The Most Annoying Airline Rules and Policies
It is a truth universally acknowledged that nothing brings a bureaucrat more joy than a solidly idiotic policy, carefully crafted to infuriate the unsuspecting victims who cross its path. And there is perhaps nowhere you encounter more bureaucracies than in air travel. From booking to boarding, flying is a minefield of rules, fees, and middle managers drunk on power.
Unless you’re up for constant road-tripping or a spot on the no-fly list, there’s not much you can do to fight back. Your best bet is to read the fine print, know the rules, and do your best to steer clear when you can (oh, and leave your ninja throwing stars at home). Arm yourself with our roundup of the dumbest policies and regulations enforced by carriers, airports, and Homeland Security.
The Only Safe Drink is a Hidden Drink
If you’re en route home from an international trip, check the rules before you buy anything in the airport. Certain hubs overseas—Changi and Seoul, among others—have a second security check at the departure gate to ensure you’re not bringing anything illicit (like a 20-ounce Diet Coke from the nearby vending maching) across international borders. The catch: Many don’t conduct full bag searches, so it’s only the visible stuff that gets confiscated. If you’re sipping an airport-purchased bottle of water while boarding your Seoul-Seattle flight, it’ll get snatched, but the same bottle shoved in your backpack is fine once you’re on board. Just in case, buy the cheap stuff, and be ready to chug at a moment’s notice.
Your Online Reservation Costs Extra...
Spirit Airlines charges an extra $9 to $18 one-way to book your flight online or over the phone rather than at an airport ticket window. That’s in spite of the fact that in-person ticket booking means more employees on the clock, while automated online reservation systems save the company money.
...And So Does Picking a Seat
Spirit takes the cake when it comes to inane airline fees. Just to reserve a seat ahead of time—yep, even the crappy non-reclining one next to the toilets—can cost up to $50, even though it saves their employees time on the other end to have customers seats already assigned.
Destination, Not Flight Time, Determines Whether You’ll Eat
On American Airlines, complimentary meal service is offered based on the route, not the length of your flight. So while you’ll eat (and more importantly, drink) for free on the 6.5 hour flight from New York to London, you’re stuck shelling out for booze and snacks on the 7 hour domestic route from Phoenix to Honolulu. We are reporting on this purely for objective journalistic reasons and not at all because of that one time last weekend that a writer who shall remain nameless suffered the indignity of purchasing a $7 snack box on a flight to Hawai’i.
Water is Bad. Frozen Water is Good!
TSA rules state that frozen liquids are allowed so long as they’re not slushy or partially melted. So while your full water bottle has to be chugged or tossed, your full FROZEN water bottle will ease on down the road, no problem. Our official statement on the matter: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Your Carry-On Weight Matters (for Exactly 30 Seconds)
If you’re traveling Air France, wear your best cargo pants. The airline rules state that your carry-on bag and personal item can have a combined weight of no more than 12 kg—about 26 pounds. Just to put that in perspective, a 15-inch Macbook Pro, an empty backpack, and an empty carry-on rollerboard weigh about 16 pounds, so it’s easy to tip the scales once you’ve, you know, packed stuff. The catch: Your weight doesn’t matter, and the helpful folks at the baggage counter will tell you to wear your heaviest items or stash them on your person out of sight for the time it takes the ticket checker to weigh your bag before you’re ushered into the security line. Once you’ve made it safely past the scale, empty your pockets back into your luggage. Yes, this policy is as nonsensical as it sounds.
Big Laptops: Possibly Bombs. Small Laptops: Definitely Not Bombs.
According to TSA regulations, 11-inch laptops can stay in your bag on the conveyor belt, while 13-inch laptops must come out. Supposedly the extra couple inches mean more room for smuggling illegal items through security. The real catch: Policy knowledge and enforcement varies between airports, so a poorly-run checkpoint might mean separate screening regardless of your computer’s dimensions. #NotAllLaptops
Airlines Aren’t Liable for Stolen Items...Even When You’re Forced to Gate-Check
You’re a smart, T+L-reading traveler, so you know better than to pack any valuables in your checked luggage. But if you’re stuck gate-checking a carry-on bag due to full overhead bins, be sure to take out anything expensive or important before you do: Even if you check a bag against your will, airlines aren’t liable for your missing jewelry or tablet.
When in Doubt, Assume Men are Evil Kidnappers!
A few years back, British Airways was successfully sued for discrimination after a male passenger was asked to switch seats and told the airline prohibited men from sitting next to unaccompanied minors. Other carriers have since eliminated similar rules, but Qantas has yet to back down, claiming that statistics support the policy. Statistics also say that men are more likely to murder women than vice-versa, so let’s go ahead and gender-segregate the whole plane while we’re at it, eh guys?
You Can Get That Discount—For a Fee
Most airlines are happy to refund you the price difference if a fare drops on the same day. Virgin America, on the other hand, will give you the discount only if you first pay a $100 per ticket change fee. Read the fine print before you try to land a lower-priced fare.