The airlines said the girls were prevented from boarding because they were "pass riders", those who fly free or at heavily reduced rates because they are airline employees or their relatives. (Picture credit: Wikipedia Commons) Photograph: (Others)
A 10-year-old who was also wearing leggings was only allowed to board after she put a dress on over her pants, while her father wore shorts
United Airlines found itself at the centre of a social media storm after it barred two teenaged girls from boarding a flight in Denver on Sunday because they were wearing leggings.
Another girl, a 10-year-old, who was also wearing leggings was allowed to board the flight from Denver International Airport to Minneapolis after she changed, a witness said.
The incident was reported on Twitter by 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 said. "Since when does @united police women's clothing?"
"A 10-year-old girl in gray leggings," added of one of the girls. "She looked normal and appropriate."
The New York Times has picked up the story, and reports that the child in leggings was not allowed to board until she put on a dress, which luckily her mother had in her carry-on bag. A gate agent said the pants were not "appropriate attire".
They quote Ms Watts as saying that the father had shorts that came two to three inches above his knees, and that was permitted without issue.
1) A @united gate agent isn't letting girls in leggings get on flight from Denver to Minneapolis because spandex is not allowed?— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) March 26, 2017
However, United Airlines maintained its support for the gate agent's decision in its own series of tweets.
Later, it clarified that the girls prevented from boarding were "pass riders" -- those who fly free or at heavily reduced rates because they are airline employees or their relatives.
"Our regular passengers are not going to be denied boarding because they are wearing leggings or yoga pants," a spokesman told The Washington Post.
"But when flying as a pass traveler, we require pass travelers to follow rules, and that is one of those rules."
ATTENTION TRAVELERS here is United Airlines new dress code for women pic.twitter.com/7t1M0pbY6F— psedoali (@psedoali) March 26, 2017
The company never explained why "pass riders" have such a rule.
The notion that young girls cannot wear leggings because their airfare is reduced for being an employee's relative didn't stop a tsunami of ridicule against the airline on social media for what critics called sexist and intrusive actions.
"@united Leggings are business attire for 10 year olds. Their business is being children," actress Patricia Arquette tweeted.
Model Chrissy Teigen weighed in: "I have flown united before with literally no pants on. Just a top as a dress."
"Next time I will wear only jeans and a scarf," she added.
I have flown united before with literally no pants on. Just a top as a dress. Next time I will wear only jeans and a scarf.— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) March 26, 2017
Other posters published the company's own promotional literature to expose their obvious hypocrisy:
(WION with inputs from AFP)