Every time you shop at airports the shop personnel ask to see your boarding pass even if there's no discount on the merchandise due to the lack of VAT. Given that the GDPR is now in force starting from 25.05.2018, can I refuse to show my boarding pass at EU airports, citing privacy concerns? Or can I at least demand an explanation from the shop keeper of how my personal data is stored?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JonathanReez
    May 29, 2018 at 15:29

6 Answers 6


You can demand that explanation. In this explanation the shopkeeper/company will try to explain what they do with the data, how long they keep it, and why they think it is legal.

If it is legally required to collect this data, you are out of luck. If it is not legally required but legal to collect the data, they should give you an option to opt out of data collection without limiting your access to unrelated transactions (i.e. cash for physical goods).

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JonathanReez
    May 29, 2018 at 15:30
  • There are situations where it is not legally required to keep data but you still won't able to opt-out. Examples are contracts between companies and security logs off the top of my head. There are others related to essential business interests (warranties probably, fraud prevention and I'm sure others I can't think of currently).
    – DRF
    May 30, 2018 at 13:16

Certainly, in the UK you can refuse. This has become common practice since the public found out the stores were pocketing the 20% sales tax savings with out sharing.

Here is a link to the British newspaper which claimed to have exposed the scam.


  • 1
    Try that when you need to use a self service check-out in the bookshop that is more a food seller these days.
    – Willeke
    May 27, 2018 at 18:16
  • 9
    You can skip the boarding pass in the self checkout, it's a small button
    – Ian Turton
    May 27, 2018 at 18:17
  • I have asked a staff member and he did not tell me. (Maybe introduced later.)
    – Willeke
    May 27, 2018 at 18:41
  • 3
    Could you expand the answer a bit? Links, quotations etc?
    – Kyslik
    May 28, 2018 at 6:16
  • 10
    @NotThatGuy, the purpose of requesting the boarding pass was that the shop could claim back a sales tax if the passenger's destination was outside the EU. However, the price charged to the passenger was the same regardless of their destination, and was either the same or higher than in other shops of the same chain in city centres. May 28, 2018 at 8:58

Even before GDPR my experience is that when I say, "It's not necessary, my destination is also within the EU," then the checkout assistant doesn't push the issue. I've even had one reply, "It's ok, you don't have to show it if you don't want to"; I think that was in a Boots in either LGW or STN.

So the answer to "Can I refuse to show my boarding pass" is that you can, and you don't need to rely on GDPR when refusing. Even if you did want a legal argument based on privacy, the old Data Protection Directive has you covered with the principles of legitimate purpose and proportionality: if you're travelling within the EU then it serves no purpose for them to process your data, and it would be disproportionate to insist on it.

  • 2
    My question was posted after trying to buy a neck pillow on a flight from PRG to CDG.
    – JonathanReez
    May 28, 2018 at 9:23
  • FWIW I did consider also remarking that "every time" is an exaggeration: for example, I never get asked for my boarding pass when buying a newspaper or a sandwich and a coffee in Spain. May 28, 2018 at 9:54
  • usually if the store only sells perishable goods they don't ask for boarding passes, you're right.
    – JonathanReez
    May 28, 2018 at 12:07
  • "...the checkout assistant doesn't push the issue." - I think this used to be different before the backlash a few years ago after press coverage. I had one or two get annoyed.
    – Dan
    May 28, 2018 at 16:14
  • @JonathanReez so it was in PRG terminal 2 shops? Interesting to know. Just as a side note: Czech people seem to hate EU a lot even without people pushing stuff like GDPR in places like this...
    – yo'
    May 29, 2018 at 7:22

You can only refuse if the boarding pass is being read electronically. If the cashier just needs to visually see it, then GDPR does not apply. You can still refuse to show it, but then teller also can refuse to sell you the item.

If the system doesn't save your name (which is the only personal information on a boarding card - note, the frequent flier number is anonymized and doesn't come under GDPR) then I believe you also are not under GDPR rules.

Not sure if this is really worth the wrath of everyone else behind the line at the counter trying to get at the gate.

What is the goal here? Privacy? If you pay using your card, they already have more information about you than on the boarding pass.

Or can I at least demand an explanation of how my personal data is stored from the shop keeper?

They will probably refer you to their term and conditions, a website or some other printed brochure. I doubt the cashier or the manager is authorized to speak on corporate policy and procedure. Even if they are, they will probably pull you aside to speak to you.

So again, not sure if this is just a hypothetical question or something practical. I mean, really - isn't the point to overspend on something, get to the gate, and then regret it the entire flight? :-)

  • 7
    "If you pay using your card, they already have more information about you than on the boarding pass." Thats not true, because the boarding pass contains information about who goes where when with which airline. That information shouldn't be in the hands of any shop, they can sell things but shops do not have the right to collect data of their customers. Its a good thing, to stop this unappropriate behaviour of shops.
    – alex
    May 28, 2018 at 8:08
  • 18
    How does the GDPR not apply if the teller sees it? The GDPR is not limited to electronic data transactions.
    – Tom
    May 28, 2018 at 8:13
  • 4
    They always scan the boarding pass and they shouldn't be gathering names from card payments even if they can technically do so, according to the strongly enforced privacy and credit card transaction laws. As for the terms and conditions - they must have an extremely specific explanation of what happens to any piece of private data you provide, a generic 500 page T&C won't work.
    – JonathanReez
    May 28, 2018 at 8:24
  • 4
    Tom, because the GDPR is for data that is captured and stored, its not for when people ask to see your documents. May 29, 2018 at 12:47
  • 1
    @BurhanKhalid if they ask to see your document, they usually then enter the flight number into the till. A flight number is not, in itself, personal data; but I can certainly see an argument that if you're paying by credit card, it could easily be associated with your identity - and information on where and when you fly is most certainly personal data and covered. If the names aren't retained from credit card transactions (I don't know what the card issuers' rules are on this), then I suspect there's no personal data involved.
    – Flyto
    May 29, 2018 at 15:24

In the UK at least, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) requires airport duty free shops (or "export shops") to be satisfied that the customer is a passenger or crew by demanding a "transport document" from the customer. This must show the current date of travel, flight number, final country of destination and the time of departure or boarding time. Simply put those duty free shops are not allowed to sell you duty free goods unless you show them a boarding card or airline ticket that has the required information. I imagine this is a "legitimate interest" for the purposes of GDPR.

The law is The Excise Goods (Export Shops) Regulations 2000: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/cy/uksi/2000/645/made/data.xht?wrap=true

More information here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/excise-notice-197a-excise-goods-holding-and-movement/excise-notice-197a-excise-goods-holding-and-movement

The airport shops that are not duty free shops ask for your boarding card or ticket because they can claim back VAT if you are travelling outside the EU, although not all shops pass this saving to the customer. You can refuse to show them the boarding card and they can refuse to give you the discount.

Martin Lewis did a good piece on the requirements and differences between the shops: https://blog.moneysavingexpert.com/2017/05/need-show-boarding-pass-airport-shops-video-guide/


Airport Duty free stores are mostly airside after security and in customs controlled zones where the country's customs officials require the retailer to prove where the products sold are being exported to. It's both for Eurostat reporting as well as the VAT and Excise reclaim. Hence the requirement for the boarding pass whether EU or Non EU.

  • 2
    That's an interesting perspective however if I understand correctly you don't need to charge different VAT rates just because you're selling to people flying away to other EU countries. Do you have any links to EU websites about this requirement?
    – JonathanReez
    May 28, 2018 at 12:10
  • In the UK airports I have used recently (mostly Bristol) all flights leave from the same area, with shops you are forced to walk though before you enter the lounge area where you can wait/shop till your gate is announced (mostly 10 minutes or less before boarding starts.) So those flying to Edinburg and Amsterdam sit side by side with those flying across the ocean. Only one set of prices mentioned in any of the shops.
    – Willeke
    May 29, 2018 at 19:13

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