Being Kicked off an Airplane


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High-profile celebrities aren’t the only ones occasionally removed from airplanes due to unexpected circumstances or questionable behavior. Regular, everyday people also find themselves kicked off airplanes due to overbooking, appearing physically unfit to fly or displaying threatening behavior toward crew members or other passengers.

Fortunately, most of us will never have to give up our seats on a flight. After all, we each have certain rights when flying, even though they come with certain limitations. Yet should you ever lose your seat or be kicked off a flight, try to recall some of the basic facts set forth below, so you’ll be one step ahead of every other passenger in your same position.

Passengers that Get Denied to Board Certain Flights

Airlines can deny ticketed passengers the right to take specific flights when one or more of the following events  unfold, including:

  • A higher than normal percentage of their ticketed passengers have turned up to claim their seats;
  • Security officials believe there’s just cause to detain specific passengers, perhaps just temporarily, to protect the safety of others;
  • There’s a passenger who has already boarded (or is about to board) a plane who’s behaving in a drunken, threatening or extremely rude manner toward the flight crew or other passengers; or
  • There are passengers who are so morbidly obese, pregnant or otherwise physically “challenged,”  that an airline believes it has a duty to detain them to make sure it’s       reasonably safe for them to board particular flights. (Such decisions can lead to the later filing of unlawful discrimination lawsuits).

Rules Governing Passenger Removal

There are U. S. Department of Transportation (DOT) publications that addressa variety of passengers’ “fly rights.” [Click on # 14 entitled “Other Sources of Information”  under the immediately preceding “fly rights” hyperlink]. Among other rights, DOT provides that:

1. All airlines that want to “bump” some passengers from a flight must first seek out all ticketed customers who are willing to take a later flight in exchange for compensation, before forcing any unwilling passengers to make this type of concession;”

2. Any “compensation” given to a ticketed passenger to take a later flight must be clearly explained to that individual. So, for example, when someone is offered another flight ticket, he or she must be told when it will expire and what flight restrictions may apply, if any;

3. Airlines must fully respect an oddly behaving passenger’s rights while investigating what might be causing the individual’s unusual behavior. Sometimes, disabled people may appear to be acting in an “unruly” fashion when they’re actually enduring unusual medical episodes. Conversely, there will often be individuals who are purposely or negligently misbehaving. The airlines won’t usually owe members of the latter group any compensation if they emove them from flights. Furthermore, those who willfully misbehave may even have to formally respond to complaints later filed against them by the airlines or other parties;

4. People who are “kicked off an airplane” for non-criminal behavior due to overbooking or some similar reason – and are then provided with a substitute flight within an hour of the original one -- will not be owed any compensation.

5. Airlines that provide new flights that will arrive at the “bumped” passengers’ desired destinations within one to two hours of their originally chosen arrival times must pay sums equal to each person’s ticket price to their intended, final destination – however, this sum cannot exceed $400. If the “bumped” fliers had tickets on international flights, the substituted flights must arrive within one to four hours of the passengers’ original estimated times for arrival; and When the substituted flights will arrive more than two hours later than the passengers’ original arrival times (more than four hours later if they were flying internationally), those individuals are entitled to receive 200% of their original airfares, all the way up to a maximum of $800.

Getting Legal Help           

Whenever you have serious questions about why you were removed from a flight, you’d be wise to consult with an aviation attorney. This professional can help you fully examine your situation to determine if your legal rights were violated. Your lawyer can also help you file a formal or informal airport complaint, if that’s appropriate and currently necessary.

Should you be charged with a criminal offense based on your removal from a flight, your aviation attorney can put you in touch with a criminal law specialist, too. In an extreme situation, should your aviation attorney believe you were improperly singled out for removal from a flight,  he or she can put you in touch with one of our civil rights attorneys. It’s always best to at least briefly consult with an aviation lawyer when you have these types of questions.

This article is provided for informational purposes only. If you need legal advice or representation,
click here to have an attorney review your case .
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