Do Airlines Really Ban Unruly Passengers For Life?

Image courtesy of Amy McTigue

Here at Consumerist, we have seen more than our fair share of stories involving unruly or otherwise disruptive passengers who have gotten themselves kicked off flights for bad behavior. But upon hearing that Delta Air Lines had banned a passenger for life after he was caught on video yelling at his fellow travelers, we had to wonder: What do you have to do to get banned from an airline forever, and which U.S. carriers have such a policy in place?

On Monday, Delta’s CEO Ed Bastien confirmed in a company memo that a passenger who was filmed shouting politically-charged insults while boarding a flight from Atlanta to Allentown, PA, will no longer be allowed to fly on the airline.

“This individual displayed behavior that was loud, rude and disrespectful to his fellow customers. After questioning the customer, our team members made the best decision they could given the information they had and allowed him to remain on the flight,” Bastien wrote. “However, if our colleagues had witnessed firsthand what was shown in the video, there is no question they would have removed him from the aircraft. He will never again be allowed on a Delta plane.”

We reached out to Delta to ask what the airline’s official policy is regarding lifetime bans, and what kind of actions could lead to such a verdict.

A representative for the airline declined to provide more information on the ban, referring Consumerist to Bastien’s memo in regard to this specific incidence.

But in general, the rep said, “Delta employs a variety of security methods both seen and unseen to protect our customers and employees.”

We reached out to the other major U.S. carriers as well, and thus far have received responses from some of them.

American Airlines: A company spokesperson didn’t point Consumerist to a specific policy, but instead noted that “the safety and security of our passengers, employees, and aircraft is always our top priority.” While the rep said American would not discuss internal procedures, the airline did confirm it has “the ability to ban a passenger.”

Southwest Airlines: “Southwest does not have a related policy and we have not implemented a customer ban,” a company spokesperson told Consumerist in response to our questions.

Virgin America: Pointing to the airline’s Contract of Carriage section titled, “Refusal to transport guests,” a spokesperson for Virgin America says the airline may, under some circumstances, “‘ban’ or refuse to fly an individual deemed to be a safety or security threat to our passengers, crew members and/or the safe operation of our flights.”

Spirit Airlines: A representative for Spirit told Consumerist that the airline does ban people from flying, usually if they’ve assaulted the company’s employees, or threaten to do so.

“We would also ban people who threaten any terrorist activity,” a spokesperson explained to Consumerist in an email. “Essentially any reason that makes our employees, customers, or aircraft in physical harm, would lead to a ban.”

There is no lifetime ban, per se, but when Spirit makes the decision to ban an individual, the airline determines the level of the threat, an appropriate timeframe for a ban, and then works with the company’s legal department to notify the customer of the ban’s duration, and what steps they could take to get reinstated.

The spokesperson noted outright bans are rare, and that the longest ban anyone at the company could recall was five years.

“Our security team reviews reports after incidents of law enforcement being called, and then reviews each incident and makes a decision to pursue a ban — or not — on a case-by-case basis,” the rep told Consumerist.

We also reached out to United Airlines, JetBlue, Virgin America, Alaska Airlines, and Frontier Airlines, and will update this post when we hear back.

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