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United Airlines is trying to clean up a social media mess right now after a Twitter user reported witnessing a gate agent in Denver refuse to allow two young women to board a flight to Minneapolis earlier this morning due to the way they were dressed.

The Twitter user looped United’s social media team into her tweets regarding the incident, and the airline’s Twitter team responded by referring her and other customers to the rules…

Now, United is technically correct on this point — even though the language is overly broad, rule 21 of the airline’s Contract of Carriage specifically notes that (emphasis added):

UA shall have the right to refuse to transport or shall have the right to remove from the aircraft at any point, any Passenger for the following reasons:

8. Safety – Whenever refusal or removal of a Passenger may be necessary for the safety of such Passenger or other Passengers or members of the crew including, but not limited to:

1. Passengers whose conduct is disorderly, offensive, abusive, or violent;

2. Passengers who fail to comply with or interfere with the duties of the members of the flight crew, federal regulations, or security directives;

3. Passengers who assault any employee of UA, including the gate agents and flight crew, or any UA Passenger;

4. Passengers who, through and as a result of their conduct, cause a disturbance such that the captain or member of the cockpit crew must leave the cockpit in order to attend to the disturbance;

5. Passengers who are barefoot or not properly clothed;

But just because United can prevent the women from boarding doesn’t mean it’s in any way a good idea, as Twitter users quickly reminded the airline…

However, as is often the case with these things, there’s more to the story than just the first reports. While it would be highly unusual — though not unheard of — for an airline gate agent to reprimand or even restrict general passengers based on their attire, the situation would be different if the women were “non-revenue” passengers. Employees of many airlines have the perk of being able to fly a form of standby for free, and they can share that benefit with family and friends by using a “buddy pass.”

But non-revenue travelers using a “buddy pass” are subject to the airline’s dress code rules, as they are considered to be representing the airline. Friends and family members of employees are sometimes unaware of these restrictions and may be dressed in a way that does not comply with the rules.

So perhaps it would have been wise for United’s social media team to confirm the details of the situation before responding, instead of assuming the gate agent was a stickler for the Contract of Carriage. Because several hours later, when the correct info did reach the United Twitter team, they sent a pair of follow up tweets explaining that…

One could certainly argue that these dress code rules for non-revenue passengers are a bit out of date, since leggings are an extremely common form of comfortable travel wear. But one could also suggest that since the airline is letting these folks fly for free, they can set whatever rules they want.

Since United tweeted this info directly at the original person who witnessed the event and not to the general public on the social media platform, the airline’s explanation has only slowly been filtering down to everyone else, compounding the original error of mistakenly referring to the Contract of Carriage. Or as one Twitter user put it

Indeed.

Featured image courtesy of Raquel Lonas/Getty Images.

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