DENVER, USA: United Airlines found itself at the center of a social media storm after it barred two girls from boarding a flight in Denver yesterday because they were wearing leggings.

A witness told reporters that another girl who was also wearing leggings was allowed to board the flight from Denver International Airport to Minneapolis, but only after she changed.

The incident was reported on Twitter by Shannon Watts, founder of a group named ‘Moms Demand Action’. Ms Watts was a passenger at the airport waiting to board another flight, to Mexico.

“She [a gate agent] is forcing them to change or put dresses on over [their] leggings or they can’t board,” she said. “Since when does United police women’s clothing?”

“A 10-year-old girl in gray leggings,” tweeted Ms Watts. “She looked normal and appropriate [sic].”

However, United Airlines maintained its support for the gate agent’s decision in its own series of tweets.

Later, company representatives clarified in a statement that the girls prevented from boarding were “pass riders” – those who fly free or at heavily reduced rates because they are airline employees or relatives of such employees.

“Our regular passengers are not going to be denied boarding because they are wearing leggings or yoga pants,” a spokesman told The Washington Post.

“But when flying as a pass traveller, rules need to be followed – this is one of those rules.”

That didn’t stop a tsunami of ridicule against the airline on social media for what critics called ‘sexist’ and ‘intrusive’ actions.

“@united Leggings are business attire for 10 year olds. Their business is being children,” US actress Patricia Arquette tweeted.

American supermodel Chrissy Teigen also weighed in: “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,” she added.

American comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted that she was a regular flier and would be going on tour for an entire month, but would change her bookings to other airlines.

— The Nation