Corporate fascist, gender biased, sexist and floundering in the mud – these were a few of the remarks thrown at United Airlines for barring two girls from boarding a flight to Minneapolis, from Denver International Airport, United States, on Sunday. The carrier faced extensive social media flak for the incident, after one of the girls – not more than 10 or 11 years old – was made to change into a dress deemed more appropriate.

A Twitter user said, “Once a venerable carrier is now floundering in the mud,” while another said United had found a way to make American airlines worse.

The incident was first reported by guns regulation activist Shannon Watts, who live-tweeted the exchange between the family and the United Airlines gate agent at the Denver airport. “The girl pulled a dress on,” Watts later told The New York Times. “But please keep in mind that the dad had on shorts that did not hit his knee – they stopped maybe two or three inches above his knee – and there was no issue with that.”

United Airlines has defended its decision, saying the passengers were pass riders who were “not in compliance with our dress code policy for company benefit travel”. “These are relatives or friends who also receive the benefit of free or heavily discounted air travel,” the carrier explained in a statement titled “To our customers…your leggings are welcome!”. It added that “all employees and pass riders are considered representatives of United” and are mandated to follow a dress code.

A few on social media defended the airline, as well. Some pointed out people’s unawareness about airline policies “beyond buying a ticket”. Others referred to the girls being pass riders and said, “Fly on company dime, follow their rules.”