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Due to the nature of flying in a tightly packed enclosed space, there will be situations arising where passengers might be highly disturbed by certain characteristics of other passengers.

Currently when a passenger shows up very overweight, and doesn't fit between the armrests, the airline can force them to purchase the adjacent seat, if possible, or deny boarding if not possible. Which prevents neighbouring passenger(s) from being highly disturbed on the flight.

Can this rationale extend to those who are visibly very sick or have disturbing body odour?

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  • Sure, it's commonplace. I remember at least twice, when, at the gate, a passenger who was "coughing their guts up", was denied boarding.
    – Fattie
    Nov 13, 2022 at 19:44
  • It's worth noting that the three issues you mention (size / sick / smell) are totally, completely, different. Regarding size, it's simply not safe as the safety equipment won't work, so that's that. Regarding sick, it's a lawsuit issue, if airlines let truly sick people fly all the other pax would sue them endlessly. The body odour one is quite different again.
    – Fattie
    Nov 13, 2022 at 19:46
  • @Jpe61 - I don't think so really. The "body odour" one has nothing at all to do with regulations, and the "too sick" thing is just a "they won't let you past the gate" type corporate decision.
    – Fattie
    Nov 13, 2022 at 19:58
  • One big difference is that one of those can be quantified/measured more or less objectively (you fit or you don’t), while the other two are a lot more subjective.
    – jcaron
    Nov 13, 2022 at 20:56
  • Well, BO is one thing, but there are cases where a passenger has been removed before t/o due to not being well enough to fly as per decision by PIC.
    – Jpe61
    Nov 13, 2022 at 21:59

2 Answers 2

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Captains can decline to carry anyone they believe may pose a risk to flight safety. Extremely overweight passengers are declined, I believe, on the grounds that the chairs and seatbelts cannot ensure their safety, and thus of those around them.

Sick passengers could easily be declined if there was a risk they might infect others, or that their condition might deteriorate so as to require a diversion. Someone with "extreme body odour" might be declined if their scent would be unendurable by those around them (if this could ever happen), but short of that it's hard to imagine someone's smell being a threat to safety.

Conditions are not specifically laid down, so it would very much depend on the circumstances.

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  • 1
    Especially in the case of a "visibly very sick" passenger thing are very clear. Such a passenger poses a threat to safety, and should not admitted on a flight. In addition to the points you mentioned, a passenger must also be in a condition he/she can independently evacuate in the case of an emergency, unless this requirement has been conceded of beforehand, for example in a case of a disabled passenger.
    – Jpe61
    Nov 13, 2022 at 8:29
  • Regarding the "very obviously very sick" one, the captain wouldn't even be involved. They simply won't let you board at the gate if you're the "coughing your guts up" type.
    – Fattie
    Nov 13, 2022 at 19:47
  • 1
    I had an interesting one, I was sitting down on a longish flight and the lady who sat down beside me was obviously deathly ill and coughing her guts up. Bizarrely, she actually commented, to me, that she had such and such contagious disease (ie, while coughing in my face sort of thing!) I immediately hopped past her, and myself and everyone around started bitching to the crew that this was insanity. The sick lady was "disappeared" and we never heard from or about her again, and I got moved to a new non-infected-seat area!
    – Fattie
    Nov 13, 2022 at 19:57
  • Note that airlines often have access to some kind of medical consultation service to assist with fitness to fly determinations. For example, passengers on Cathay Pacific might be required to obtain medical clearance before traveling under some circumstances (random airline example. every airline has its own policies.) Sometimes large airports may even clinics on site where medical personnel may be available. Nov 14, 2022 at 2:37
  • @ZachLipton most larger airports have a medical staff on site, both for passengers and staff. Smaller ones may only have a few nurses and other EMTs, larger ones may have a small hospital with full facilities.
    – jwenting
    Mar 31 at 12:38
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Denying passengers due to body odour is in the category of things that happen, but happen rarely enough to sometimes be considered newsworthy.

Here's a fairly straightforward example from 2010:

Smelly Passenger Kicked Off Plane

Man's body odor on an Air Canada Jazz flight overwhelmed his fellow passengers.

...The Air Canada Jazz flight from Charlottetown, on Prince Edward Island, was preparing for the two-hour flight to Montreal when passengers on the plane reportedly complained about the odor coming from one of their fellow travelers. The crew eventually decided to ask the man to leave the plane...

...[airline spokesperson] confirmed that a passenger was removed from the Feb. 6 afternoon flight but would not say exactly why the passenger was asked to leave, saying the airline "must respect the privacy of our passengers.


It seems to be a subjective judgement call to be made by the crew, which of course leaves it open to abuse or accusations of abuse, for example (2020):

Family kicked off flight over alleged body odor sues American Airlines

A Michigan couple kicked off an American Airlines flight last year because of their alleged body odor filed a federal lawsuit against the carrier claiming they were victims of religious and racial discrimination...

..."Mr. Adler asked the agent if the body odor was emanating from him, his wife or child and the agent would not respond to the question but continued to state that the Adlers must leave the plane at the instruction of the pilot and because they had extremely offensive body odor," the suit says.

The Adlers told airline staff they had bathed early that day, prior to their morning flight.

"In response, defendant's agent made disparaging and derogatory statement telling the Adlers that he knew Orthodox Jews take baths once a week," Nwogu wrote.


As for appearing visibly sick, airlines and national agencies have their own policies regarding assessing "Fitness to Fly" (e.g. here's the UK's guidance) and may require passengers with certain conditions to have an assessment made and/or bring a medical certificate.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) have a "medical manual" with general guidance on matters including "Efficiently deal with sick passengers", but this is a reference resource rather than standardized policy.

Ultimately, it comes down to a case-by-case judgement call by the crew. It's not uncommon for flights to be diverted or forced to make an emergency landing due to a passenger appearing critically ill or in need of treatment.

Here's a tragic and grisly example from 2018 of both events:

Passenger taken off plane for 'horror' smell dies

The passenger whose illness caused a Transavia flight to make an emergency landing last month has died.

[The passenger] was diagnosed with tissue necrosis — which causes the premature death of cells in living tissue.

...In a statement to Euronews earlier this month, the airliner Transavia confirmed the emergency landing was because of "medical reasons," but did not say if it was due to the man's odour.

However, due to privacy legislation, the airline said it "cannot disclose details about individual cases."

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