As the story about United Airlines v. three young girls first unfolded, it had all the makings of a major public relations disaster.
The company would have received more support if it had announced that all its flights from now on would be preceded by a three-hour wait on the tarmac.
In case you missed the story — and the internet storm that followed — a United gate agent in Denver refused to let two young teenage girls board a flight Sunday because they were wearing Spandex leggings. And a 10-year-old girl also wearing leggings wasn’t allowed to board until her mother pulled a dress out of her carryon to cover them; only then was she, her mother and her father (who was wearing shorts) allowed to board.
>> RELATED: Teens wearing leggings barred from United flight
When another passenger witnessed the incidents, she immediately tweeted her account and the scorn hit the fan. Thousands of tweeters censured and mocked the airline, accusing it of intrusiveness, sexism and general dopeyism. Celebrities Chrissy Teigen, LeVar Burton and Patricia Arquette weighed in on behalf of the girls.
But United was armed with a slingshot of its own.
The legging-wearers it explained, were “pass travelers.” It’s a company benefit that allows employees and their dependents to fly for free, but requires a stricter dress code than the one applied to paying customers, who are free to wear all the Spandex into which they can stuff themselves.
Confronted with two sides of the story, people started defending the airline. Which, considering the low esteem in which airlines generally are held today, is akin to defending air pollution.
- “You get FREE tickets and then complain you must follow a dress code. Pay for your flight like everyone else and wear what you want if it is that important then,” one commenter wrote on Yahoo!
- “Give me a break,” another declared. “These kids were flying for free, or a reduced cost buddy pass and are expected to dress in specified manner. They can pay full fare for their seats and dress any way they please. The airlines did the right thing.”
- “It’s in United’s written policy for free employee travel. I give this one to United even though they suck as an airline.”
Whether you think a particular airline sucks probably depends on how much you last paid for a middle seat that didn’t recline. But the lesson here is clear.
In this time of instant “news,” maybe we need to take a breath and hear the WHOLE story before we start slinging stones.
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