“Legging-gate” has died down, but in its place, a pressing question has arisen: How easy is it to get kicked off a flight?
The answer is, it depends.
Every airline has a “contract of carriage,” which outlines, in fairly broad terms, the actions that could cause denial of a passenger boarding or their removal from a flight. Delta has a 51-page contract, Southwest Airlines has a 42-page contract and United has 30 rules in its contract. When passengers purchase tickets, they agree to all of these terms.
The enforcement of many of the rules, however, is largely at the discretion of the flight crew. Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said that flight crews must be vigilant about looking for warning signs of disruptive behavior that could escalate after takeoff. “Once you’re up in the air, you don’t have a lot of options. You can’t call for help. You can’t have someone taken away. It starts to become an issue that threatens the safety and security of the rest of the people on board,” she said.
You can wear your leggings on the next flight (as long you’re not using an employee pass on United) but there are a number of other personal choices that could get you kicked off. Here are six tips to avoid getting booted from a plane.
1. Don’t get intoxicated
This, Nelson said, is the first reason that someone might be turned away at the gate or get thrown off a plane. Alcohol may contribute to air rage (in fact, it was involved in a recent incident of threats against other passengers), and that’s something that the flight crew wants to avoid at all costs. “If your flight is delayed, you might want to sip those drinks at the bar a little more slowly, because you need to understand that you could get to a point where if you’re not really in control of what’s going on, you might not get on the plane,” Nelson said.
2. Show up looking healthy
No one wants a sick seatmate. If a person is visibly ill, he or she may be asked not to fly, Nelson said, whether it’s out of fear of contagion (especially if there’s a known epidemic) or safety concerns. “If someone comes to the gate and they’re clutching their chest, sweating, showing signs of a major medical event – heart attack, stroke, anything – [the flight crew is] going to very likely be very concerned about that,” Nelson said. In some cases, she said, the flight crew may call paramedics to conduct an assessment. The goal is to avoid an in-flight medical incident, which could put the passenger in danger and affect everyone on board if the plane has to divert.
3. Behave yourself
Fighting or acting aggressive (in the gate area or on board) is a quick ticket off the plane. That’s what happened earlier this month, when a man uttered threats over the cost of a $12 blanket.
4. Follow directions
No, you won’t get kicked off a plane for having your headphones in and missing the “fasten your seat belt” instructions. But Nelson said that if you’re sitting in an exit row and become obstinate toward the crew when they ask if you’re willing to assist in an emergency, that could be an issue.
5. Practice good personal hygiene
It sounds, well, fishy, but references to a “malodorous” condition are a part of multiple contracts of carriage. And for good reason, Nelson said: “Odors in a confined space can actually cause other people to be ill, and that would be the concern. I think this would be incredibly rare, but that is absolutely a reason that someone could be denied boarding.”
6. Consider your clothing and wear shoes
Clothing and, yes, wearing shoes are also listed in the contracts of carriage. United makes mention of being “properly clothed” and Southwest calls out clothing that is “lewd, obscene, or patently offensive.” In reality, however, Nelson couldn’t think of any instances of barefoot passengers being removed from a plane, and she said that the only time she’s seen clothing that raised an eyebrow was an instance involving beachwear. “They’re not turned away, they’re coming on the plane, but we’re looking at them thinking, ‘oh my goodness, you are going to freeze and we don’t have blankets on the plane,’ ” she said. Still, when you read about passengers running into trouble because of baggy pants (it’s happened) or other wardrobe malfunctions, that rule in the contract could be the airline’s out.
One more piece of advice. When it comes to in-flight behavior, Nelson asks passengers to consider before boarding their next flight that they are part of a community. “They didn’t just buy a seat that is flying through the clouds by themselves,” she said. “Be aware that other people matter.”