Can an airline that serves North America (USA & Canada) and Western Europe (Schengen areas + UK) deny a passenger boarding for no reason at all?

I know airlines, especially in the USA, seem to have wide latitude in denying a passenger boarding. However I want to know if after taking your money an airline can legally refuse you boarding without any reason.

  • 9
    I think 'without any reason'/'for no reason at all' are the wrong phrases. I think you mean 'for any reason'. And I think you're really asking 'for a reason that I don't think is valid.'
    – mkennedy
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 19:44
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    ^What @mkennedy said. An airline is a business and a business generally wouldn't do anything that will harm their reputation unless they have a financial incentive to do so. An overbooked flight might fall under the "for a reason that I don't think is valid" category.
    – nukeguy
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 19:48
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    @mkennedy et al I don't mean any reason, because for example they cannot deny you boarding because you're Asian, or Old etc, those are covered by anti-discrimination laws. I mean can they just deny you without a reason. Maybe my phrasing is not the best however I hope you get the idea as laid out in the body of the question. Any editing to clarify is welcome as always. Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 19:52
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    So what you're really asking is "If an airline denies boarding - do they have to tell me the reason?" ?
    – brhans
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 20:11
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    This question is entirely specious. There is no "consumer rights issue" with the UA situation. No, an airline would remove someone from a flight for some random reason. Why would they?
    – DTRT
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 12:28

5 Answers 5


Yes unfortunately airlines can refuse boarding or remove a passenger from a plane for any reason at all. Even of the passenger has paid full fare for the ticket. Passengers do not have many rights when it comes to being on an airline.


United contract of carriage has a list for

UA shall have the right to refuse to transport or shall have the right to remove from the aircraft at any point, any Passenger for the following reasons


Passengers who fail to comply with or interfere with the duties of the members of the flight crew,

Let me break this down to make it easier understand

Passengers who fail to comply with the members of the flight crew,

that is pretty close to "Simon says". And since US federal regulations have similar wordings, all other US airlines will be happy to kick you off if you don't do what the crew says (you might even get into prison for it).

  • 6
    It's Simon Says with a side order of Catch-22: if the flight attendant says "leave the plane", you either (1) comply, which you can only do by leaving the plane, or (2) don't comply, which grants them the right to force you to leave the plane.
    – Pont
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 8:53
  • #2 could include an expenses paid vacation to jail as well. Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 14:54
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    @Pont And since it is their plane, that seems pretty reasonable.
    – Andy
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 1:32

With regard to the EU, yes.

The EU regulation (261/2004) acknowledges that a passenger can be denied boarding against their will and sets out the rights of the passenger to compensation and accommodation, but does not restrict the airline in reasons for denying boarding against the passengers will.

The regulation also sets out situations in which the airlines liabilities are limited.


  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JoErNanO
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 8:29

Can Airline Legally Refuse Boarding for NO Reason?

Technically, yes because the aircraft is private property. However, they would still be bound by the Contract of Carriage. But, the conditions are so broad that they will argue that any reason is covered by the CoC.

Operationally, no, because any denied boarding has to be logged and a 'reason' noted. But, that 'reason' can be as nebulous as concern by the flight crew.


In the United States, absolutely not. See, for example, 15 USC 45(a)(1) which says, "Unfair methods of competition in or affecting commerce, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, are hereby declared unlawful.".

I challenge anyone to argue with a straight face that contracting to provide a service and then failing to provide it in the manner expected for no reason whatsoever, causing harm to the consumer despite being able to avoid that harm, is not unfair. You would have to argue that the word "unfair" means nothing at all.

In fact, this perfectly meets the standards for unfairness because:

1) It causes harm to consumers.
2) Consumers cannot reasonably avoid the harm.
3) It is not outweighed by any countervailing benefit.

That is essentially the legal test for whether a business practice is unfair.

Regardless of what the contract says, United States law prohibits a business from adopting a practice that causes unavoidable harm to consumers unless there is some benefit from that practice that outweighs the harm. In effect, it prohibits businesses from being manifestly unreasonable.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JoErNanO
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 19:00

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