By now you’ve probably heard that two teenage girls were prevented from boarding a United flight on Sunday morning because they were wearing leggings. As facts unfolded it came out that they were flying on an employee’s “buddy pass” which allows them to fly for free on a space-available basis. When a person flies on a pass, they are subject to extra rules, including a dress code that is stricter than for the general public. It doesn’t matter whether or not the person agrees with the rules, if they want to fly free (or very cheaply) they must follow the rules and these girls did not.
Some commenters think this is entirely sexist as the male adult traveling with them, also on a pass (presumably one of the girls’ father) was wearing shorts and he would have been allowed to board. But shorts (for either gender – but not short shorts) are expressly permitted so that was not an issue. The girls changed clothes and were permitted aboard a later flight.
Matthew Klint of Live and Let’s Fly has a great summation of the events.
My experience flying as a non-revenue passenger
I work for a company that has interline privileges with airlines. As my company is not a passenger airline we don’t fly free but we can fly on the cheap – but again it is for standby travel only. I booked a trip this way one time, flying round-trip between Memphis and Chicago. I was going to fly AirTran (shows you how long ago this was!) via Atlanta but our corporate travel person convinced me to fly non-stop on American. It worked great on my flight to Chicago but not-so-well on the return flight. I was scheduled to fly on the first ORD-MEM flight of the day, which was around 0630, if I remember correctly, and I could have driven straight to work from the airport. But for some reason there were a lot of AA employees who needed to get (back?) to Memphis that Monday morning and they were higher on the standby list than I was. I was the only person on the standby list not to make it on board.
I was rolled over to the mid-morning flight…but at the end of the standby queue. You can see where this is going. Didn’t make it on that flight either. Rolled to the early afternoon flight. No luck. I finally made it out on the last flight of the night and missed an entire day of work. Flying cheaply is not always worth it. Oh and one reason I kept getting bumped was that AA only flew regional jets on the ORD-MEM route at that time. If I’d stuck to my guns and flown with AirTran, which flew Airbuses on the routes, I’d likely have made it.
On each of my flights I had to comply with my company’s interline flight policy – which is stricter than the airlines:
The passenger airline’s guidelines (particularly the ones dealing with attire) may be more restrictive for interline ticket holders than regular full-fare passengers. The following attire may be prohibited when using interline travel privileges:
- Jeans or denim of any kind, including designer jeans
- Shirts without collars, including T-shirts or tank tops
- Sweats, or jogging suits or spandex clothing
- Shorts, mini-skirts or cut-offs
- Bare style, sheer/strapless or spaghetti strap tops or dresses
- Clothes with holes, rips or tears
- Flip-flops, Athletic/tennis shoes
It is your responsibility, and the responsibility of your traveling dependents, to adhere to these requirements and any additional requirements that the airline may have.
See that language? No jeans, tennis shoes/sneakers, t-shirts, spandex, flip-flops, etc. Doesn’t matter where you’re going, you have to comply or risk not flying.
International airlines can often be even more strict when it comes to what they deem “suitable attire”. Sarah Steegar, an American flight attendant now living in Great Britain, tweets under the handle @FATravelWriter. Today she tweeted out some interesting things that have happened to her and her friends while non-revving:
- She once got written up for wearing two rings on one hand
- Another time she was written up for wearing two stud earrings in one ear
- She gave a pass to a friend who wore a sweater with a stripe on the sleeve. It was deemed “sportswear” and the friend could not board.
So United’s list of unsuitable attire does not seem very restrictive by comparison.
Many years ago I was with my ski club flying Northwest Airlines to Bozeman, Montana for a ski trip. One of our club members was a pilot for NW and he and his wife were able to join us on our outbound flight. He had to wear a suit and tie. She also wore a suit as well as hose and heels. Not exactly standard ski trip attire but it was the price of flying for free.
Personally, I wish airlines would prevent passengers from wearing shorts, tank tops, flip-flops and sandals. There’s a certain amount of personal contact that goes on with flying and I don’t want to be rubbing up against your bare legs, shoulders or feet. And if, God forbid, something happened to the plane and you had to exit the aircraft over hot metal, wouldn’t you want something more substantial on your feet that flip-flops or sandals?