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Airlines Can Legally Deny You Boarding For These Reasons

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A flight ticket and a photo ID doesn’t always guarantee you boarding on an airplane (even if you’re all ready to go with your coffee in hand).

While US airlines have a long list of guidelines to abide by, another set of standards apply to all air travelers across the country. These standards allow airlines to legally deny boarding to passengers for a multitude of different reasons.

Woman with suitcase is going to board on the next flight

After taking a little deep dive into the US Department of Transportation's policies following our post on what airlines must pay you if you're involuntarily denied boarding, we discovered some interesting facts that travelers should take note of.

Turns out, there's a few things you can do to get yourself kicked off of a flight in the United States. Here's the guidance for the Department of Transportation for all travelers and airlines in 2022.

Reasons Passengers Can Be Denied Boarding

There’s a few simple reasons why you may be denied boarding by an airline. The typical ones that come to mind are if you don’t make the check-in deadline or don’t have the right identification.

In those cases, it’s important to note that different airlines may have different policies and standards when it comes to re-booking you on a later flight, which is one of the many reasons why you should know the terms and conditions of the airline you’ll be traveling with. Among them, one thing to check out is an airline’s contract of carriage.

Passengers standing at check-in counter with airport staff at check-in desk of airport.

What Is A Contract Of Carriage?

Airlines around the world, including US-based airlines, each have something that’s called a “contract of carriage.” This contract of carriage is essentially a legal agreement that you consent to when buying a ticket on a passenger flight.

Every airlines contract of carriage can differ, and according to the recent guidance by the US Department of Transportation, “an airline can refuse to transport a passenger for the reasons listed in its contract of carriage, so long as the refusal is not discriminatory.”

Calm male tourist is standing in airport and looking at aircraft flight through window. He is holding tickets and suitcase

Non-Discriminatory Reasons For Being Denied Boarding

Some of the non-discriminatory reasons airlines can deny a passenger boarding on a plane include:

  • Being intoxicated or under the influence of illegal drugs.
  • Attempting to interfere with the duties of a flight crew member.
  • Disrupting flight operations or engaging in unruly behavior.
  • Having an offensive odor that is not caused by a disability or illness.

That’s right, you could be denied boarding if the smell you’re bringing on the plane is offensive to those around you, as long as it is not linked to a personal disability or illness.

Now, onto the subject of unruly passengers. This topic has been reported on widely over the past few years, so much so that the TSA partnered with the FAA at the end of 2021 to help with removing any TSA Pre-Check privileges to passengers deemed “unruly.”

FAA regulations state that, “no person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crew member in the performance of the crew member’s duties aboard an aircraft being operated.”

Keep Your Travel Documents Updated

And in order to streamline the travel process, it’s important to always travel with an updated passport. With the routine processing times currently at 8-11 weeks, it’s recommended to get your passport updated at least 3-4 months before the expiration date.

As a traveler, it is your responsibility to keep all documents up to date, especially if you plan on traveling internationally.

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This article originally appeared on

Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.


Wednesday 17th of January 2024

Three pensioners and one other were told to get off a flight, booked as part package holiday, for stating to flight staff, on boarding, that their (paid extra for) seats were occupied. A stewardess said "We don't like the way you have spoken to us and we want you off the plane, now!"

One of our group of four passengers was asked on the plane "Are you British?" He happened to have dark skin and of Indian origin, he was indeed British but on leaving the plane his (alone) passport was demanded by border force after a staff member from the plane first spoke to the guard. We were soon bombarded with emails from the travel company, saying we could neither use the return flight nor coach transfers and could face being banned from flying in future. The package holiday company later refused to pay subsequent costs of re-booking with another airline and staying overnight at a hotel near the airport. The only good thing was that they said, after complaining to them, was that we would be welcome to travel with them again and that our complaints about staff behaviour would be taken on board.