This Bizarre Airline Rules

If you’ve never heard of a “contract of carriage,” you’re not alone. It’s a legalese-filled document that states what airlines will and won’t do for passengers, plus rules for your behavior, refund information and much, much more. These regulations are not all that easy to find but they are tucked away somewhere on airline websites (look for the fine print at the bottom of the site). They’re worth a read because some of the information included is a bit bizarre.

Many airlines have similar rules; we cherry-picked from a bunch of U.S. carriers to present the following examples:

1. No emotional-support service ferrets, please.

United is very clear that service animals are welcome on their flights but they don’t get their own seat, and they may not pose what airline calls unavoidable safety concerns. But not all creatures make the cut. United will not accept “snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents and spiders as Service Animals.”

But say you’re boarding with a service monkey – and this is no joke. These creatures, particularly capuchins, are said to be very helpful and United allows them onboard (as long as they fit under your seat). But don’t plan on sitting in the spacious emergency-exit row because that’s a forbidden zone for service animals. Maybe a calm capuchin could help direct frightened passengers during an evacuation, but I’m having trouble picturing it. And so, clearly, does the airline.

2. Did you shower today?

You’ll be glad to know that most airlines won’t transport travelers who stink, or as Delta delicately puts it, passengers who have “a malodorous condition.” If this sounds far-fetched, it’s not. In 2010, a man flying Air Canada was asked to get leave the plane because of so many complaints about his “unpleasant aroma.” In 2014, a Parisian man was allegedly kicked off an American Airlines flight and told to take a shower because he exuded an impossible-to-ignore stench. How bad is too bad? Apparently, you know it when you smell it.

3. Wear the right clothes.

Southwest (and other airlines) usually state that they can refuse to transport anyone whose “clothing is lewd, obscene, or patently offensive.” The good news is, most of the time, travelers wearing offensive T-shirts are merely told to cover it up or turn it inside-out (if indeed it gets noticed at all). But there have been exceptions, including a 2015 incident in which a New York college student’s F-bomb emblazoned shirt kept him off a Southwest flight.

By the way, airlines focus on your feet, too. Most of the contracts of carriage I’ve seen say no bare feet are allowed for anyone over the age of five, and I have personally witnessed flight attendants telling grown-ups to “put your shoes on!”

My personal favorite in the clothing category is courtesy of Virgin America, which warns customers that they must absolutely wear “both top and bottom apparel.”

4. Odd carry-on regulations.

Many discount airlines, such as Spirit and Frontier, charge a fee for a carry-on bag. But unless you fly basic economy , the bigger airlines usually give you this cabin bag for free. Did you know how much leeway you have in what you can bring? Alaska is happy to let you carry on a human organ, but it must be properly packaged and stowed.

Ditto for your pole-vaulting equipment and antlers, but these items must be checked in cargo (and antlers must be as “free of residue as possible and the skull must be wrapped”).

4. Don’t stash valuables in checked bags.

You probably already know not to pack things like diamonds and furs because valuables can get lost or stolen, but American takes it a step further: No art or jewelry is allowed in checked baggage. You’re also forbidden to pack cameras or books or even house keys in bags you check. It’s the airline’s way of saying, we are not liable so don’t come complaining to us later.

5. You might get a free hotel room. You might not.

First of all, Delta (and other airlines) want you to known that flight schedules are not guaranteed. If a flight is delayed or cancelled outside the airline’s control, the company has no liability. If the problem is the fault of the airline and it’s nighttime, the airline will offer you a hotel room at a Delta-contracted facility, if there’s room. If no rooms are available, the contract of carriage says vouchers will be offered for the amount of the room (up to $100) that are good for future travel on the airline.

Final note on airline/hotel policies: When a problem crops up, go ahead and ask if the airline will stand you a free hotel room. It might say no, but I’m aware of plenty of times when carriers paid all or part of the cost. It depends on the circumstances, but you won’t know if you don’t ask. Politely, of course.