United Airlines has been heavily criticised on social media after two girls were reportedly barred from flying for wearing leggings.

The incident happened on a flight from Denver to Minneapolis on Sunday morning, activist Shannon Watts said.

United said the girls were travelling on a special pass, for employees and their guests, which has a dress code.

It has since clarified that all regular, paying customers are welcome to wear leggings.

The girls were “United pass travellers”, which are tickets for company employees or eligible dependents, it explained in a Twitter exchange on the issue.

“United pass travellers” are eligible for free or heavily discounted air travel.

The dress code for pass-holders states they should not wear “form-fitting lycra/spandex tops, pants and dresses”, among various other stipulations, including no exposed midriffs, no mini skirts and no flip-flops.

Activist Shannon Watts tweeted about what happened to five girls when they tried to board a flight at Denver airport.

She said a United gate agent was “forcing” the girls, one of them aged 10, to change their clothes or wear dresses over the leggings.

She said three of the girls were allowed to fly after putting dresses over the top of their clothing, but two were prevented from boarding.

Tweet from Shannon Watts reads: 1) 3 girls inspected for wearing perfectly acceptable leggings. 2 not allowed to board. I don't care what kind of passengers they were.

She criticised the airliner for its actions, asking: “Since when does United police women’s clothing?”.

Tweet from Shannon Watts reads: 2) This behavior is sexist and sexualizes young girls. Not to mention that the families were mortified and inconveninced.

Tweet from Shannon Watts reads: 3) As the mother of 4 daughters who live and travel in yoga pants, I'd like to know how many boys @United has penalized for the same reason.

Tweet from Shannon Watts reads: 4) Their father, who was allowed to board with no issue, was wearing shorts.

Tweet from United reads: We appreciate you being our eyes and ears. The customers this morning were United pass travellers

Tweet from United reads: There is a dress code for pass travelers as they are representing UA when they fly. ^KP

Source: BBC