$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. The moment the pilot put this on social media, he was WRONG, I hope the asshole passengers sues and wins.

  2. Glad the pilot did not let the disrespectful passenger get on the flight. People acting so entitled. Glad someone higher put him in place. Co-workers should standup for each other when someone is disrespecting them.

  3. Parnel:
    Why do you feel that way? Why can passangers use social media to their advantage and not the pilot.
    It seems like the pilot is doing the industry a service by informing passangers to behave properly or they don’t have the privilege of flying. Remember, it is a privilege, not a right to fly.
    Based on the passangers behavior, I hope the gate agent didn’t provide anything more than a ticket on another flight.
    As a fellow 1K flyer who grew up in NJ, with almost 4 million miles on United, in all honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing the passanger banned from flying on United for a year or so. There is no excuse for throwing F bombs at gate agents, EVER!

  4. The captain of an aircraft or for that matter of any vessel, has the absolute right to refuse passage to anyone or thing he/she determines to be a risk or will be detrimental to the safety of this journey.

  5. Thank you captain for your actions. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend, it is not a ticket to be completely disrespectful and offensive to working staff or other passengers in the terminal who had to listen to this horrible behavior. I wish they are banned from United flights, would be great since I am a frequent flyer myself.

  6. Just like the pilot, people are making judgements based on just one side of the situation. Knowing United like I do, they can make any normal person angry enough to go balistic.

  7. Sensationalized maybe? I’m guessing the unruly passenger just shut his mouth and quietly boarded the flight. The story never went past him walking off, he never got rebooked.

  8. United airlines and the management team have created the 1K and GS monster , entitlement at its best and united and the management keep feeding it

  9. Good for the pilot. Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of nice 1Ks but I for one have seen 1ks throw that “I’m a 1K”out there.When they were wrong. They are bullies,when the hear that word No that entitlement behavior kicks in. I am glad he didn’t get on board and make us none 1Ks listen to his F bombs.

  10. Good for the pilot. Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of nice 1Ks but I for one have seen 1ks throw that “I’m a 1K”out there.When they were wrong. They are bullies,when the hear that word No that entitlement behavior kicks in. I am glad he didn’t get on board and make us none 1Ks listen to his F bombs.

  11. As a former captain for TWA/American, if somebody is acting up, I can and have kicked people off my airplane. This is a private company and can deny service. Airlines have denied service for life, no fly list.

  12. This has nothing to do with an $18,000 ticket. Either Gary is clueless about how United Premier status works, or he’s using clickbait for more views.

    I’m officially blocking View From the Wing for its misleading articles and for its God-awful web page formatting that wastes half the mobile screen on margins. Good riddance.

  13. You cannot blame United or its crews or ground personnel for crass, belligerent and entitled passengers. Done people cannot or will not control themselves. I worked for a major airline for years. The term we used was “unfit to fly.” The captain is ALWAYS right. The risk he wanted to mitigate was abuse to the crew and other passengers in flight. Great call.

  14. I say THANK YOU CAPT. I had the pleasure of dealing with a 1K who also was throwing a temper tantrum and the F word was a favorite. He had a bit to drink and he o ly became worse as the day progressed.
    No person should have to put up with such behavior, EVER.
    I hope he was denied boarding, refunded his ticket, lost his 1K status and banned from flying on United for life. Nobodys business is that important. People need to grow up…..

  15. Too many times I’ve been trapped in a metal tube for hours with a problem personality that gate agents wanted to board the problem just to get them off their hands. Good on the pilot, though I doubt the gate staff appreciated having the problem left on their hands

  16. To all who are slamming the 1K passenger and not knowing the entire situation should be just as ashamed as those supporting the pilot for posting about the situation, y’all are the problem. That 1k passenger, like many of us elites, know the process better than probably 75% of the folks working it (airline, security, counter, etc) because we travel and travel regularly!! (Small note, at least historically until airlines started selling status vs butt’s in the seat accrued).
    Was the 1k passenger use of the F-bomb in bad taste yes, was it justified we don’t know, but reasonably most likely so.. We also don’t know their body language at the time too, which would speaks volumes to If this person was a threat or not.
    Now the pilot, is 110% wrong on so many levels for posting this scenario and should be reprimanded!!! First and foremost, the action did not happen on their aircraft and second, he wasn’t aware of the entire story!!!! The story, if published, should come from the Airline’s communication team!!! If at all…

  17. I’ve read all the comments and it’s pretty shocking and absurd to me! I agree with Mike 100%. A few things to consider.
    1. Customer is ALWAYS right has been the business model for every private consumer engaged company since the beginning of time.
    2. Flying is NOT A PRIVILEGE!!! It is a PAID SERVICE that folks like the one in the story and myself pay for dearly! Airlines got bailed out for Covid but yet they still charge all these junk fees. The flying experience does not at the very least compare to what it was 30yrs ago!!
    3. The “unruly” customer was NOT on the plane, he was at the gate. The Captain could have investigated the incident to find the cause if he was that concerned. He didn’t. He simply decided from his vantage point he had saw and heard enough. Pilots are NOT JUDGE JURY EXECUTIONERS! Sorry not sorry. The placating to the pilot is nonsense! He gets paid to do a Job to the best of his ability. An upset customer at the gate does absolute nothing to prevent that.
    Finally, we have arrived at a time when customer service is no longer about the customer. Well guess what folks? Without the customer, there is NO COMPANY!! The flight experience has been diluted and diminished all while the cost to do so has risen exponentially! So I say boo to the pilot! I hope he faces discipline! And boo to all the folks who so unwittingly takes the side of an airline pilot at a gate incident that didn’t involve him with a HIGH PAYING CUSTOMER. The ineptitude of reasonable thought astonishes me!

  18. My frequent flying earned me 1K status and I just boarded my second EWR outbound this week. a) I find Newark ground personnel to be professional and pleasant, and treat them accordingly with kindness. b) When travel gets messy (and this complicated endeavor often does) I roll with it. c) Imma all for that captain calling out a jerk, who perhaps learned a lesson during the imposed timeout from his tantrum. Yours in contributing to the friendly skies…

  19. To paraphrase Norm Macdonald, I hate everyone involved in this story.

    Stuff like this is why the only time I fly in the US is to get the heck out of this country. I’d move but my well-paid job requirements are that I live here. I’ll leave, and take my pension as soon as I qualify.

  20. Nobody is more valued and respected respected than the flight crew. You’re a guest in their house and should act accordingly or suffer the consequences of being an unwelcome guest. The sooner you flying punks realize this, the better. Do us all a favor and ride Greyhound next time. I promise you, the bus driver on Greyhound won’t tolerate your behavior either.

  21. @William Alford…Punks? Maybe you should watch your language and expand your vocabulary! Without paying passengers, there is No airport, No plane, No flight crew. Period punk!

  22. Bravo to the captain, for removing this ill mannered person from the flight!
    Why does the author assume that the passenger was receiving poor treatment?
    Having work for an airline for many years, I have encountered numerous passengers, who have approached, customer service, representatives “ready to fight“.
    — the flight is booked completely full and they would like to switch their seat to another row to sit in their lucky number or window for an aisle or vice versa and it’s not available-~ cursed at!
    — cannot understand why they have a center seat, asked to change to an aisle or window, which by the way was unavailable, but secondly, explain the rules of the basic economy fair which states numerous times prior to making the final purchase that assignments are not able to be requested until day of departure (this was before a BE person could pay extra to choose a seat).
    After the rules that the passenger apparently did not read, but accepted were explained to the passenger he reply was, “I didn’t f*%king ask you that!”
    — a mechanically delayed flight had a announcement made stating that the mechanics update the situation, within 60 minutes, passengers were advised not to go far from the gate area so that they were aware of any updates. Also advised to listen for concourse, announcements, and ensure that if they had the mobile app that they would receive notifications in that manner. About 20 minutes later, mechanic said the flight was ready to board, made an announcement re-boarded all passengers, except three. Made multiple announcements across the concourse, paging them back that the flight was closing the door shortly when they arrived back to the boarding area to see that they had missed. The flight started cursing profusely and one threw their carry-on bag against the wall.

    Things that people do in an airport they would never do at the store or the bank!

    Society has gone crazy!

  23. I’m sure the customer was acting like an entitled jerk but I think it’s hilarious how people complain about how airlines operate and treat them, and then two seconds later are licking airline boot when a story like this comes along. Remember that pilots are airline employees just like arrogant gate agents and flight attendants and will back.up their union comrades no questions asked no matter the actual situation.

  24. You curse and swear … you get what you deserve. As for those thinking that the customer was right, well you’re wrong. The Capt is in charge, don’t like take a bus…. and let the drive throw you off…

  25. As an Airline Pilot, I refused service to several people on my airplane over the years, generally because they were either drunk or out of control. We have to consider the effect these yahoos might have on the other passengers & the crew.

  26. If you’re that mad at the gate, it’s quite possible you’re going to be that upset after the plane takes off. I would make that assumption any day of the week. Good on the captain for doing something about it before the plane left the gate.

  27. As it takes $18,000 to get 1K status with United, I’m sure that’s why he gave the post that title. Therefore, he is not clueless and it’s not clickbait. Have a great time trolling somewhere else!

  28. Great decision by the pilot. This passenger probably would have made other passengers miserable and who knows what else.

  29. There’s no excuse to make a scene and drop F bombs but…

    Anyone that has flown United out of Newark know that some of the gate agents are incredibly bad at providing any semblance of customer service. There’s something about Newark that just promotes a bad atmosphere. The 1k guy may have had a legitimate issue, but lost when he took it too far.

  30. Thanks to the Captain who made the correct decision. I was a flight attendant for years and have seen similar situations during boarding. It was best that the pilot never even let the guy in.

  31. Well, not so fast, that bit about the “customer is always right” has its genesis in matters concerning taste and personal preference, not carte blanche to act like a douchebag. If I order (and pay for) a pink and purple suit from my local tailor to wear with my yellow and green shoes? Well, the customer is always right. If I order a pizza with ham and pineapple (yum!) and ask the guy to literally coat the top of the pizza with 1/2” of red hot chilli pepper? Well, the customer is always right.

    If I harass some dude in the airport because I think I’m special and can do and say whatever I want? Be prepared to get kicked off the flight, arrested, and maybe even get punched in the mouth. Granted, we don’t know the other side of the story… but have any of us ever seen anything positive happen when some entitled douchebag raises his voice to a ticket agent, much less drops the F bomb? Good Lord, I’d be getting the popcorn ready.

  32. I can’t see what the passenger did here that “crossed the line”. To the contrary, the pilot was on a power trip and not only did he cause an involuntary denied boarding situation but also went on to boast about it on his personal social media account. Passenger should sue. Using foul language doesn’t cross any line as long as no threats are involved.

  33. I am a flight crew member. It is about safety. If a person can cuss out an agent , how do we know that they will not listen to us during an emergency ,or hurt us or passenger? People can act cray cray on the ground, but in the air is another story. We have a duty to protect everyone and have them arrive to their destination safely.

  34. The passenger has recourse through the courts to sue the airline. As long as he was not causing a disturbance, using foul language is protected under the First Amendment as free speech. No policy or code can trump the First Amendment.

  35. @Dan..you are totally off base in your counter argument. What you’re referring to is tastes and preferences, much like Burger King have it your way type deal….Customer is always right hinges on the idea that the customer is the one who patrons and supports the business and any disagreements that don’t run afoul of law, should be deferred to the customer. That’s in keeping with customer service and loyalty, and not transactional service which won’t keep a business thriving for very long. You also speak so hypothetically as if you know what happened. You don’t, you know nothing at all. So again I say, the pilot had no right or authority to remove the passenger from the flight that he had not even boarded. Pilots don’t dictate the environment in an airport. It’s no wonder customer service has gone down the drain in America, most people have been duped into settling for something much much less. Shame. Shame shame.

  36. Stefan, using foul language ay any service worker shows lack of control, class and courage. These people deal with “ douchebags” all day long and are expected to be professional and polite. Anyone who abuses that or thinks there is nothing wrong with that is a douchebag. Hint, hint….

  37. I’ll take it a step further. The captain has a DUTY to prevent an overly rude and angry passenger from boarding his airplane.

  38. I was an airline pilot and wrote crew training courses.

    It’s a captain’s responsibility to make decisions to maintain safety. A captain is authorized to deny boarding or remove a passenger based on behavior as opposed to characteristic. A captain is not authorized to say, for example, “That Middle Eastern man looks suspicious. Deny him boarding.” That would be an opinion based on a characteristic. A captain IS authorized to remove a passenger because, “That person is repeatedly shouting and cursing at a stranger in an angry tone. The person’s behaviors could be a safety threat.” This captain apparently did act based on specific behavior, so that appears appropriate.

    As for posting on social media, generally employees are not authorized to discuss company business on public forums. There are, however, industry forums where pilots share operational information. The article doesn’t specify exactly where the comment was posted. If I were reviewing the situation, location would matter, but a key point, I think, is that, apparently, the pilot didn’t post any identifying information about the person in question. On one hand, it might be better not to discuss company activities at all. On the other, it might be useful for some members of the flying public to see an example of behavior not tolerated for safety reasons.

    Hazardous behaviors are somewhat like hazardous materials that aren’t allowed on planes. They won’t necessarily cause a problem, but for everyone’s safety on the plane, the liklihood is too great to risk in an airborne aluminum tube.

    At the same time, a pilot knows that any of his or her potentially controversial decisions could be questioned and possibly punished. Also, the job of pilot differs from that of doctor, lawyer, etc. A pilot would be the first victim at the scene of an accident. Being an airline pilot involves a lot of responsibility and “judgment calls”. A bystander’s mileage may differ.

  39. I am a VIP Global Services employee at United Airlines with almost 26 years of service. 1k travelers are commonly known at United as the trouble makers, the entitled ones and what they don’t realize is that any CS agent working a flight will not need the pilot’s authorization to deny boarding anyone who is threatening the safety of any flight. Our top travelers known as Global Services who are require to fly 400% more than that 18000 required for a 1K usually are the best travelers, well behaved and never feel as entitled as 95+ of 1K members. And as when 1K customers feel like they deserve more for what they are, otherwise they could go somewhere else, Global Services are INVITATION ONLY, so just to let you know if your assistant is not able to do the math for you, between 4’000,000 and 18000, it is a huge difference. So 1K’s next time you think your entitlement is gonna get you what you demand for, think about you are not even off the ground yet, perhaps you’ll need to be a little bit smarter not a smarter asset. We the agents who have control over flights, we can always find the worst middle seats onboard and we definitely communicate with crew members.

  40. I say the Captain did the right thing!!!
    If you don’t know how to interact in public stay home or hire your own private transportation.
    Where you can act like an idiot by yourself.
    Some people think just because they have reach a certain Status.
    They can say and treat people any way they want. Probably speaks to his family like that!!
    Hats off to the Captain.
    And no sympathy for that entitled passenger. (Jerk).
    Again if you don’t know how to act in public stay home.

  41. Tim
    Thinks just because you pay you can treat anyone like dirt.
    I say Tim is probably one of those jerks, and has no clue on people skills and thinks f bombs are appropriate for every occasion!!
    Another piece of trash in our society!!

  42. @FrequentFlyer2…usually Tim saves responses for thoughtful and invoking conversation, it’s clear you are not that. To be clear….Tim thinks the pilot should have handled the situation much better than he did, and not jump to conclusions or neglect to try and resolute the “customer service” issue. This entire event is left to the interpretation of the pilot given to the masses. If the pilot felt so obligated to take action, he should have used more principles of reasoning in doing so since according to most of you, Pilots are the ruler of the skies and airports and higher than the almighty……you sound like an ignorant bigot who votes against his interests. Read a book sir. Good day to you.

  43. In my 38 year career as an airline pilot I have had passengers removed from airplanes, usually for inebriation, abusive behavior or mistreating a flight attendant. and the company backed me on the decisions.
    I would never post the event on social media, mostly because social media has more than its share idiots who have an opinion only tenuously attached to reality.

  44. @ Tim M
    Guess I was right about you!!!!
    But either way if you did your homework and as stated By pilots.
    The Captain has the last word and the decision about denying a passenger from boarding or if on the aircraft have them removed. Just common sense!!!
    So my dear ignorant one.
    The one who needs to read a book is you.
    Your hanging on the old theory that the customer is always right.
    Not so !!!!

  45. @FF2, Says the coward who wont put his name on his comments. I stand by what i said and i stand on business! I’m hanging on the theory that the pilot went overboard and way out of line, and if I was the customer, I would file suit against the airlines and receive just compensation. Also, I was being facetious regarding pilot. There was no confirmed safety issue here for passenger to be denied boarding. Just an angry customer and a egotistical pilot! There is no pilot without the flying customer.
    The airlines are a business industry jus like all others. They charge ridiculous junk fees, extremely hard to deal with, and overall is one of the worst rated service industries. Customer service is a real thing, not a mere thought.
    As I said previously, you sound like a corporate wannabe who votes against their own interests at the ballot box, or some ego maniac living life as a pilot. So again and again and again i say, without the customer there is NO PILOT, NO AIRLINE OR AIRPORT. If thats too hard for you to accept, you should crawl under a corporate rock! Furthermore, You should find something else to entertain yourself, Faux news perhaps??

  46. 1. The Captain is not required to “investigate”.
    2. If a potential passenger is incapable of controlling his behavior the reason is irrelevant. No one should be in a metal tube with people who can’t control themselves.
    3. Excellent customer service was provided to the other 100+ passengers who were not put in a potentially dangerous situation nor delayed thanks to the Captain’s quick assessment.
    Now… what do we think of passengers being denied boarding due to inappropriate attire and/or tshirts, hats etc featuring profanity?

  47. @Tim M
    If you are acting like an ass.
    You’ll be treated like an ass.
    Probably you’ve been down that road plenty of times.
    And Probably use the words filing suit a lot to back up your clueless thinking!!
    Man wake up.
    The Captain has the final word.
    Nothing to do with corporate thinking.
    So I must ask from under what rock did crawl out of?
    Yes you paid to fly ,but not to act like a total idiot and curse people because your angry.
    Plus what does politics and voting have to do with this article.
    Again clueless and baseless.!!!!!

  48. Remember, there are cultural differences. As a native NYer, I grew up hearing f bombs all the time. Some of colleagues from different regional cultures say things like gosh darn instead. It is also possible that the brgging pilot who flexed his power did not i quire if speaker banned had a disability and could not control his verbal ticks. For those unaware, suggest you google Tourette’s syndrome. All in all, there are too many assumptions being made. The pilot apparently made no inquiries –simply, as Wayne once bragged, “I don’t act, I react.” I don’ want a pilot who is just rea tive and can’t be bothered to figure –at least when its not an emergency requiring instant decisions. Impulsiveness is not a good quality in a pilot, IMHO.

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