5 Rights You Lose Whenever You Board a Plane

There is no right to unlimited free speech on planes.

ByABC News
March 29, 2015, 6:13 AM
Some passenger acceptance policies reserve the right to remove travelers deemed to have an offensive odor
Some passenger acceptance policies reserve the right to remove travelers deemed to have an offensive odor
Getty Images

— -- We've all heard about yelling 'fire' in a crowded theater: not good. Also not good: wearing a shirt on a plane emblazoned with the F-word.

That's what got a college kid booted from a Southwest flight a few days ago. In fairness to the airline, its employees reportedly told the young man to cover up so he could stay but he refused, apparently intent on striking a blow for freedom of speech.

News flash: There is no right to unlimited free speech on planes. Its temporary suspension and loss of other rights is due to safety concerns, plus concerns about passengers getting along on today's packed planes. The good news is, it's temporary and worth it since flying remains the fastest and cheapest way to travel.

A brief look at what can get lost or suspended during flight.

1. Right to free speech

There it is, in black and white, in Southwest's contract of carriage: "Carrier may refuse to transport or remove" passengers for all kinds of violations including those "whose clothing is lewd, obscene, or patently offensive." You may not agree with it but you can't say you weren't warned.

Other airlines have similar legalese about clothing displays; Air New Zealand's rule forbids wearing or displaying "gang patches, insignia, signs or symbols." The Virgin America directive always tickled me because the airline feels compelled to spell out that all passengers must wear "both top and bottom apparel."

2. Freedom from search and seizure

We should be used to this. Passengers have been searched in airports (via metal detectors) since the days of Cuban hijackings but 9/11 forced it to a whole new level with the TSA. As for the seizure part, goodbye water bottles and economy-size shampoo because that stuff is too much liquid to make it past a checkpoint.

Use common sense. You do not have the freedom to bring fireworks or explosives on planes or guns and other weapons in cabins but that doesn't stop people from trying. They get pretty ingenious too; last week someone came through security at Chicago's Midway airport with a stun gun disguised as a lipstick. Yes, it was confiscated.

3. Freedom of expression

Are you a free-spirit who likes to fly barefoot? Many do, according to the snarky PassengerShaming site which is plastered with photos of unattractive naked feet on armrests, seatbacks and (ugh) tray tables. Nevertheless, most airlines like United have rules forbidding bare feet on planes, generally for those aged five and older. If told to put your shoes back on, do so or you could find yourself back in the airport along with those who thought wearing F-bomb t-shirts was a good idea.

4. The right to travel with the pet of your choice

Not all dogs are created equal, not as far as the airlines are concerned, not for transport as checked-luggage. American Airlines, for example, forbids checking brachycephalic or short-snouted dogs and lists popular breeds like bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Pugs and Boxers. Delta makes it even simpler: no "snub-nosed" dogs whatsoever. Delta also bans animals in airplane holds from mid-May to mid-September due to heat concerns. As for you cat people, some checked-pet bans extend to brachycephalic felines such as Persians and Himalayans.

Airlines do allow service animals and often emotional support animals in the cabin. Frontier however draws the line at emotional support animals such as a "rat, squirrel, or beaver" and don't even think about trying to sneak a service snake on one of their plane.

5. The right to a lack of hygiene

Yes, airlines do care how often you take a shower, or it would seem based on passenger acceptance policies and here are a couple: American reserves the right to remove passengers with "offensive odor" while Delta gives the stink eye to travelers in a "malodorous condition". It doesn't happen often but people have been kicked off planes because they smelled bad.

Here's a right I wouldn't mind seeing suspended: the right-to-recline which the guy in front of you only exercises when you set a drink down on the tray table. Couldn't they at least put a little warning bells on these seats?

Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.