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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — United Airlines is defending its dress code for friends and family members who fly for free. The policy created a social media frenzy when three teens were not allowed on a plane because they were wearing leggings.

The ticket agent who stopped the girls from boarding with leggings on was following the airlines’ rules for friends and family who fly for free.

Shannon Watts was watching when it all unfolded. She has four daughters and is also a high-profile gun control activist with more than 33 thousand Twitter followers.

“I don’t think leggings are inappropriate for women or for girls. This young girl who’s 10 or 11 looked like a normal little kid,” said Watts.

Watts tweeted, “Since when does @united police women’s clothing?”

The airline replied it had the right to turn away “passengers who are barefoot or not properly clothed.”

When the social media controversy mushroomed into unflattering headlines, United’s communications staff went into crisis mode.

On Sunday afternoon, the company revealed the affected passengers were flying under a special program for United employees.

That program has a dress code banning “form-fitting lycra/spandex tops, pants and dresses.”

United stresses regular paying customers who wear leggings were welcome aboard their planes.

Frank Washkuch, PR Week’s News Editor, thinks the airline waited too long to get the full story out. He also said its tweets came across as defensive and uncaring.

“They bungled this one,” said Washkuch.

Many airlines have dress codes too, because they view employees and their families as representatives when they’re on their planes. One of the girls got on the flight after she put on a dress over her leggings. The other two were offered seats on a different plane, provided they met the clothing requirement.

United Airlines says it employees are regularly reminded about the dress code for flying.


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