Read this before you get kicked off a flight

If you enjoy gin and tonics, sleep with your eyes open or have a mild allergy to dogs, listen up: You, too, could get kicked off a flight.

In other words, almost anyone could get booted from a plane, and for practically any reason. That’s the takeaway from one of this month’s top stories, which reminded all of us that even if you have a seat assignment, it’s not a sure thing until the wheels are up.

The incident in question, you’ll probably recall, involved Aryeh Ebrahimi and six of his teammates from the University of Central Florida soccer team. Ebrahimi and his friends were tossed off a recent Spirit Airlines flight for the crime of simply being on a flight.

“A flight attendant told us we had to deplane because we didn’t have seats guaranteed from Dallas to Orlando,” he explains. “The flight was overbooked.”

Ebrahimi’s story brought up all kinds of issues about the rules involved in an involuntarily denied boarding situation, which we won’t get into again. But one issue that it just touched on – and that merits further discussion – is how easy it is to get removed from a flight.

Turns out it’s almost too easy.

Remember Mike Murray’s story? This was one of our first “Should I Take The Case?” cases. As he waited with his two nephews and cousin in the first-class lounge to board his United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Washington, he consumed three gin and tonics in two hours.

United wasn’t exactly discouraging it. The drinks in the lounge are included in your membership, and it’s an almost a six-hour flight. Nothing like a G&T or two to make you fall asleep, right?

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That’s exactly what happened to Murray, who’d given up 40,000 miles and $1,200 for his upgrade to first class. It wasn’t the only thing he would give up that day.

After Murray fell asleep shortly before takeoff, he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“A flight attendant asked if she could speak to me outside of the plane,” he remembers. “I disembarked the plane and the flight attendant told me that the captain did not want me to fly on the plane as I was ‘intoxicated.’ I asked her what I had done wrong and she stated nothing but that I was intoxicated.”

Murray didn’t protest. He asked what would become of the three other family members flying with him.

“About five minutes later they were told that the captain did not feel comfortable with them flying either and they were then ejected from the plane,” he says.

I didn’t take the case after receiving extensive feedback from readers.

Or how about Gregory Machon, who says he was kicked off his flight because he was sleeping. With his eyes open.

His condition, called nocturnal lagophthalmos, may affect somewhere between 4 and 20 percent of the population, so you would imagine the US Airways crewmembers who made the call to remove him from the flight had seen something like this before. Apparently not.

Machon was on a flight from Baltimore to Frankfurt when a flight attendant tried to get his attention, not realizing he was asleep. It turned into a real circus. Doctors were called, who speculated about his condition. Finally, two EMTs cleared him for flight. Then the flight attendant working in his section balked.

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“She told the pilot that she was not willing to have me seated in her section, and that she considered me to be a liability,” he says.

Machon was also expelled.

And finally, there’s the odd case of Marilyn Bruno, who was flying from Miami to Boston on American Airlines. Bruno is allergic to dogs — technically, it’s a class 3 allergy, which is relatively mild and doesn’t require her to travel with an epinephrine pen.

When she boarded the flight , she found an unexpected passenger had joined her.

“I was getting ready to sit down in seat 14A when I heard the barking of a dog under my seat,” she says. “I stood up and told the young man and woman sitting in seats 15A and 15B that I was allergic to their dog because I immediately felt the first symptoms of an allergy attack.”

She asked a flight attendant to re-seat her.

“The dog owners started laughing and shouting loudly to the other passengers how cute their dog was and how it would not hurt anyone,” she says. That started an argument, of course.

Eventually, a flight attendant asked her to get off the plane.

“I said that I had important meetings in Boston that I could not reschedule, that this treatment was discriminatory,” she says. “Rather than listen to what I was saying, I was physically kicked off [the flight]. Another American Airlines employee who had come from the terminal got my carry-on bags.”

There’s an entire “kicked-off-a-plane” sub-genre on this site, and it makes for some fascinating reading. Most of the cases have the following in common:

    • They’re one-sided stories (the other side almost never wants to chime in with their version) that begin with a “misunderstanding,” devolves into an argument and then escalates into a confrontation that requires airport police to intervene.
    • The flight attendants are always on a power trip, trying to exert their supreme authority in the cabin, according to their victims — whether that’s true or not.
    • The cases are un-advocatable, for the most part. An airline might add a little compensation to the mix, but I’ve never seen the company do an about-face, offer a full refund and an unconditional apology.
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Still, when I review all of our stories about plane flights interrupted, I’m troubled at how easily it is to get ejected. It can happen for any reason and there’s really not much you can do about it. Once a flight attendant decides you don’t belong on a flight, you’re outta there!

To be fair, I’m sure there’s a little paperwork that has to be filled out when a crewmember pushes the “eject” button. And if someone kicks too many passengers off a plane for insubordination, I’m sure they’ll get a talkin’ to by their employer. But still, this absolute power has got to be one of the nicer perks of the job.

Maybe there’s really only one important takeaway for all of us: If you don’t think it can happen to you, you’re wrong. It can. But please don’t test that that theory – I really don’t want to write about you.

Is it too easy to get kicked off a flight?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Naoma Foreman

    YES. HUSBAND is allergic to animals and began to have an attack when a large dog — was now on the plane in the aisle one row ahead of us. He told the flight attendant and she told us the captain said we must leave and board another plane. Really a terrible decisionn, but the plane we boarded left a bit later than the one we were on BUT WE GOT TO PHOENIX BEFORE IT. DOGS ARE A MENACE TO ANYONE WITH ALLERGIES AND BESIDES THEY HAVE A FOUL ODOR. i say NO DOGS ON PLANES!!

  • Tanya

    I don’t know the specifics, but if this was a legitimate service animal, I am betting the person without the service animal does get “kicked” off the plane to take a later flight, vs. the person with the service animal. What would you do as a company when faced with this decision? I can tell you what the lawyers would say. Those with service animals should not be kicked off due to another passengers allergies. As for foul odors, most dogs don’t smell when properly taken care of, and most smell less than people who smoke, people who put on perfume/cologne, etc.

  • Patrica

    I’m wondering about the woman kicked off Spirit Airlines on March 11 In Romulus MI for having a panic attack and swearing at the FA when the FA became confrontational. AND ALSO, on March 10, Spirit airline from Baltimore to LA…. why the women that were intoxicated, blasting a boom box, and subsequently engaged in a hair pulling, shoving, pummeling fight on board but on the tarmac … are not at least assigned to a do not fly list. IF they were blasting the boom box , even to the point of merely being annoying, why were they allowed to board? Why was there no intervention beforehand. I realize Spirit Airlines is annoying by itself, likely also resulting in frustrated & annoyed Flight Attendants, but it appears they have very little training in people skills. The first scenario, the woman was also a med student, obviously had had panic attacks before , and needed to implement strategies she had learned (a little Xanax / Valium please!). In lieu of that, there are paper bags (oh, maybe not this is spirit airlines) to breathe into –something she could have had on hand. The FA could have de-escalated the situation and done some Psychological First Aid (breathe, relax, we’ll figure it out, etc.) As to the March 10, LA episode… I am still reeling after seeing the video. I find that to be so horrific and brutal primitive incident, that I would have a panic attack if I were on board.

  • cahdot

    there seems to be an epidemic of “service dogs ” on planes and they do not have to be in their carrier or under the seat. Recently i sat across from a young woman in first class who had her dog on her lap for the entire flight!! i asked the FA what was going on and he flashed me a note saying ‘service dog” i asked why it had to sit on her lap for the entire trip he gave me the sign again NUTS!!!!! I’m actually seeing more than one dog with a person saying both are now service dogs!!!! over the top!!!

  • Alan Gore

    If you’re allergic to dogs and the only seat available is next to a dog, there’s no other solution but making the allergic person wait for the next flight, provided the dog is legitimately boarded.

    That said, there is definitely a problem with people getting kicked off flights because “somebody felt uncomfortable.” That’s why I favor a mandatory FAA reporting procedure for all passenger ejections, with names and sworn statements by all the flight crew involved and a timeline of events. This procedure would protect the crew itself if any legal action comes of the ejection. Just having the procedure in place would cut down on casual ejections.

  • cscasi

    Of course, we do not have the “whole” story on Mr. Murray, do we? How many drinks had he really consumed in the lounge before boarding the aircraft and falling asleep? Somehow, I surmise that if the flight attendant thought he was intoxicated after observing him walk from his seat to the jet way and talking to him; enough to pose a safety risk, perhaps he had more than “a G&T or two”. But, is she an expert in this area? Probably not. But flight attendants do have the responsibility for passengers’ safety. In the event of an emergency landing where emergency chutes are deployed and over wing exits are used, or even in a water landing where passengers have to get off and onto life rafts, flight attendants may not have time to go and take care of an intoxicated passenger if he/she is unable to navigate to the exit (or what if he/she is blocking the aisle).
    Finally, just because a passenger falls asleep after taking his/her assigned seat before the plane takes off is not a big deal. I see people do it many times. So, perhaps there was something else that caused the flight attendant to interact with Mr. Murray. But, who knows. We do not have the whole story.

  • cscasi

    I can understand your feelings and can empathize with you. But, I have been next to and in proximity of mean and women, even children on flights who have had foul odors. It is just fact of life these days; not that I enjoy it when it happens. You might ask to be reseated elsewhere in the plane or you certainly can ask to be deplaned and allowed to take another flight because of one’s health condition being aggravated by whatever it is on the aircraft.

  • jmj

    food allergies cause ejections too. All too common.

  • The problem with any allergen is that it gets sucked into the ventilation system. At that point the whole plane is contaminated until it is cleaned. The person with the allergy really has no choice but to leave the contaminated area and board a plane that is uncontaminated.
    Anaphylaxis is pretty serious stuff. Even if you had a minor reaction on first contact the second contact can kill you. No pilot wants to risk a flight diversion for a medical emergency.
    It might be reasonable to reserve certain flights as no-allergen flights. I’m thinking the current ACAA would have to change though, as it requires accommodation for service animals on all flights.

  • AAGK

    What an adorable picture!

  • AAGK

    There seems to many more stories of passengers complaining there is someone who SHOULD have been kicked off (the overweight guy, the drunk sleeping guy, etc) who wasn’t and then those passengers want compensation for their proximity to the offending passenger. Either way, it is a difficult call to make, assuming we are dealing with a well meaning FA.

  • Regina Litman

    Oh, I wish I had had the opportunity to vote on the case of the gin and tonic guy! Just maybe, my sentiment would have tipped the balance in favor of you taking the case. Any chance it can be reopened, even at this late date?

  • AAGK

    i would rather smell my dog than the perfume most people wear. So would you kick off a blind person with a seeing eye dog? Why does your special need, an allergy, make you a priority? I like the idea below about allergen free flights. Some R&D needs to be done regarding the shared air on airplanes. All kinds of things get spread up there.

  • pauletteb

    i was sympathizing with you, even with the unnecessary shouting, right up until the “foul odor” showed your bias. Sympathy gone.

  • Pat

    I am allergic to dogs, cats, and many other animal danders. If someone has a legit service animal, I have no problem changing flights to accommodate the person that needs the service animal. But the law needs to be changed to only require trained service animals by organizations certified to do the training as being allowed on the plane. If they are emotional support animals, they should not be allowed. You can buy emotional support animal letters on the Internet. This has been abused to the point something has to be changed.

  • Carrie

    Maybe the airline should hang a little sign at the boarding area reading: This flight contains dogs, drunks, loud children, stinky egg salad sandwiches etc…so some people can have the chance to change their flights….

  • jim6555

    And the airline will probably charge them $200 to make that change.

  • 42NYC

    For every story I hear of “I only had three drinks and they kicked me off the flught” I hear five stories of “I was on a flight and some drunk person made a scene/Was violent/vomited in flight.

    Pick one to complain about. Either let drunk people fly or let the flight attendants make the call and possibly get it wrong sometimes.

  • 42NYC

    I should add that I’ve been denied boarding for being drunk. A 6am flight home from Vegas where we played through the night. My plan was to pass out upon boarding and sleep the entire way. It sucked when I had to take a 930am flight instead but looking back the fa didnt know if I’d be he passenger who slept the whole flight or the passenger who was disruptive.

    I get it.

  • 42NYC

    You lose me at “spirit airlines” :)

  • KarlaKatz


  • KarlaKatz

    Speaking of foul odors… he was probably exuding the essence of cocktails-too-many-du-jour.

  • KarlaKatz

    Let’s not forget the “support turkey”, from not too many weeks ago; This has gone way over the top, and something really does need to be done.

  • exactlywatt

    I was on a flight where a kid was allergic to peanuts. The flight attendant nicely explained the situation to everyone sitting near us and asked that if we brought snacks that contained peanuts, not to eat them. The mom brought extra peanut-free snacks to share just in case.

  • LonnieC

    My problem is that wherever I hear “service animal” I immediately question the legitimacy of the designation. There are too many sites where, for a few dollars, anyone can get a “certificate” confirming that any animal is a “service animal” or a “companion animal” (can you say “pig on a plane”? Recent true story.). There should be strict national standards for such designations. Only then can I make a considered judgement as to who may be correct in a case such as this.

  • Naoma Foreman

    Yes. I remember the “support turkey”… Some rules need to be made and

  • joycexyz

    Right on! Let’s get some regulations/certifications in place so the only animals allowed on board are genuine service animals for genuine disabilities. Emotional support??? Baloney!

  • C Schwartz

    Or the emotional support pig…. although I remember that the pig and owner were made to leave the plane because the pig was defecating on the plane. The emotional support animal issue has gotten ridiculous in the past few years. There are people that will write the certification letter for $50 after an online “session”. I am wondering what is it that has made so many people think that they need to travel with their “emotional support animal”. And I have pets that I love and volunteer for a rescue.. Last year a true service dog was seated in the row behind me. As a true working animal this dog was so well behaved and focused only on the person. Sadly I doubt the legislature in the govt. will address this anytime soon but I hope I am wrong.

  • C Schwartz

    I am an animal lover and volunteer with a rescue but I am tired of all the abuses from the people needing “emotional support” animals on planes. Usually the people that abuse the system have the worst animals, as they do not care. I do think that allergies can be serious and many people do not take them seriously and those that truly suffer are second class citizens behind those with the emotional support animals. I have sat next to people that have admitted that they just do not want to pay the fee for the animal. I do not wear perfume in planes and do not bring food with a strong odor on the flight because of being in an enclosed space.

  • James

    I disagree. Now that I have a pet human (SO) as a support animal, the two of us fly for the price of one. ;-)

    (OK, not really, but why not? What prevents me from having a friend as a support animal?)

  • Kerr

    I’m no sure anyone was arrested after the fight.

    Hadn’t heard abut the panic attack case, but expecting all FA to be trained on methods to handle those is a bit much.

  • Lindabator

    everything is already reported

  • AAGK

    I read about some of these. The boom box lady takes the cake. As for the dysfunctional Med student, it sounds like a scene from the movie Airplane:)

  • Michael__K

    Wrong. The FAA’s website says: The FAA’s database contains only those incidents reported to FAA. Reporting is at the discretion of the crewmember

    And this has already been pointed out to you before when you made the exact same incorrect statement before:

  • AAGK

    Bottom line, if the airlines could charge an extra allergy fee, as they do a pet fee, I’m sure they would be fine with tossing of those with dogs. At this point, revenue wise, dogs are passengers.

  • joycexyz

    I like your thinking! Why not?

  • LonnieC

    I love this! I think I’ll go as my wife’s “companion animal” next time. Business class, too!

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