$18,000 Ticket to Nowhere: United Airlines Pilot Grounds 1K Passenger for Foul Language

A United Airlines pilot who flies Boeing 757 and 767 aircraft kicked a top MileagePlus elite passenger off of a cross country flight from Newark to San Francisco and shared the story to social media.

The captain had gone up to the gate for paperwork and overheard this ‘1K’ customer cursing at the gate agent prior to boarding at Newark airport.

Standing there, literally throwing every combination of the “F” word at the gate agent was a 1K member (or so he claimed) angry about something. I stood there for a second, looked at him, and asked if he was flying to SFO.

He confirmed he was. I then turned to the [gate agent] and told her to re-accommodate him on another flight, because he WAS not flying with me that day. I honestly thought he was going to punch one of us at that point but to his credit, he simply threw a few F-bombs at us and walked away.

United Airlines at Newark

1K status requires spending at least $18,000 per year with United. It does not, however, require class. The pilot didn’t have context for why the customer was swearing. It’s Newark, so reasonable to assume they were receiving poor service. But the customer’s reaction crossed a line.

I say good for the pilot! But does a pilot have the right to kick a passenger off for their choice of language? Sort of.

49 USC § 44902 provides broad latitude, within certain bounds laid out by the FAA, for the captain of an aircraft to refuse transportation to a passenger if they feel that passenger might be “inimical to safety.”

A pilot’s decision cannot be arbitrary or capricious – but that’s not the same as saying it has to be reasonable. It’s generally presumed that the actions of the pilot are reasonable, and judged based on facts the pilot was aware of at the time and the time constraints they’re under.

  • If they hear only one side of the story, and it’s incomplete
  • And they make a decision based on that information
  • And they’re in a rush to get the plane out
  • That’s probably going to be fine under the law

United Airlines Boeing 757 in San Francisco

If the captain felt that a passenger could be a safety risk solely because they heard the passenger’s foul language, they’re probably within their rights to refuse that passenger transportation. They cannot kick you off for using bad words. But they can kick you off if they feel your bad words make you a safety risk. And as long as that judgment isn’t arbitrary or capricious it won’t be reviewed.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @Skeptic In MD…..THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU….seems there’s not many of us left with constructive reasoning. Your comments are refreshing sir!

  2. A pax who cannot follow the rules of reasonable social behaviour at the gate is unlikely to follow instructions from crew in the air. That very behavior could threaten the safety of that or any flight. Thanks, Captain! You also spared his prospective fellow passengers a potentially miserable flight with UAL

  3. Well done, Captain. When I was flying, I would brief my cabin crewmembers to not put up with foul-mouthed boors swearing at and demeaning them. Their behavior never improves when they get airborne, but it is much harder to manage there. No one should have to work in such an environment. Even if it is not obvious, there is a good chance that some alcoholic beverages were involved, and that can present a real danger in the air.

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