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Are airlines authorised to carry out a background check prior to check-in and deny you boarding?

My son reported to the check-in counter at Nairobi Airport to catch a flight to Quito through Amsterdam. He was asked few questions regarding his visa and employment, which he answered. However, he was denied boarding. When he asked why, they said we don't have to give you an explanation and he was asked to leave the airport after cancelling his ticket. The next day, an airline customer service executive told him that they were not happy with his background check.

The airline has not stated that visa or travel papers were the issue. When in the check in line he was asked where he has come from. He told them that he had come from DareSalaam and that he was working there with the One Acre Fund and also showed them his Tanzanian resident permit. About his education and he told them that he had graduated from BITS, Dubai with a degree in mechanical engineering. When they asked about his job in Tanzania, he told them that he was the country Logistics Lead. The Kenyan comment that it was odd for an engineer to do logistics.

He was then made to step to of the check-in line and asked to wait for the manager who turned up after the counter was closed. After discussing with the person who spoke to him, she said he would not be boarded. When asked on what grounds, she said she does not need to give an explanation. When asked again she said, I am done with you, you may leave the airport, and cancelled his ticket. He had to get a 3 day visa and find a place to sleep in town in the middle of the night. The KLM office in Nairobi the next day told him that his background check had a problem, no mention of visa specifics and problem with the background check was also not shared. He has filed a complaint with the airline.

  • I don't know, but I think it would be good, since you have already purchased your ticket, thus no big benefits in money, but much, I guess, in safety. Related: nytimes.com/2013/10/22/business/… – gsamaras Jul 26 '18 at 12:58
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    Which airline? It would depend on the country, probably, and whether some sort of waiver were present in their terms and conditions, I'd wager. – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Jul 26 '18 at 13:05
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    What sort of background check are you referring to? If this is related to your earlier question, that a traveller did not have requisite visa(s), and the Timatic database used by airlines, then I would vote to close this as too broad or unclear. – Giorgio Jul 26 '18 at 13:05
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    The airline needs to check if the passport and visa are valid. Probably the answer of your son were not compatible with the passport and passport visa. For sure they prefer to cancel the flight of your son than to pay penalty to the destination country because of lack of check. – Giacomo Catenazzi Jul 26 '18 at 14:19
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    Even we thought so at first. But airline has not stated that visa or travel papers were the issue. When in the check in line he was asked where he has come from. He told them that he had come from DareSalaam and that he was working there with the One Acre Fund and also showed them his Tanzanian resident permit. About his education and he told them that he had graduated from BITS, Dubai with a degree in mechanical engineering. When they asked about his job in Tanzania, he told them that he was the country Logistics Lead. The Kenyan comment that it was odd for an engineer to do logistics.... – CS MURTHY Jul 26 '18 at 17:14
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All airlines do maintain a no-fly list, as does the US government (https://www.no-fly-list.com/). If your son's name or a similar name popped up on KLM's list, he would be denied boarding.

Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of information how the airlines maintain these lists. It may include checking government records, like the one from the TSA. Running a full background check on each passenger would be prohibitively expensive, but they may very well go through publicly available databases on a regular basis.

Whether this is legal or not would depend and what exactly they are actually doing, and this question would be a better fit for https://law.stackexchange.com/questions anyway.

Once you're on a list, it's hard to get off, even if you are totally innocent. A friend of mine has a very common English name, which happened to be on the no-fly list of a large airline. Every time he tried to check in, it turned into a huge discussion and headache. He eventually stopped flying with them altogether.

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