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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.

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  • 7
    Can you tell me an instance? Was it for lack of visa, or any other documentation? Oct 28, 2022 at 6:33
  • 24
    multiple times without clear reason? Seems strange. would love to hear these stories!
    – littleadv
    Oct 28, 2022 at 6:51
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    @AnishSheela 1. The check in staff couldn't find the ticket for one of the people in the group, even though it was paid and valid. After spending 6 hours on the phone, we were provided accommodation and flew the next day. 2. We came to the airport and the flight was cancelled. No prior notice. We flew the next day and were compensated. 3. I didn't have an onward plane ticket where Timatic says that passengers "not holding return/onward tickets could be refused entry". That's all the cases. Only the case 3 was preventable from my side -my question is about such cases :)
    – Draex_
    Oct 28, 2022 at 11:27
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    @AnishSheela Did these all occur at the same airport or with the same crappy air line?
    – DKNguyen
    Oct 28, 2022 at 14:54
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    @DKNguyen Each case was in a different European country with a different airline. For the compensations, we had to fight each time. Luckily, thanks to EU regulations, that wasn't difficult.
    – Draex_
    Oct 29, 2022 at 3:40

9 Answers 9

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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.

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  • 4
    That's very comprehensive. Oct 28, 2022 at 7:13
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    @Henriksupportsthecommunity from the OP's comments, they were not actually denied boarding, they were denied boarding pass/checking in.
    – littleadv
    Oct 28, 2022 at 16:49
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    Nice list. Note: Some countries require *6 month* remaining passport validity (at the time of leaving)
    – Aganju
    Oct 28, 2022 at 17:23
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    * A sinkhole opens up underneath the tarmac and swallows the aeroplane
    – user253751
    Oct 28, 2022 at 17:43
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    The captain doesn’t like the way you look. There are 100s of reasons, from the commonsensical to the petty. Oct 29, 2022 at 1:56
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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.

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    There is a way to clear up having the same name as someone on the no fly list. You can be issued a Redress Number that indicates you are not that person. travel.stackexchange.com/a/27205/46 touches on this. Oct 28, 2022 at 14:02
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    Redress number only works with Department of Homeland security and TSA, not with the internal black list of the airline. My friend tried multiple times to have this resolved but to no avail.
    – Hilmar
    Oct 28, 2022 at 16:34
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    Wow, how does that not break discrimination laws?
    – TomSelleck
    Oct 31, 2022 at 13:07
  • @TomSelleck - jurisdictions vary, but "having the same name as someone we have (perfectly legally) refused to carry" isn't likely to be on the list of characteristics that are illegal to discriminate against; the list is usually pretty finite and pretty broad-brush: race, colour, religion and so on. If you can legally bar a person from your services and enforce that with a name-check that someone else falls foul of, that person probably only has redress through a civil case - often expensive and long-winded. It's an admin problem, not a discrimination problem.
    – Spratty
    Oct 31, 2022 at 14:33
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One more:
You booked through a third-party (consolidater, like expedia or gotogate or edreams, etc), and they messed up your booking, or cancelled it (maybe because the scheduled flight times moved 5 minutes; happened to me).

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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.

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    I’d add ‘arrive at the departure gate before the scheduled closure time’
    – Traveller
    Oct 28, 2022 at 6:57
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    Can you elaborate on "Make and stick to the plan. This applies trips to Europe."? What does your plan include? Why is it crucial to have one in Europe?
    – Draex_
    Oct 28, 2022 at 11:10
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    And regarding times, note that different destinations and airlines may have different requirements for check-in, luggage drop, or being at the gate, while flying from the same airport. One of the most common problems is assuming that rules for airline A apply to airline B (carry-on baggage varies widely, but so do rules on ID, check-in, boarding passes, and other things).
    – Stuart F
    Oct 28, 2022 at 13:20
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    @Draex_ From your profile, I am assuming that you are an EU citizen. This does not apply to you. You can do whatever you want. Oct 29, 2022 at 1:25
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    "Even though Shengen visa is issued by one country, it is valid for travel to all member states without further checks." — not always, there may be "LTV" (limited territorial validity) visas.
    – yeputons
    Oct 31, 2022 at 13:51
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  • Inappropriate clothing

For example:

https://viewfromthewing.com/american-airlines-refused-boarding-to-turkish-fitness-model-over-revealing-clothes/

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/26/us/united-airlines-leggings.html

https://onemileatatime.com/southwest-airlines-woman-lewd-outfit/

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

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    yes, if you travel to a highly religious and puritanical country like that, then crazy things can happen... :(
    – Aaron F
    Oct 28, 2022 at 18:10
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There is another general but rarely used one: The pilot thinks you will be a danger to the plane, crew or passengers. This is unlikely unless you fall under one of the other criteria (intoxicated, abusive, unruly or making threats) but pilots have very wide discretion to remove passengers.

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  • Captains, not pilots. But I would imagine that any pilot who insists that a passenger be removed would be backed up by his captain.
    – dotancohen
    Oct 31, 2022 at 12:15
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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.

Examples are:

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.

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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).

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You have the same name as another passenger on the flight, and someone thinks the some person booked twice by mistake and removes one booking. One perfectly legal John Smith goes ahead, and another perfectly legal John Smith is stuck.

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