In the interest of full disclosure, The Unaccompanied Flyer earns monetary compensation on selected links. When you click on an affiliate link, I may receive compensation for your purchase(s) through said link. These affiliate links are noted at the beginning of each post. Thank you for your continued support.

United Airlines Enforced Non-Revenue Dress Code Policy, Twitter Went Crazy

Intro: As the family member of an airline employee, I have the ability to fly as a non-revenue standby traveler.  I’ve had the ability to non-rev for the last six or so years.  Having the ability to non-rev has directly influenced my love and passion for aviation.  Non-revenue travel also got me into frequently flyer programs and airline points/miles.  Non-revenue is a fantastic privilege, and like any privilege, it comes with expectations you’re expected to abide by.


If you’ve been active on social media on Sunday, you’ve likely come across a story involving two pre-teen girls not being allowed to board a United Airlines flight due to their apparel.  The two girls were traveling with their father on a United Airlines flight from Denver to Minneapolis.  According to United Airlines and various users on Twitter, the two girls were wearing spandex yoga pants and were not permitted to board.  This sparked outrage among Twitter and social media users.

Shannon Watts, a women’s rights activist, originally Tweeted at United Airlines about the incident.  Her Tweets can be found below.

(Image: @shannonrwatts on Twitter)

(Image: @shannonrwatts on Twitter)

(Image: @shannonrwatts on Twitter)

(Image: @shannonrwatts on Twitter)

(Image: @shannonrwatts on Twitter)

(Image: @shannonrwatts on Twitter)

While I appreciate Ms. Watts’ concern for the girls, her Tweets went viral before the full story was made available.

United Airlines Tweeted details about the incident.  United explained that the reason that the girls had to change clothes was that they were United Airlines pass riders and were in violation of United’s pass rider dress code.  By violating the pass rider dress code, the girls were in violation of United’s contract of carriage and therefore, were not allowed to board.

The Tweets are still viral, and the Associated Press recently picked up this story.  Journalists across the United States have picked up this story and claimed that United Airlines is “sexist” and policies women’s clothing.  However, what many have failed to realize is that the girls were pass riders.  AKA, non-revs.

Affiliate Ad-

There’s not much time left to earn 24,000 bonus Alaska Airlines miles.  Get that much closer to your next award redemption on Alaska Airlines or any of their partner airlines.


(Image: Alaska Airlines)

Image: Alaska Airlines

What Does Non-Revenue Travel Entail?

Before I began blogging and traveling like I do now, my travel consisted entirely of non-revenue travel.  With that said, I feel pretty comfortable talking about what it’s like to fly non-revenue standby and why I avoid flying as a non-rev as much as I possibly can.

If you’ve been reading about the incident of following it on social media, you’ve probably heard a variety of terms and phrases used to refer to non-revenue travelers.  United Airlines referred to the girls as “pass riders.”  Pass riders are non-revenue standby travelers.  Other terms used to describe non-revenue travel include “buddy pass” or “employee travel.”

Flying as a non-revenue standby traveler differs from airline to airline.  However, virtually every airline’s employee travel program features these characteristics.  Non-revenue passengers fly standby.  Unless there are open seats on a flight after all revenue passengers (including revenue standby and upgrade passengers) have been accommodated, non-revenue travelers won’t be allowed to board the flight.  Non-revs only fly when there are seats open.

Non-revenue standby travelers must also abide by a set of rules and guidelines the airline has put in place.  These rules and guidelines pertain to the prioritization of non-revenue travelers, reminders about always putting revenue passengers ahead of you, turning down in-flight services, code of conduct, listing for non-revenue travel, buddy pass travelers, and dress code.  The degree to which the rules and guidelines are enforced varies from airline to airline and employee to employee.

There Is a Dress Code for Non-Revs, and It Should Be Enforced

All US airlines have a dress code for their non-revs.  This dress code has undergone serious changes in just the past few years.  The big three, American, Delta, and United recently revised their policies to allow non-revs to wear jeans, t-shirts, and tennis shoes in the First Class cabin.  However, United Airlines is considered the most strict airline when it comes to their dress code and the enforcement of the dress code.

As mentioned above, the girls weren’t allowed to board unless they changed because they were in violation of the non-rev dress code.  United Airlines’ non-revenue traveler dress code is as follows;


Whether or not you think the dress code is too strict is another story.  The bottom line is that the girls involved in the incident were not following company policy.

My Thoughts on the Non-Rev Dress Codes

I approve of United’s dress code, and I wish other airlines had stricter pass rider dress codes.  My understanding is that non-rev travel is a privilege and should be treated as such.

When I non-rev, I’ve been taught over the years to understand that I am representing the airline.  My appearance, how I act, and what I say is directly representing the airline.  Additionally, I am receiving a service free of charge as part of a privilege and benefit.  This is why I never blog about non-revenue flights and why I’m happy to follow a dress code.

One way to look at this is through an example I often experience in high school.  I’ve represented my school in multiple scenarios.  I’ve been a delegate in Model United Nations conventions, I’ve attended fine arts presentations at local theaters as a class, and I’ve met Wall Street executives when our business club traveled to New York.  In each scenario I have presented, we were representing our school.  Aside from being expected to behave like mature young adults, we were expected to dress appropriately.  Whenever I represent my school, I wear a sports jacket, button up shirt, chinos, and dress shoes.  I know that this will present my school in a positive light and I’m happy to wear formal attire to represent my school.

When employees, the family of employees, and their friends travel as non-revenue passengers, they are representing the airline for which the employee works.  This is why there is a dress code.  The airline wants their employees, the family of employees, and those who are traveling on buddy passes to wear proper attire and follow a dress code.

I think this dress code should be stricter and should include having to wear business casual appear when traveling regardless of the cabin.  It just seems like the proper thing to do.  Non-revs should follow a dress code because they are representing the airline.

Business Casual should be the default non-rev dress code

Business Casual should be the default non-rev dress code

The United Airlines Incident Involved Two Teenage Pass-riders Who Didn’t Follow the Rules

United Airlines enforced their non-rev dress code today.  United’s dress code states that pass riders cannot wear spandex.  Period.  I fully support this as I believe that business casual apparel should be worn by pass riders whenever they travel non-rev.  I don’t approve of male pass riders wearing gym shorts or sweat pants.  It’s out of respect and to better represent the airline on which they are traveling.


I am saddened that this became such a big story.  United Airlines has a dress code for their pass riders.  Pass riders on all airlines are instructed to know the rules and guidelines before they travel as non-revenue standby passengers.  As part of the privilege of free and discounted flights, they are told to understand that they are representing the airline and are to behave better than the best-behaved revenue passenger.  The girls in this incident did not follow the dress code.  They broke the rules.  They were told to change.  That’s the end of the story.  You might disagree with the dress code but, as I said earlier, that’s a different story.

What you do you think about non-revenue traveler dress codes?