Home » How United Airlines Teaches Authentic Branding By Hating Your Leggings

How United Airlines Teaches Authentic Branding By Hating Your Leggings

Was my headline a little clickbaitey? My bad (wink). I’ll work on that.

In the meantime, United Airlines was beaten by a flaming Stick of Stupid yesterday while the world (mostly social media) watched it burn.

Yeah. This is fine.

The popular airline gave three female passengers the option to give up their seats or cover up the leggings they wore while boarding.

Now to be fair to United, the passengers were flying as part of the company’s employee & family benefit program. The program has a strict dress code for participants who are treated as company representatives. In reply to the situation United tweeted, stating:

“{United Airlines} shall have the right to refuse passengers who are not properly clothed via our Contract of Carriage.”

I get it. Really. Protect the brand.

But…I mean, come on. One of the passengers was a ten year old girl.

Yup. The stupid stick was strong that day.

Now, forget about that.  The part of this story that I absolutely love to cringe at doesn’t come from United’s regulation handbook or the stellar reporting of news agency coverage.

No, the best part comes from angry Twitter users. Because angry tweeters(?) have this insane mutant power that literally transforms them into unstoppable, deep research experts.

Seriously. There’s no dark corner of the past they can’t bathe with a screen light of truth. And when they do, the level of savagery is awesome.

My gawd, Twitter. You have no chill.

So here’s how savage Twitter, United Airlines, stupid sticks and Military Spouse Entrepreneurs cross paths.

It was pointed out by several users that United Airlines clothing policy, which bans spandex as proper attire for employees and their families, flies in direct conflict with the company’s branding and marketing image.

While the vast majority of their advertisements are what you would expect from an airline, the company has featured women in yoga attire (yup, spandex pants), flight attendants in short-skirted uniforms, and other visuals that seemingly contradict their Seventh Heaven dress code.

Milspouse entrepreneurs take note. When your marketing and the inner culture of your company don’t match, somebody is dang sure gonna’ notice.

See, you’ve got to think of your brand as a person.  Not just any person, but the only employee your customers or future customers may come in contact with. Think about it. Angry Twitter users messaged United Airlines directly. Complained to United Airlines, directly.

But, why?

The United Airlines brand, by featuring everyday attire of regular female passengers in their marketing, made a silent statement that they support and approve of the customer lifestyles they showcase.  They built trust with these target audiences based on that silent acceptance.

But the internal culture of the company apparently doesn’t match what they preach.  There’s a stench coming from those dress code policies that’s burning the nose hairs of their customers. Know what the smell is?


It’s like my first date. My best friend came over to check me out, make sure my outfit was oh-so-fly (so I wouldn’t embarrass him, of course).

In his words, I looked good. I was sharp ya’ll. Smelled like Degree Antiperspirant and Drakkar (thanks, dad). I got the thumbs up. Then, after several minutes, he spoke one more time.

“Bro, it’s all good. I mean, I wouldn’t wear that but you can. I guess maybe just change the shirt.”

And the hat. Change the hat. And the pants. And, and, and…

See what happened?  I went from feeling approved and confident by someone I trust to shaken and confused. It no longer mattered what he said in the beginning. I found out what he really meant.

United Airlines experienced this when their dress code became public. Their customers found out what they truly think.

Your branding as a milspouse business owner must be consistent across every nook and cranny of your company.  Your brand has to be just as strong down in the cracks as it is on the surface. That’s what I mean when I preach brand consistency.

The trick to that comes from being authentic. Keep it real.

So what are some ways to build and maintain an authentic brand

1) Know Your Vision & Mission

When you know the reason your company exists, you know who it’s for. And when you know who it’s for you, only then can you build a structure for the daily operations and guidance that keeps your business on track.

By separating the culture of its workforce from the culture of its customers, United created a disconnect that damaged the realness of their brand voice. There’s a cost to that kind of mistake.

2) Make Sure Employees Understand Your Brand

It’s interesting to note that the dress code controversy started, in part, because individual employees are allowed to decide when to enforce the policy.  In this case, the employee who denied boarding to a child because of her pants choice did not understand the brand message their company pushes to the world.

According to their website, United’s mission is to connect people, be warm and welcoming to everyone and it wants to do this together.

Making it hard for any passenger to board a flight they booked, especially for regulation that doesn’t quite fit with the reality of their work, doesn’t reflect those values.

Not a good look, guys.

3) Don’t Chase Customers. Attract Them.

This might be the hardest thing for any entrepreneur to do.  If you are chasing down customers, you get into the mindset of ‘what can I say to them to make them buy my stuff’.

Notice the bold words.  Your customers should never be ‘them’. A company needs to either be a part of ‘them’ or understand the audience so well it doesn’t matter.  In the above frame of mind, everything is about you and what you want. You’ll do anything, including faking, to make a sale happen.

Guys, that’s not how it works.  As business owners, you serve. That means you know what your audience needs and you deliver that value back to them.  Solve the problem, gain a customer.

By staying servant-minded, it allows you to be truthful in who you are and what your company represents. That’s a win-win for everyone.

In the end, the best way to protect your brand is to be 100% honest with who you are and what you believe. When your outer brand matches the inner engine that drives it, you’ll avoid silly situations like being a bajillion dollar company having to defend your stance on a little girl’s leggings while armies of twitter handles try to destroy you.

Do you have any experience dealing with less than authentic branding? Let’s hear about it. Drop a comment below.  See you all next time.