If you break the rules and/or push a flight attendant too far, you’re gonna get kicked off the plane. (Photo: iStock)
Judging from the news lately, one might think that there is a worldwide epidemic of people getting kicked off airplanes. As we reported here on Yahoo Travel, there have been at least three separate occasions in the past few days of someone being booted from a plane:
- A Wizz Air flight made an emergency landing in Sweden after a passenger allegedly attempted to storm the cockpit
- There was an American Airlines passenger who allegedly became disruptive on a Tuesday Phoenix to New York flight, leading to an emergency landing in Wichita, KS
- Several people were kicked off a Spirit Airlines flight in Los Angeles Tuesday because of (depending on whom you ask) a seat dispute, alleged disruptive behavior by the passengers or alleged racial discrimination by the flight crew.
As you read about these wild cases, there’s something you should keep in mind: Flight crews are not looking to kick people off planes.
“It’s a terrible feeling and an awful decision to have to make,” says Sarah Steegar, a flight attendant and columnist for Flyertalk.com.
“It isn’t easy to get thrown off a plane,” adds flight attendant Heather Poole author of Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet. “It’s a big deal when it happens.” She says removing a passenger from a flight is a huge hassle for flight crews, who often have to explain their actions in a later report. “Nobody wants to come in on a day off to talk about what went wrong,” she says. “Nobody wants to be a bad guy!”
That’s one reason why, despite the headlines, passengers being removed from planes is relatively rare. Poole says she’s never personally kicked someone off a plane. Neither has Steegar. “I’ve come very close to removing a passenger only two or three times in 18 years,” Steegar says. “Each time I gave a last, VERY clear warning of what was about to happen. And each time the passenger shaped up and cut out what they were doing completely. That’s what saved them: sitting down and buttoning their lip and not saying another word.”
Generally speaking, flight attendants would rather fly with you than kick you off the plane. (Photo: iStock)
Despite its rarity, passengers do get kicked off planes. Airlines generally reserve the right to remove people for a variety of reasons, which often include being disorderly or violent, being intoxicated or under the influence, interfering with the flight crew, carrying a contagious disease, and even being barefoot or causing an annoyance to other passengers. Last week, a passenger got handcuffed and kicked off a plane after she used the first-class bathroom.
We’re sure you’re a model passenger who’d never be asked to leave a flight. But just in case the unthinkable were to happen, here’s what you should do if you’re kicked off a plane.
“You can try and apologize sincerely” for the offense that has caused the flight crew to decide they’d rather fly without you, says Steegar. It won’t hurt, but it probably won’t help. “By the time we make the call, we’re pretty sure what should happen,” Steegar says. “In my experience, we’re so fed up by that point. It’s best to be compliant and focus on how to salvage your travels beyond that.”
2. To appeal or not to appeal?
You could try appealing to more senior crew members. “Theoretically, you could appeal to the purser (head flight attendant) and then to the captain,” says Christopher Elliott, a travel blogger, consumer advocate and author of How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler. But don’t count on a successful appeal; Elliott says flight crews tend to be a tight-knit bunch and are far more likely to side with their colleague than to overrule him or her. “I’m sure it’s happened,” Elliott says, “but I’ve never heard of a fight attendant saying, ‘That’s it, you’re out of here’ [to a passenger] and then getting overruled by someone else.”
Long story short, if a flight crew member says to you, “You’ll have to leave,” it’s best to just accept that you’re not going to be flying anywhere on that plane.
You could try to appeal the decision to remove you from the plane. Good luck with that. (Photo: iStock)
3. Do not cause a scene on your way out
Even though you’ve been kicked off the plane, remember: it can still get worse. And it will if you start acting out.
“I have to say if you’re not in jail by now you should consider yourself lucky,” says Elliott. “My advice would be to be as polite as you possibly can.” Say an airline removes you from a flight for having had one too many cocktails (which they are required to do). If you’re nice about it, the airline may simply remove you from the flight and book you on the next one. “Normally it’s just a matter of sobering up,” says Elliott. “You sit down [in the airport], have a glass of water, and wait for the next flight.”
But if you’re one of those mean drunks who gets verbally or physically abusive on the way out, airlines will have a very different reaction — one that might include calling the police on you and/or declaring you a security threat and refusing to fly you anywhere ever again. Says Elliott: “I’ve heard of airlines refunding the ticket and saying, 'You’re on your own, you’re through flying with us.’"
Kicked off the plane? Yes, things could get worse. (Photo: iStock)
So remember, if you get removed from a plane, you’re already on thin ice. Being cool about it could mean the difference between getting home later in the day or not at all. "At this point, [the airline is] gonna do whatever they want to do to you,” says Elliott.
4. Go to the ticket counter
Assuming you’ve left the airplane on generally good terms, it’s time to make other travel arrangements. "The best thing to do is to go to the first ticket counter and ask to be put on the next available flight,” says Elliott. “Because you were denied boarding, they should be able to put you on the next flight at no additional charge. I’ve also heard of people who were kicked off a flight getting hotel and meal vouchers, too.” This could definitely be a possibility if, say, your travel buddy got kicked off a flight and you were just an innocent victim.
Elliott recommends checking out the airline’s contracts of carriage. Those contracts, which the airlines often post online, detail the airline’s policies, including what they promise to do for removed passengers. Another good resource is the Department of Transportations Fly-Rights page, which detail your rights owed to you as an involuntarily bumped passenger.
As long as you’re not a jerk about it, airlines will likely work with you to get you on another flight. (Photo: iStock)
5. Demand nothing
“I get emails from people all the time saying, "I firmly demanded that…’” Elliott says. “I’m like, "You can’t 'firmly demand’ anything.’” Remember: you were the one who got kicked off the plane, so it’s best to remember you’re really at the airline’s mercy. So when making other arrangements, it’s best to humbly throw yourself on the mercy of the airline rather than playing the role of the wrongly aggrieved victim. “Even though [the airlines] may be required to do something, you also have to get home or wherever you’re going,” says Elliott. “So you don’t want to piss off any more people.”
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