’s masses of asses are hanging out for the world to see, perhaps it’s time to cover it up with some apparently what’s now uncommon sense.

  25. MVB59

    March 30, 2017 at 10:01 am

    The whole concept of non-revs flying is idiotic, to begin with. In 19 years I have no flown a single time for free. Who has the time to wait if you can get on and if not you risk getting fired since you can’t make it home in time for your trip? Granted in the past when the planes were not oversold on every single leg there would have been a chance to get on and get a real seat. Meanwhile, are that’s left is the jumpseat. That’s OK for a short haul but not International. So for the dress code, it must be generational thinking that air-travel is actually glamorous and not just like taking the bus today. What is the point of dressing up for First-Class when Full Fare paying passengers are in there in flip-flops, shorts, and tank tops? Only last year we were in the First Class lounge in LAX and saw some outfits that would raise anyone’s eyebrows. And yet, those were the ones in the First class cabin from LAX to LHR. There are actually companies (not Airlines) that require suits in Business Class claiming we are representing the company. Are they going from seat to seat and introduce yourself and try to sell something? Most airlines including UA treat business and first class passengers just as badly as coach.

  26. BC Shelby

    March 30, 2017 at 10:43 am

    …interesting, as I remember the days when, even as a passenger, you did dress up when travelling to the point of at least wearing nice clothing (basically what we consider “business casual” today). The “loudest” item of clothing you might see someone wearing back then was an aloha shirt while on a trip to/ from Hawai’i (whcih is actually considered “normal wear” there). No sweats, tank tops, halter tops, cutoff Ts, cutoff jeans, flip flops, imprinted T-Shirts (with rock band or beer logos), while hats were usually the business or fashion kind rather than baesball caps with imprinting on them (and usually taken off after entering the cabin).

    Today I get the feeling I am boarding a city bus when I get on a domestic flight (and find it interesting that I actually have more leg, knee, and hip room on a transit bus than in airline “torture class”).

    Amazing the difference a half century makes.

  27. wilful

    March 30, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    Anyone have a picture of the infamous leggings? I’d love to see exactly what all the bruhaha is about. Am thinking the kids must have been wearing more than just leggings??


    March 30, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    United did the right thing. I think it should be 3″ below the knee though.

  29. overdahill

    March 30, 2017 at 7:32 pm


    These were children…You addressed them as people. The over reaction to a minor item may have left a traumatic scar on young minds. The response to the above is take an anti arrogance pill. Correct response might have been simply to issue a warning. Was not such a serious item. 25 years ago such codes may have been more appropriate. They still have some value, but should not be enforced dictatorially. I find the above defense really a defensive offense.

    Multiple Million miler and watched such arrogance actually place innocent people into final harms way.

  30. TWAflyer

    March 31, 2017 at 7:07 am

    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.

  31. SamirD

    April 2, 2017 at 5:30 am

    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.

  32. beagle77

    April 3, 2017 at 4:46 am

    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.

  33. IanFromHKG

    April 4, 2017 at 9:49 pm

    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).

  34. jamar

    April 8, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    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.

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