While flying internationally throughout the years, I've been denied boarding multiple times for multiple reasons such that I now feel that every time I fly, I am entering a lottery. Can someone provide a list of all the reasons why someone can be denied boarding? I imagine that I could then go through the list as a checklist and that it would provide piece of mind that I am getting onto the airplane. I am interested in all evaluations that happen during check in and at the boarding gate. I would love it if you could include a link to an authoritative resource.
It’s probably difficult to give an exhaustive list of all the reasons, but here are some:
- You don’t have a ticket
- You don’t have a booking for this specific flight (big classic with flights after midnight)
- You arrive at check-in/bag drop too late
- You arrive at the gate too late
- You have a “standby” booking and the flight is full
- The flight was overbooked and you were bumped from the flight (but there should be compensation and/or assistance in this case)
- There was a last-minute aircraft change, the new aircraft has fewer seats, and you get to the overbooking situation
- You don’t have the required documentation to enter the destination country, which may involve, depending on the country (destination and/or transit) and your citizenship:
- Not having a passport
- Having an expired passport according to the destination country’s rules (e.g. in the EU foreign country passports are considered expired after 10 years, even if stated validity is longer)
- Having a passport without enough validity left (can range from 0 to 3 months after your return date)
- You don’t have a visa, eVisa, eVisitor, ETA, ESTA etc.
- You don’t have a return or onward ticket
- In Covid times: you don’t have the relevant negative test, it’s not recent enough, you don’t have the appropriate vaccination certificate, you don’t have a valid reason for travel, you are not allowed to exit the origin country or enter the destination country..
- You don’t have yellow fever or other similar vaccines, or they are not yet or no longer valid
- You are on a no-fly list
- You are denied entry by the destination country
- You are denied boarding by an overflown country
- You have too much hand luggage (in number of pieces and/or total or individual weight and/or size)
- You have too much checked luggage or it is too large or too heavy and you don’t pay for the extra charges.
- You carry stuff that is forbidden on board or at your destination
- You are intoxicated, unruly or abusive to staff or other passengers
- You have been banned by the airline
- You travel with children without proper authorisation from both parents
- You are very large and didn’t book multiple seats
I would say the most common case is probably lack of proper documentation (passport, visas, health certificates).
You should use the IATA travel centre to check for requirements for both destination and transit countries.
You should do so even before you book. You should probably also check on a regular basis that it doesn’t change. In Covid times this has changed A LOT, often with very little notice.
A few more that are not the passengers fault.
- Someone with the same or similar name is on a do-not-fly, watch, or banned passenger list. A friend of mine has a common name like "John Smith". He could NOT fly with a certain airline since they had a "John Smith" on the banned list. There was no way to clear this up.
- There was a change to the ticket and the ticket did not get re-issued properly.
- Booking carrier did not properly communicate ticket to the operating carrier or the reservation was bungled in transit.
- Gate agent can't properly evaluate Covid documentation. Happened to me: Turns out the agent was too stupid to know what today's date was. I was able to save this one in the last minute through escalation (status helped here).
- Unexpected Covid or entry rule change right before the flight. I believe a large chunk of UK passengers got stuck in Austria that way. We also had to do a mad scramble to get a Ukrainian refugee family into the US since the US all of sudden required vaccination for minors (starting 3 days before the flight).
- Flight is cancelled (per OPs comment).
- Airline goes bankrupt. Happened to my daughter. WOW went under while she was sitting at the gate waiting to board. Plane went back to Iceland empty.
Some of these issues can obviously be resolved but not always in time for making the original flight.
I haven't been denied ever in any of my flights. I usually follow these
- Go through TIMATIC (https://traveldoc.aero/) before even booking a ticket to an unfamiliar destination.
- Apply visa well in advance and read all the terms of visa (e-Visa has details and conditions). Pay attention to validity. Some visas require valid on entry, some requires to be valid throughout the stay.
- Make sure passport is renewed at least 6 months before expiry. Many countries need 6 months validity at entry, or duration of stay.
- Answer the questions of immigration officer and gate agents truthfully. Stay silent initially, just answer questions they ask with minimal information.
- Always take a print out of all required documents. Relying on gadgets is not wise.
- Reach the airport, well before the recommended time (especially EU and UK airports these times can get really crowded).
- Boarding gate closes 30 minutes before (for most airlines) the time of departure. Pay attention to boarding time and correct boarding gate.
- For all trips, other than your country of residence/nationality, have proof of accommodation and return ticket, even if not needed.
- Make and stick to the plan. This applies trips to Europe.
- Never completely rely on a travel agent.
Elaboration on EU: Even though Shengen visa is issued by one country, it is valid for travel to all member states without further checks. However, to prevent visa shopping, the country you are supposed to be spending most time in according to plan issues you a visa. If you change that plan, there are risks that you may be denied entry. There are instances that hotels reports to immigration authority when accommodation is cancelled. So, its essential to more or less, stick to the plan.
- Inappropriate clothing
This is potentially more of a problem with international travel as some countries have much stricter cultural norms (for lack of a better term) than others - i.e., you may fly from country A where "anything goes" to country B that is far more conservative. And even transit can be an issue - you may be flying from A to C where the clothing tends to be similar (and more revealing) but transit through the airport in B where things are more strict. But the problem really could happen anywhere.
Reminds me of an old joke: https://www.math.ttu.edu/~pearce/jokes1/joke-030.html
Another reason: the check-in/gate agent believes that you lack the proper documentation for your journey: transit countries, the destination country, etc. As far as I understand, they never try to interpret legal documents on embassy's website and instead rely on internal airline's instructions. Instructions may or may not be based on IATA Timatic. There may be "oral instructions from the country's border control", whatever that means. There may be airline-specific blanket bans on specific nationals to enter a specific country.
- Low-cost/point-to-point airlines (like RyanAir, easyJet, WizzAir) typically do not recognize connections/transits. If you have a connection in a country you need a visa for, they do require that visa. Even if you don't have any luggage and can do an airside transit in that specific airport. Even if you're officially eligible for a scheme like "Transit Without a Visa" (TWOV) in the UK.
- Bulgaria/Croatia/Cyprus/Romania are not in the Schengen area, but they do accept multi-entry Schengen "C"/"D" visas and permits, as well as each other's visas and permits. So while you can use Bulgarian visa to enter Cyprus, some airlines may deny boarding because they don't believe it. For example, Emirate's website notes that correctly, but TravelDoc.Aero thinks it only applies to "D" visas, not "C" visas.
- Cyprus has an entry document called "M70 Entry Permit", typically issued for foreign nationals hired by a Cypriot company. It is an A4 paper issued in Cyprus, and a copy is printed by the traveler bearing a line like "Copy of this permit should be presented at the point of entry". However, it's not mentioned in either Timatic or Cyprus embassy's website, so airlines are typically not aware of it and may deny boarding. Being a photocopy without any wet stamps or signatures does not help. Some agents know better than others, e.g. Aegean Airlines' agents in Athens are familiar with M70 and know how to check its validity in a few minutes, which may be not the case in other cities.
- FinnAir denying boarding to Russian citizens flying from Dusseldorf to Helsinki (both are in the Schengen area), even though "Those who have a residence permit in ... an EU member state..., can still arrive in Finland." and some of them had German residence permits. Some others were traveling to return to Russia, which was officially allowed at that time, if I recall correctly.
- Lufthansa denying boarding to Russian citizens flying from Istanbul to non-Schengen destinations through Frankfurt, even though Russia nationals do not need a Schengen visa for an airside transit.
- RyanAir denying boarding to a Turkish citizen travelling to Ireland with a UK visa, see visa waiver programme.
- Denying boarding because of a non-existing rule of the first entry to the Schengen area
Moreover, sometimes the airline may claim that they're not responsible for the denied boarding as it outsourced checks to some local company (see the last bullet above).
I'm not aware of any way to check internal airlines policies. Calling or writing a letter typically results in a general "you have to ensure that you have all the proper documentation and we do not provide personal advice" response. You may even show up in the airport few days in advance and try to find the supervisor responsible for visa checks and ask them to clarify the situation for you, but there are no guarantees that the same supervisor will be watching for your check-in.
The only thing that may work is to check-in in person, at least a few hours earlier than you typically do, be well-equipped with Timatic printouts/printouts from embassy's website/ambassador's phone/phones of the immigration control in your destination's airport, and hope that the supervisor actually bothers to call/email the immigration control with all the details, and that the immigration control responds in time for you to catch the flight.
The airline staff at the check-in counter thinks that the passenger's passport is damaged. I've had a case where my passport was really in near pristine condition and still got denied by 1 airline (the 2 other airlines I asked right after as well as my consulate when I replaced my passport soon after we're extremely surprised I had been refused boarding for that reason).