Do flight attendants have the authority to kick passengers off planes?

Can flight attendants kick you off the plane?

Drunkenness, fights over overhead locker space, and more recently, Covid-19 rules. There’s always drama during boarding. But what happens to those who push too far? Do the flight attendants have the authority to ruin your journey and refuse boarding?

Legally, we don’t have as much power as the captain. Although, in reality, flight attendants always have the last word. If a passenger is causing a disturbance or behaving in a way that could jeopardise the safety of other passengers, flight attendants have every right to ask them to leave. (And we do. Frequently!)

In this article, we will take a look at what exactly constitutes unruly behaviour and what happens when it occurs.

Do passengers really get kicked off planes?

Yes, and surprisingly often. But, this varies heavily depending on the time and routing:

It largely depends on the severity of their offence, and how a passenger reacts to the first warning. If a passenger is being disruptive or causing a disturbance, the flight attendant may ask them to stop or advise them they will have to leave the plane. If they refuse to comply, the flight attendant can then contact law enforcement to have them removed from the plane.

In most cases, passengers are not physically kicked off planes, but are given the option to deplane voluntarily.

Man in airport terminal after being kicked off a plane by a flight attendant

What happens if a passenger refuses to leave the plane?

If a passenger refuses to leave when asked by the flight attendant, they will be escorted off the plane by law enforcement. They may also be arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, or other offences.

In some cases, passengers who are removed from flights are banned from future travel on that airline. Interestingly, this airline specific threat often carriers the most consequences.

  • Many airlines have a monopoly on certain routes at certain times of the day.
  • On these limited routes, especially for business travellers that need to travel regularly, the threat of being banned from an airline for life carries much more weight than a police caution for their behaviour.

Legal view — Do flight attendants have the authority to kick you off the plane?

While flight attendants have a lot of power when it comes to dealing with unruly passengers, they are not actually allowed to kick anyone off the plane.

  1. Before boarding an aircraft, the power to admit passengers lies with the gate team.
  2. Once boarded, removal power lies with the captain.
  3. However, in virtually all cases, the captain will defer to the flight attendant’s judgment and allow them to remove disruptive passengers from the flight.
United aircraft under pushback
Once the doors are closed, the authority remains solely with the captain.

The simple reason, is that it will be the flight attendants who have to deal with the passengers! All airlines train their crew in CRM (crew resource management), any Captain will be wary of overruling their senior cabin crew member before the flight has even begun. We are a team, and the pilots place their trust in our judgment too.

Secondly, while the pilots will likely be locked away in the flight deck busy flying the plane, if anything escalates later on during the flight, their workload increases hugely! Threat levels, legal paperwork, and potentially diversions are all best avoided. So, most captains would rather trust their crew and kick off any unruly passengers on the ground!

Summary

There you have it! While it’s technically the captain’s call if an unruly passenger gets booted from the flight, nine times out of ten, they’re going to defer to the judgment of their experienced cabin staff.

So, if you find yourself seated next to somebody who is making things difficult for everyone else on board, speak to the senior cabin crew member. They’ll take over, and if necessary, there’s a good chance they’ll be asked to leave.

The bottom line: While technically flight attendants can’t kick you off the plane, in reality, they can and frequently do.

Do you have any personal experiences with unruly passengers, or have you been kicked off a plane yourself? It would be great to get experiences from the other side of the situation. Did the crew handle the situation professionally? We’d love to hear from you.

Share this article
Alissa
Alissa

Flyingbynumber’s Resident Senior Flight Attendant — Alissa

Articles: 22