The big travel news this week is the uproar surrounding United Airlines’ “#LeggingsGate.” You’ve likely heard about it, but in case you haven’t, here’s the story.
I almost always back the consumer and not the airlines, but that’s not the case when it comes to this particular issue. That’s because the girls who were denied boarding weren’t traveling on paid tickets but instead on employees’ passes (aka buddy passes). And the rules clearly state no spandex.
If you’re a longtime reader, you might remember that I’m quite familiar with these passes as my old girlfriend “Amber Airplane” (2000-2004) was a United flight attendant and we used to take advantage of her buddy passes all the time. We just had to pay the taxes (i.e. L.A. to Australia—seen in the photo above—in first class was around $100).
If I remember correctly, Amber only had 12 passes a year to give out but her parents and her domestic partner were allowed to fly anytime, as long as there was space available and they weren’t traveling for business. Back then, it was much easier to get on a flight since planes weren’t filled to capacity as they are now.
But everyone using them knew the strict rules, including the dress code. I can’t remember what the rules around attire were exactly back then (the current ones are linked below) but I’m pretty sure I had to wear slacks and a button-down shirt while up front. I had no problem following the rules, and neither did anyone else.
But we were almost always the last to board and sometimes were even bumped from our seats. I remember once we were flying from Washington, D.C., to Cleveland and seconds before the flight attendants shut the door, a gate agent came down the aisle and told us that a paying passenger had just showed up and needed our seats. It was embarrassing and it was shortly after September 11, so the other passengers probably thought we were terrorists since we were escorted off the plane with our bags. That’s when I decided I would buy my own tickets from then on.
Back to #LeggingsGate. In my opinion, where United Airlines messed up this week was when they immediately started tweeting their “Contract of Carriage, Rule 21,” which allows them to refuse service to anyone. The general public and media jumped all over this. I was about to, as well, but then I learned that the passengers were flying on buddy passes and I realized that this isn’t United’s fault. It’s the fault of the parents and the employee who let the passengers use the buddy passes. If Amber gave her passes to someone and they acted or dressed inappropriately, she could get in trouble with her supervisor. For this reason, she always made sure to explain the rules very clearly—and in fact she didn’t hand all her passes out because it was too much of a risk.
Here are the major U.S. airlines’ rules for their employees and friends using buddy passes:
On side note, what the general public should be up in arms about is how people like the kid below on my L.A.-to-Denver flight last week are allowed to fly wearing a vulgar jacket. What a disgrace.