Dress For The Romantic Encounter

xiong xiong teddy bear looking out of airplane window against sunset

If you are active on Twitter, or perhaps Facebook, and in the very least, aviation industry, you would have read about the hoohaa about leggings.

TL;DR: Basically, 2 ladies were refused boarding onto a United Airlines flight, because they were wearing leggings, which did not comply with “the dress code”. A feminist activist witnessed this and tweeted about the issue, which apparently “erupted” into a a backlash that UA was “unable to reconcile”.

Of course, my summary is brief, and may not fit with some people’s perspective. My first thoughts of the affair was that, well, the staff had their rights to turn away travelers who do not comply to certain standards, be it being drunk, rowdy, or just plain anti-social.

READ: NBC News article that reported on this in more details

Departure Hall at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport, taken from Cathay Pacific lounge.

And then I knew, from one of the articles I read, that the passengers who were rejected were “Pass Riders”. Anyone working in the airline business know that this meant they were using subsidised tickets, maybe because they were staff, or they were family members of staff.

And all of us know that staff are expected to comply to a certain dress code, with the exception of SMEs or new-age companies that don’t believe in dress codes (but the latter is besides the point).

READ: Danny Cevallos explains why the dress code matters, and why the tweetstorm was over-hyped.

As Danny stated in his article, all companies have a right to ask their staff to comply to certain dress codes. Even though in this instance, the girls were on a personal trip, they were making use of a company benefit; If I were to give someone something in goodwill, I expect at least a word of thanks. I wouldn’t want my fellow colleagues to bring disgrace to my company’s name while they were using company benefits!

I also read somewhere that the feminist in question pointed out that the dress code objectifies women and subjects women to stereotypes. I’m not sure what that meant, as wearing leggings are currently, mainly worn by women, so I can give a (stereotyped) conclusion that a person wearing leggings is a woman, and I would be right 80% of the time.

Alternatively, the girls, after being told not to wear leggings, are free to wear any other clothing that complies with the dress code, and that includes wearing a suit, tuxedo or traditional costumes. No one is telling the girls they must wear something girly. They were just told to wear something that shows respect to the other passengers, the way a staff member dresses up in form of respect to their customers.

Lastly, I believe all travel enthusiasts would agree that the rise of budget airlines and increased accessibility to flying took away the romance of travel. Travelling on a plane used to be such a big affair that people dressed up for the occasion. When I first took Business Class (as a paying passenger), I also put on something I rarely wore! And yet, we see many people appear at the gate in shorts and slippers, even though they are taking a day flight (I can understand if you want to dress in something more comfortable for a red-eye flight).

UA is not a budget airline, and I think they have the right to demand passengers to wear something appropriate. But given current market environment, it will be difficult for them to make such demands from their passengers. The least they could do, like what Danny said, was to make sure their staff, travelling on company benefits, dress in a way that reminds the other passengers how they should be dressed for travel.

I agree that there is an over-reaction over this episode. Most importantly, the ladies in question were not tortured, bullied or exploited. I don’t see the need for anyone else not belonging to UA to criticise UA’s requirements for employees who are enjoying staff benefits.

Disclaimer: I am a casual social commentator, who speaks because it is logical and rational, so my points are not necessarily based on established research and studies. As much as possible, I will refer to theories and knowledge I picked up through formal education. If you do agree to my ideas, please feel free to contaminate others in your social circle. If you disagree, though, it would be good to provide sources and credits, so that I can learn from my mistakes.

View out of an aircraft window, looking over Singapore Harbour dotted with container ships. The city centre and skyscrapers can be seen in the background, set against the rolling clouds in the evening sky.

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