Surprising reasons you may be denied boarding

Denied boarding
4 min read

Overbooking, arriving late and that big oops where you forget your passport are just a few of the reasons you could be turned away at an airport boarding gate.

But other surprising rules and technicalities that could disrupt your travel plans.

Offensive body odour, bare feet or clothing deemed inappropriate are some of the common pitfalls to avoid.

The Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA) takes a closer look at some more reasons that could see you ordered off an aircraft.

1. Don’t forget the deodorant


Several airlines have rules that if a person is particularly smelly, they can be removed from the plane.

Last year, Spirit Airlines bumped a group of passengers from a flight from San Jose to Fort Lauderdale for this very reason. The same complaint arose on an Air Canada flight, where an American passenger was denied travel because there were too few seats to move the passenger a suitable distance away from other travellers.

Delta says it could deny transportation “when the passenger has a malodorous condition.” You can’t fly with American Airlines if you have an “an offensive odour not caused by a disability or illness”. United Airlines goes a step further in denying service to “passengers who have or cause a malodorous condition (other than individuals qualifying as disabled)”.

Make sure you are generous with the deodorant before you travel!

2. Carrying ashes


While most airlines say you can take human or animal ashes on a flight, there may be specific rules associated with ashes transportation.

Some airlines say you need a copy of the death and cremation certificates, and the ashes must be securely packed in an appropriate container to avoid any spillages.

Policies on transporting ashes do vary by carrier and they can change from time-to-time. As a general rule, you can either ship the remains as cargo or carry them on the plane with you.

Some carriers require notice to accept remains as cargo and documentation such as the death certificate may be required. Depending on whether you are travelling domestically or abroad, you may need export paperwork from your embassy. It is essential that you check ahead of time, mainly if you are transporting ashes overseas. Your funeral home or crematory can provide you with paperwork such as an Affidavit of Non-contraband that may be required. Keep all of your documentation with the container of cremated remains.

In 2004 the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) implemented special procedures for transporting cremated remains. The TSA has particular requirements for the type of containers used to carry ashes. TSA agents are not permitted to open urns and containers to verify they contain cremated remains. That means it is critical that the vessel must be capable of being X-rayed. Click here to go to the original document which addresses the topic.

3. Check the dress code

dress code

Believe it or not, you can be thrown off a plane or denied board for what you wear, even if it is too much.

In January 2018, a man was denied boarding on a British Airways flight because he refused to pay the baggage fee and decided to wear all the clothes for his trip – 10 shirts and eight pairs of pants to be exact.

On Twitter, the passenger said he couldn’t afford the excess baggage fee, “as a result of being left homeless in Iceland for over a week”. He also claimed British Airways had told him he could board the flight if he wore all of his clothes at once but then rejected him anyway.

There are other tales of women in hen party groups who have been denied boarding due to offensive matching t-shirts, as rules state passengers shouldn’t wear clothes that might be offensive to others.

4. Bringing your harp on board


Airlines have different lists of what’s not allowed on board, and this often includes large musical instruments such as harps, as well as sporting equipment such as pole vaults and snowboards. Musicians and sportsmen and women can still fly with their gear but need to put it in the aircraft hold.

5.Bare feet


Many airlines won’t allow passengers to fly if they aren’t wearing shoes. There is a good reason for this, as in an emergency shoes may be necessary for safe disembarkation. Another is that feet may be smelly!

Read our previous myth buster on aircraft etiquette for more details.

6. Being very overweight


Safety rules mean passengers have to fasten their seatbelt before take-off and landing, but if a passenger is obese and the belt doesn’t fit, this could be a problem – in addition to the fact their size may impact on the space passengers seated next to them have.

Some airlines state passengers must be able to fit in the seatbelt restraint to be allowed to fly to cover this.