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Recent unfortunate news headlines prompted a quick search for the almost universally un-cited regulations governing passenger compliance with flight crew, and all I could find were regulations that seem to be quite specific in application (14 CFR 125 - interference, etc.).

While it makes sense that passengers are expected to comply with reasonable requests, one would not expect the law to require compliance with unreasonable requests unrelated to safety, or requests that actually endanger passengers.

So, for example, if a crew member requests that a seated and non-disruptive passenger leave a plane for purely commercial reasons unrelated to anyone's safety, is there a law or regulation that supports this for US carriers?

Again, I expect the answer is "yes," but am interested in the legal basis for it, and do not think the self-serving fine print on an airline ticket qualifies.

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  • $\begingroup$ note that when you buy a ticket you are also subscribing a contract with the company. it might not be an FAA regulation, but simply a rule in the contract that you as a passenger accept when you purchase the ticket. $\endgroup$ – Federico Apr 11 '17 at 10:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Federico: Contracts written by a merchant (in practice) may contain unlawful or unenforceable provisions. I would hate to be in court defending conduct on the basis of fine print. But even so, I would like to know precisely what the print says. As with regulations, contracts are subject to interpretation and (ultimately) common sense. $\endgroup$ – daniel Apr 11 '17 at 11:27
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    $\begingroup$ Btw, I don't understand why people are flagging this as off-topic, you are asking about FAA regulations. Even if they do not exists, this would not make the question off-topic. $\endgroup$ – Federico Apr 11 '17 at 11:29
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    $\begingroup$ There is the common attitude here that anything relating to passengers should go on travel.SE, but personally I feel that this kind of regulation question is better dealt with here. $\endgroup$ – Federico Apr 11 '17 at 11:32
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    $\begingroup$ @daniel yes, generally thanks in a post are seen as redundant and distracting. the way we say thanks is by upvoting and accepting the answer that is most useful. also the title is preferred to be in question form. $\endgroup$ – Federico Apr 17 '17 at 18:18
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On the day itself, the captain decides who gets to be on the aircraft when it departs. End of story, full stop.

Not abiding with this falls under the interference provisions you already mention -- or, more elementarily, it is trespass. Local law enforcement will help enforce the decisions if necessary.

Afterwards, if someone who didn't get to fly contends they had a valid and applicable contract from the airline that entitled them would fly, they get to duke it out in court for monetary damages. How that turns out would depend on a lot of factors that are better discussed on Travel.SE or Law.SE.

The airline may lose in court, and if the captain's decisionmaking was sufficiently egregious (say, "there'll be no [racial slur]s aboard the plane I'm flying"), he may soon find himself out of job. But the police who enforced the captain's decision on the day were still in the right to do so. It's not their job to attempt to unravel contract disputes on the spot.

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    $\begingroup$ I will think about this answer. The first sentence may be true, but I asked about the legal basis in aviation regs and you don't really discuss it. The issue of non-private police enforcing contract/tort law is surely more complex than you have suggested in the second paragraph. The point of my question was not to question the authority of the captain but to ask about FAA regs underpinning that authority. $\endgroup$ – daniel Apr 11 '17 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ @daniel: Is there anywhere in the Anglo-American sphere where police will attempt to enforce contracts without being based on a court order. $\endgroup$ – hmakholm left over Monica Apr 11 '17 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ Right. So, for example, malls often have to hire private security to eject invitees who are, say, wearing an offensive t-shirt. Are they trespassing? Their invitation is revoked, but the nexus with public safety is distant. $\endgroup$ – daniel Apr 11 '17 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ So the point here is that you don't want an answer, you want someone to agree with you. $\endgroup$ – Juan Jimenez Apr 16 '17 at 20:45
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    $\begingroup$ @JuanJimenez: This answer is more or less what I would have given without doing any research. So I agree with it. But it contains no supporting details about the regulations. If all I wanted was agreement, I would have accepted this answer. In general, I do prefer that people agree with me, but I try not to attack them personally if they do not. Doesn't add anything to the conversation. $\endgroup$ – daniel Apr 18 '17 at 21:21
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14 CFR Part 91.3 Responsibility and authority of the pilot in comand is the regulation you are looking for that gives the pilot the authority to decide, for whatever reason, who flies and who doesn't.

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    $\begingroup$ It would help to quote the regulation and explain how it applies to the question. $\endgroup$ – fooot Apr 11 '17 at 16:31
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    $\begingroup$ For example, this NYLJ note - kreindler.com/Publications/NYLJ-Article-06162011.pdf - suggests there are commonsense limits to the authority under 14 CFR. If it is correct, or even in the ballpark, the answer above is not correct as stated. "[F]or whatever reason," as long as it's not arbitrary and capricious, would maybe be more accurate? $\endgroup$ – daniel Apr 11 '17 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ @daniel In practice the captain/PIC of an aircraft gets the same level of deference as the captain of a vessel at sea, so even if the reason is arbitrary and capricious ("I just don't feel comfortable with this person onboard, for no specific reason.") their decision generally stands & can be argued later (i.e. "You can sue the airline" - as described in the article you referenced). $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Apr 11 '17 at 19:44
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think commercial airlines operate under Part 91 but usually under Part 121. $\endgroup$ – DeltaLima Apr 17 '17 at 17:03
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I don't think it's so clearcut. CFR 14 Part 91.3 states:

(a) The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.

(b) In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency.

(c) Each pilot in command who deviates from a rule under paragraph (b) of this section shall, upon the request of the Administrator, send a written report of that deviation to the Administrator.

At what point is the pilot "in command." and is swapping out passengers part of the "operations" of the aircraft? I'll give you that is is when it becomes a weight restriction issue, but in this case...

The International Civil Aviation Organization, definition the "Pilot in Charge" as: "The pilot responsible for the operation and safety of the aircraft during flight time."[1] Flight time for airplanes is defined by the U.S. FAA as "Pilot time that commences when an aircraft moves under its own power for the purpose of flight and ends when the aircraft comes to rest after landing."[2] This would normally include taxiing, which involves the ground operation to and from the runway, as long as the taxiing is carried out with the intention of flying the aircraft.

By this definition, the Pilot is not in charge, when the aircraft is boarding.

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  • $\begingroup$ This cannot be correct. If a passenger assaults a fellow passenger, even if the plane is not yet under operation, who then has the authority to handle the situation? That is why the pilot boards before passengers. This may not be "flight time" but the pilot is still in command - that includes the power to exclude passengers unless the decision is arbitrary, and that decision will still only be reviewed after the fact. $\endgroup$ – daniel Apr 12 '17 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ The pax in the story that prompted this question was not removed by crew when he did not comply. He was removed by Chicago Airport police officers. I suspect that in the end the FAA will consider United to have acted within the context of 14 CFR 121.580 law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/14/121.580. They had a right to call the police and have the pax removed. And the pax has a long history of anger management and other problems. It will blow over. $\endgroup$ – Juan Jimenez Apr 12 '17 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ @JuanJimenez: I am only asking about the FAA regulation. Whether the pilot's action would stand under the very weak standard of review is not part of my question. It would be surprising to me if that question ever gets litigated. $\endgroup$ – daniel Apr 12 '17 at 20:40
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Actually this topic is very complex, and goes beyond FAA, DOT and other regulations.

A friend was departing Chicago, on a hot Friday afternoon, after a long hold, and heard from the cabin crew that a woman near the rear of the plane wanted to get off. The aircraft had not taxied onto the runway yet, and by his recall, he was required to take the passenger back to the ramp. The cabin crew tried to reason with her, but she was insistent, so he went back to the ramp. Of course this caused a chain of events affecting most passengers and the crews.

Later his actions were reviewed by the company, and it was determined that his action was the best possible one to take, given that the aircraft had not entered the runway.

The flight actually begins when the aircraft takes the runway, the company lawyers said. "Flight time" means something else, and is for purposes of logging.

I don't think one will find this scenario in the regs, and while 91.3 may apply, other customs, policies and prior cases dictated the most preferred outcome.

He doesn't work for United.

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  • $\begingroup$ interesting--thanks. $\endgroup$ – daniel Nov 28 '17 at 20:15

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