How to Avoid the No Fly List

Few travel snafus trump being put on a ‘no fly’ list. Think about it: You are never allowed to fly again. That’s a serious inconvenience to even the once-a-year holiday-=maker who wants a break in a warmer clime.

The most infamous no fly list is held by the U.S. Terrorist Screening Centre (TSC), which has around 10,000 people. Airlines too, however, have their own databases of banned travellers. If you find yourself on just one of them, your feet aren’t leaving terra firma.

And don’t think that ‘the list from hell’ is only for felons and terrorists. Every year, hundreds of normal people are placed on ‘no fly’ lists around the world. By ‘normal’ I mean those who have had a little too much alcohol, have a quick fuse or have run their mouth to the wrong person while in the vicinity of a plane or airport. Unacceptable behaviour, of course, but it’s hardly plotting to commit a terrorist act.

These days you have to watch yourself when flying, as even the most innocuous exchange can lead to your overseas accommodation being a little more jail-like than in the brochure pictures. If you want to stay up in the air (or at least avoid sitting with the chickens on a bus trip to Phuket) here’s a list of ways to avoid getting yourself banned from flying.

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Don’t get involved in confrontations

Most travellers just want to get from A to B with as little stress as possible but sometimes it seems the airline industry employs the most self-righteous, pompous and unfriendly people at every step of the way. And I haven’t even started on your fellow passengers. The key is to avoid confrontation, as even the most innocent of retorts or one-liners can lead to a whole heap of trouble if the other person got up on the wrong side of the runway that day. Try counting to five before replying to any off-colour comments (counting to 10 is too long and could make you look equally unhinged) and be as conciliatory as possible if anything escalates.

Don’t use irony

What many people call ‘irony’, some call ‘attitude’. Save your clever, pithy comments for another time.

Don’t get drunk

If you have the kind of personality that is going to struggle following my first two points, then it might be a good idea to avoid the sauce. Nothing loosens up the lips like a departure lounge pint or two, so save your drinking until you arrive at your destination.

Don’t sue the airline

Taking an airline to court and winning damages against them is a surefire way to get banned. Passengers who sued China’s Spring Airlines for compensation for delayed flights found out they were banned for life by the carrier. The airline claimed they had used “forceful methods” to receive their compensation and had engaged in “unruly behaviour” for having the sheer temerity to ask for their money back. Think twice before phoning that lawyer, kids!

Don’t have the same name as someone on the list

It’s called a ‘false positive’ and thousands of fliers, especially in the States, are delayed, interrogated and sometimes not allowed on flights because they have the same name as a ‘non-flier’. I met a guy in Vancouver airport who told me he is stopped and questioned every time he flies because he has the same name as a Texas felon who is on the run. He asked authorities how long the questioning and delays would last and was told, “Until we catch the other guy – or he dies”.

Don’t be Nelson Mandela

Former President of South Africa and 1993 Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela was on the American T.S.C. ‘no fly’ list up until July 2008 because the U.S.A .continued to view his A.N.C. party as a terrorist organisation. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the incident “rather embarrassing” and legislation was quickly passed to take Mandela and other A.N.C. members’ names off the list.

Don’t use the ‘H’, ‘B’ or ‘T’ word

There are certain ‘hot words’ that will get you thrown off a plane and on the banned list if you use them in a sentence in an airport. ‘Hijack’, ‘bomb’ and ‘terrorist’ should be completely off limits as words used in conversation to airline staff and your travel party. Stick to this rule and don’t break it, even in a whisper: the quieter you say the words, the more suspicious you sound.

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