A look at airlines’ not-so-prestigious “banned for life” club. (Illustration: iStock)
Being asked to leave a plane before your flight certainly is dramatic. Having the police waiting for you after a flight might even get you on the news.
But there’s a select few in-flight misbehavers whose actions are so egregious, so over-the-top, that airlines have deployed the nuclear option against them: a ban for life.
This is different from government no-fly lists designed to weed out potential terrorists. No, this is the case of a particular airline saying to particularly ill-behaved (and sometimes dangerous) passengers: “You’ve crossed a line, buddy, and you won’t never step foot on one of our planes again.” Celebrities like Snoop Dogg, Liam Gallagher, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are rumored members of the “Banned For Life” airline club.
“If you’ve been bad you can get on one of these lists,” says author and travel writer Christopher Elliott, noting that car rental companies and hotels also issue lifetime bans in extreme circumstances. “It’s not something that the companies really like to talk about.”
That’s for sure. Yahoo Travel reached out to several airlines to ask about their “banned for life” policies and they responded with answers so vague and evasive, one would have thought they were asked about Area 51. “We don’t discuss our security procedures, which are in place to protect our customers and crew members,” was one airline’s answer in a statement that resembled most of the others. Given the airlines’ omertà regarding lifetime bans, it’s probably not surprising that they rarely publicly reveal who ends up on that blacklist (although sometimes they will if they’re really mad at the person they’ve banned).
The industry trade group Airlines for America did somewhat confirm the practice of lifetime bans: “Airlines implement these measures through their reservation systems,” a spokesperson told Yahoo Travel in an email. “Restricted travel is at the discretion of each individual airline if it is in the best interest of their customers and crew members in terms of safety and security. Because safety and security are always our highest priority, carriers can and will enforce measures to keep our customers and employees protected.”
So it seems that, yes, airlines do issue lifetime bans and reportedly have dropped that hammer on some bad, bad fliers — some famous, some infamous. Here are the top 10 ways to get banned.
1. Get a totally inappropriate (but hilarious) tattoo on your genitals and show it to everyone on the plane.
It wasn’t his Pinocchio tattoo that got one flier banned for life; it’s where that tattoo was. (Photo: iStock)
Can a tattoo get you banned from an airline? It apparently did in this case, when British airline Jet2 reportedly put a 22-year-old man on its permanent blacklist this past May for exposing his tattoo. No, the airline doesn’t have an issue with body ink, but it seems the man, Tom Washington, had a tattoo of Pinocchio — the fictional puppet whose nose gets big when he tells a lie. Washington’s Pinocchio tat was on his lower torso and the nose was… well, use your imagination. He allegedly went around the plane showing other passengers the explicit tattoo and, boom: instant ban. (Washington and his buddies reportedly also boarded the plane dressed as flight attendants and waved a sex toy during the safety demonstration, but that all took a backseat to the tattoo flashing.) Washington told the Daily Mail he did it all for a “giggle.” We’d rather not see if he’s telling the truth about that.
2. Start a brawl in a fancy VIP lounge.
“…it’s kinda hard being Snoop D-O-double-G” — especially if you want to board a British Airways flight after a 2006 Heathrow brawl. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)
Surprisingly, Snoop Dogg was banned, and wasn’t for weed. The rapper got on British Airways’ permanent bad side when some of his 30-member entourage reportedly sparked a brawl at Heathrow’s VIP lounge in 2006. Afterwards, British Airways became the rare major airline to go public about banning someone for life. “We are making sure none of this group will be allowed to travel with BA ever again,” an airline spokesperson said at the time. “They are banned from now on.” Now, nine years later, is Snoop Dogg still blacklisted from sippin’ his gin and juice on a BA flight? When we contacted British Airways, all a spokesperson would say about the matter was: “Our customers deserve to enjoy their flights. We treat all cases of disruptive behavior extremely seriously and take action where appropriate.” Our bet is that British Airways’ policy still is “No Doggs allowed.”
3. Harass passengers and pass out in the toilet.
Ryanair took drastic action against a guy who doesn’t know the meaning of the term “passenger etiquette.” (Photo: AP)
A man traveling from England’s southern coast to the Canary Islands earlier this month turned what otherwise could have been a simple arrest into a lifetime ban from Ryanair. According to various reports, the passenger apparently antagonized other passengers, harassed women on board and at one point passed out in the toilet. As Spanish police took him off the plane, photos showed them having to wrestle the disruptive passenger to the ground — a stunt that probably sealed his lifetime ban. A Ryanair spokesperson later confirmed that the man’s business will no longer be welcome at Ryanair.
4. Get drunk and try to hit on your seatmate by impersonating an air marshall and trying to set her leg on fire
This guy knows how to handle rejection. But a guy on one Delta flight responded by getting banned from the airline. (Photo: iStock)
When most guys get shot down by a woman, they take the hint. But one man looking to pick up his pretty female seatmate reportedly picked up a lifetime ban from Delta Airlines instead. In May of 2011 Delta passenger Bryan Sisco got drunk before the Dallas-to-Atlanta flight and started talking to the woman next to him. According to Sisco’s subsequent interview with the Memphis Commercial Appeal and a blog his seatmate wrote, he told the woman he was a federal air marshal (he wasn’t), lit a butane lighter near her leg thinking she’d be amused (she wasn’t), and claimed a large tube he was carrying contained gas “that will make anyone sleep if you open it” (it didn’t). After the passenger secretly passed a note to the flight attendants informing them of her strange seatmate, the plane diverted to Memphis where Sisco was arrested and reportedly banned from Delta. He later told the Memphis Commercial Appeal: “It was stupid of me. I’m a dumbass.” (He was.)
5. Threaten the pilot with baked goods.
Most of Liam Gallagher’s worst actions in the `90s had to do with his in-flight behavior, not his music. (Photo: AP)
Liam Gallagher of Oasis furthered the band’s legend for epic jerkery with a rowdy flight aboard a Cathay Pacific flight in 1998. Reports said band members threw items, swore at passengers, and smoked during the flight from Hong Kong to Perth. The most bizarre report from the flight claimed that Gallagher threatened the pilot with a scone; some accounts said he was upset that he didn’t get one of the pastries, others said he was offended by its shape. Either way, it was enough to get him banned by the airline. Gallagher was nonplussed about it, saying he’d rather walk to Australia than fly the airline. Undoubtedly his fellow passengers on that flight would have loved to see him try.
6. Have Mexican standoff with the airline employees, and include lots of cursing.
Forget “O Canada” — if this guy tries to board this airline, the answer will be “No Canada.” (Photo: iStock)
One passenger upset about missing an Air Canada flight doesn’t have to worry about that ever again; the airline banned him for life. Back in 2012 the passenger, Guillaume Boutin, allegedly freaked out at Cancun’s airport upon missing his flight to Montreal. The passenger claimed he’d been misinformed about the boarding time. Air Canada said Boutin was “aggressive” and used “abusive and vulgar language” to airline staff members. He must have used some choice words because the airline permanently blacklisted him and successfully defended that decision when he appealed.
7. Ignore those pesky “no smoking” signs.
Hint: never smoke on an airplane (Photo: iStock)
All airlines take in-flight smoking seriously, but Ryanair proved it doesn’t mess around. Back in 2004, the airline announced it was issuing lifetime bans on eight passengers who smoked on board its flights in separate incidents. And forget the secrecy: the airline slammed them for “stupidly and recklessly persist[ing] in endangering the safety of others by smoking on board.” Ouch!
8. Get drunk and make a simple flight Mission: Impossible
A reported ban on United is one of the many reported past troubles of actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers. (Photo: iStock)
For actor and Mission: Impossible III star Jonathan Rhys Meyers, an impossible mission reportedly is boarding a flight on United Airlines. According to a report on Radar Online, he went into a drunken rage in May of 2010 after he was denied boarding on a flight to L.A. Radar reports the airline responded with a lifetime ban but the airline hasn’t publicly confirmed that.
9. Tweet jokes about hacking the airline’s computer system
One bad tweet led to a United Airlines ban. (Photo: iStock)
United, however, was much more forthcoming about the fate of Chris Roberts — a computer security expert who has publicly warned that airlines potentially are vulnerable to malicious hackers. He got United’s attention, in a bad way, when he tweeted a joke about hacking the computer systems of the airplane he was about to board this past April. No one laughed; he was met by the FBI when his plane landed. The airline subsequently banned him, telling Yahoo Travel, “We’ve decided it’s in the best interest of our customers and crew members that he not be allowed to fly United.”
10. Pull a Naomi Campbell
Naomi Campbell and British Airways reportedly kissed and made up after her “lifetime” ban (Photo: AP)
Like Liam Gallagher, Naomi Campbell’s meltdowns were the stuff of legend for a time. Back in 2008, she reportedly flew into a rage on a British Airways flight over a piece of missing luggage. She was fined and given 200 hours of community service for the incident, and she was also banned from British Airways. At the time it appeared to be a lifetime ban. But in 2013, the Daily Mail reported the ban was lifted and Campbell was allowed to board a British Airways flight. Even in the face of lifetime bans, it’s almost comforting to know that redemption is possible.