The girls were flying on a special staff travel ticket which requried them to adhere to the specific dress code, the airline said.
United Airlines is facing backlash after preventing two girls from boarding a flight because they were wearing leggings.
The passengers were turned away from a Denver to Minneapolis flight on Sunday morning because they’d breached a dress code for those flying on an employee travel pass – which banned spandex or Lycra pants such as leggings.
Although the girls agreed to change their outfits and were able to catch a later flights, the airline has received heavy criticism for its actions.
Fellow passenger Shannon Watts of Denver claimed she’d witnessed Sunday’s events and questioned the airline’s decision to police women’s clothing.
Watts said the girls’ father was allowed to board while wearing shorts and called the airline’s policy sexist.
However United Airlines clarified the girls were barred at the gate because they were travelling under an employee travel pass – essentially a free or heavily-discounted ticket for friends and relatives of the airline’s employees – and have to adhere to a strict dress code, unlike regular fliers.
In a statement on its website, United Airlines explained: “When taking advantage of this benefit, all employees and pass riders are considered representatives of United. And like most companies, we have a dress code that we ask employees and pass riders to follow.
“The passengers this morning were United pass riders and not in compliance with our dress code for company benefit travel. We regularly remind our employees that when they place a family member or friend on a flight for free as a standby passenger, they need to follow our dress code.
“To our regular customers, your leggings are welcome.”