Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

The whole story remains to be told.

What can be seen in public, however, doesn't look good for United Airlines.

It began when gun-control activist Shannon Watts tweeted: "A @united gate agent isn't letting girls in leggings get on flight from Denver to Minneapolis because spandex is not allowed?"

This was followed by: " She's forcing them to change or put dresses on over leggings or they can't board. Since when does @united police women's clothing?"

It's a reasonable question.

For good measure, Watts added: "Gate agent for flt 215 at 7:55. Said she doesn't make the rules, just follows them. I guess @united not letting women wear athletic wear?"

This seemed like a particular level of jobsworthiness. Since when did leggings become inappropriate attire? You see them everywhere. You even see them in ads for United Airlines.

Ultimately, it seems that one girl had a dress she could put on over her leggings. Two more were left behind.

Here's what made things a lot worse. United began replying on Twitter not with sympathy, but with corporate legalese straight from a mangled handbook.

Sample: "United shall have the right to refuse passengers who are not properly clothed via our Contract of Carriage."

It reeks of customer service, doesn't it? It reeks of understanding, class and humanity.

Oddly, United's Twitter team wasn't done undoing the airline's image.

Another United tweet to Watts read: "In our contract of carriage, Rule 21, we do have the right to refuse transport for passengers who are barefoot or not properly clothed."

That must have made Watts feel better.

United clarified its position with yet another tweet: "The passengers this morning were United pass riders who were not in compliance with our dress code policy for company benefit travel."

This suggests they were relatives of employees. What difference does that make? Has anyone who's ever flown United noticed that it has a dress code?

As model Chrissy Teigen tweeted: "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."

Some reports suggest that one of the girls was a ten-year-old. This moved actress Patricia Arquette to offer: "@united Leggings are business attire for 10 year olds. Their business is being children."

The United tweets she was replying to? "Casual attire is allowed as long as it looks neat and is in good taste for the local environment."

Oh, and: "We remind all of our employees to review pass travel attire requirements before using their travel privileges."

Because, of course, everyone on the plane points at those traveling on passes and shouts: "The Privileged! The Privileged! They are above us but they must behave better and dress better or to the stocks with them!"

I contacted United and the airline responded with a link to the United website posted late on Sunday, when the damage was already done.

There, the airline insisted "Your leggings are welcome." With an added exclamation point, that is. It explained that the passengers were, indeed, traveling as "pass riders."

"The passengers this morning were United pass riders and not in compliance with our dress code for company benefit travel," said the airline. "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."

At no point did the airline address the age of the passengers.

It's not as if all airlines have these archaic rules. Delta, for example, entered at least the 20th century with its so-called Buddy Pass rules: "Just remember, Delta has a relaxed dress code for pass riders, but that doesn't mean a sloppy appearance is acceptable. You should never wear unclean, revealing or lewd garments, or swimwear or sleepwear on a flight."

You, though, are still wondering about what United's version of "properly clothed" is, aren't you?

Well, a United spokesman told the Washington Post that "this is left to the discretion of the agents."

What if the gate agent has no taste? What if they once wore leggings and someone told them it didn't look good?

United's attitude in this matter is now left to the discretion of the public, which seems to have decided that United is a cold-hearted, arrogant, snot-nosed, sexist, despicable brand.

I tried to use a basic economy of words there to describe the reaction on social media.

But did the gate agents not imagine that anyone would notice how they were handling things? Did they not wonder that their actions might have seemed cruel and unusual?

Tone matters, even when enforcing rules. Tone matters on Twitter, too. You can choose to treat customers (even if they might be employees or friends of employees being customers for the day) with courtesy.

Or you can offer them the dry rules and tell them that's how it's going to be.

Many airlines forgot long ago that they're in the customer service business. They've focused entirely on profits.

Here, though, United seems to be unwilling even to enact a little damage control.

And if you wondered about any sexism that might be operating here, I'll offer you one more tweet from Watts: "Their father, who was allowed to board with no issue, was wearing shorts."

Published on: Mar 26, 2017