WASHINGTON • Two teenage girls wearing leggings were barred from boarding a United Airlines flight because they did not meet a dress code for special pass travellers, a company spokesman said amid a furore on social media.
Another girl who was also wearing leggings was allowed to board the flight from Denver International Airport to Minneapolis after she changed, a witness said.
The two girls, who were travelling with a companion, would not have been turned away for wearing leggings had they been paying customers, United spokesman Jonathan Guerin said as the airline responded to the backlash.
"(The two girls) were instructed that they couldn't board until they corrected their outfit. They were fine with it and completely understood," Mr Guerin said, adding that all three passengers missed the flight.
He did not know if they had boarded a later plane or made alternate travel arrangements.
The incident was reported on Twitter by Ms Shannon Watts - founder of gun reform group Moms Demand Action - who was a passenger at the airport waiting to board another flight to Mexico.
"She's forcing them to change or put dresses on over leggings or they can't board," she tweeted, referring to the gate agent who prevented the girls from boarding. "Since when does @United police women's clothing?"
"A 10-year-old girl in grey leggings," she said, of one of the girls. "She looked normal and appropriate."
With that, the charges began to fly across the Twittersphere, with outraged travellers and celebrities weighing in with accusations of sexism and corporate ham-handedness. "I have flown United before with literally no pants on. Just a top as a dress," declared model Chrissy Teigen in one tweet. "Next time, I will wear only jeans and a scarf."
Academy Award-winning actress Patricia Arquette tweeted: "Leggings are (the) business attire for 10 year olds. Their business is being children."
Some men mocked United by threatening to wear leggings the next time they fly.
Actor William Shatner posted a picture of himself as a younger man, bare chested and in red tights. "See, I've done it before," he said.
United Airlines defended the gate agent's decision in a series of tweets. It insisted the girls were flying on passes that require them to keep to a dress code in return for free or discounted travel.
That policy also bars midriff-baring tops, attire that reveals undergarments or is designated as sleepwear or swimwear, mini-skirts, shorts that fall higher than 7cm above the knee, or dirty or torn clothing.
"To our regular customers, your leggings are welcome," it said.
But in a tweet to Ms Arquette, the airline said it acknowledged "the severity of the situation and are looking into it".
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE