United Airlines is one of the largest United States airlines operating worldwide, known particularly for offering low-cost airfares throughout the country. It’s no secret that they have had their fair share of viral new stories over the years, with many people left baffled as to the unusual rules the airline seems to have for passengers and flight attendants alike.
The major airline has had everyone questioning their rules in the past, from dragging a passenger off a plane to make room for their own employees to making headlines for stopping an ‘emotional support peacock’ from boarding a flight, just how many rules do United Airlines actually have?
It turns out, quite a lot.
In this article, we’ve covered some of the weird and downright unusual rules United Airlines have required passengers to adhere to in the past - some are rules in place for all passengers on all flights, while some are quite clearly absurd - and quickly retracted after a media storm or two!
25 Unruly passengers could be arrested
As we saw with the passenger forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight, passengers seen as ‘unruly’ can be forcibly removed from a flight.
While in some circumstances this rule can be seen as unfair and even dangerous for passengers, it is actually for your safety, giving flight attendants and pilots the ability to restrain and remove passengers deemed to be a safety risk for everyone else on board.
24 You have to pay to use overhead lockers
United Airlines sell Basic Economy tickets, which entitle the holder to only one personal item (such as a shoulder bag, purse, or laptop bag) on the flight. If you bring a full-size carry-on bag, you are required to check the bag and pay the checked bag fee plus a $25 handling charge - so this is one rule you want to be sure you’re following correctly to avoid extortionate charges when you arrive at the airport.
23 Cabin crew are not permitted ‘trendy facial hair’
You wouldn’t think that facial hair affects an air steward's abilities, but United Airlines take a strong stance on what they call ‘trendy facial hairstyles’ when it comes to their male cabin crew staff.
This means that facial hair such as a small patch of hair below the lower lip, overly large beards, or a mustache extending beyond a ¼ inch of each side of the mouth is not permitted. Luckily, this rule doesn’t apply to passengers - yet!
22 It boards window seat first, followed by middle then aisle
United Airlines recently launched a new way of boarding their passengers, which claims do reduce the hassle once onboard the aircraft and to cut down waiting times when boarding.
The new boarding method involves inviting premium ticket holders and families with young children on board first and then having people board the plane by window seat tickets first, then middle seats, and then aisle seats. This is supposed to be a much more efficient way of boarding, saving everyone time and hassle when trying to be seated on the plane.
21 You could be kicked off for wearing a hat
In 2016, a woman was removed from a United Airlines flight following a tense discussion after the pilot asked her to remove her 'Marvel Black Panther' hat because it made him feel uncomfortable.
The woman was left for more than two hours without the option to continue her travel - later, United Airlines explained that they had misidentified the passenger and issued an apology.
20 Babies under seven days old cannot fly
If you have a newborn baby, you’ll need to wait before you can board a United Airlines flight back home or to see your family.
United Airlines does not permit infants under seven days old, or infants in incubation, a rule that applies for many major airlines as the noise, air pressure, and temperature changes in a cabin can be extremely uncomfortable for a newborn baby.
19 Coats, umbrellas, cameras, and diaper bags are not permitted as carry-on
United Airlines have very strict rules regarding what carry-on luggage you are permitted to bring on-board. Sometimes that works for the better, however, as items such as overcoats, umbrellas, cameras, diaper bags, and breast pumps do not count towards your carry-on allowance, so parents can rest assured that they’ll be able to take what they need to keep their children comfortable during the flight.
18 You could be removed because of your smell
United has a rule that passengers can be removed from a flight due to an "offensive odor", so if you’ve been backpacking and wearing the same shirt for a few weeks, be warned!
Thankfully, United Airlines don’t seem to have invoked this rule against anyone yet - but it’s good to know that something could be done should you be sitting near someone with a particularly strong odor that you can’t bear for next 10 hours.
17 ...Or for wearing no shoes
United Airlines also prohibits passengers to board if they’re barefoot, and you could even be asked to swap out high-heels for flat-soled shoes in some circumstances.
This is for a good reason though, as you may need shoes for safety reasons during an emergency evacuation, so be sure that you’re appropriately attired before heading to the airport.
16 You could be stopped from boarding for offensive clothing
Passengers deemed as wearing inappropriate or offensive clothing could also be prohibited from flying with United Airlines.
This rule was famously used when United banned two girls for wearing leggings, as they were not ‘properly clothed’. After the incident went viral online, United explained this was because the girls were United pass travelers representing the airline, but many still blasted the airline's action as sexist.
15 Male flight attendants cannot wear makeup
United Airlines decrees that "male flight attendants may not wear make-up”, an unusual rule that could be seen as sexist by many.
Moreover, flight attendants are required only to wear conservative makeup that achieves a natural look.
14 Only some emotional support animals are allowed on-board
Emotional support animals “that provide emotional, psychiatric or cognitive support” are allowed on board United Airlines flights, as are therapy animals and trained service animals. However, United have stricter rules on what constitutes as an emotional support animal, allowing only cats and dogs on their flights - with snakes and rodents amongst those that are not permitted to fly.
13 ...but small monkeys are allowed
Interestingly, small monkeys are permitted on board as emotional support animals - although they must be able to fit under the seat in front of you in a secure holder.
Small monkeys permitted to travel could include marmosets and pygmy monkeys, although you should always make sure all your paperwork is in order.
12 ...while peacocks are definitely banned
An emotional support peacock made headlines in 2018 when it was not allowed to get on a flight with its owner when she attempted to fly from Newark in New Jersey to Los Angeles.
United commented that the bird did not meet guidelines due to its weight and size and that this was explained to the traveler several times before she arrived at the airport, even after she tried to buy the bird its own ticket.
11 Human remains can be taken on board - under certain conditions
This may sound like an unusual rule, but it’s actually a one that applies to most airlines. If you need to transport the ashes of a loved one, you will normally be able to take their remains on board in a checked bag or as a carry-on item provided you meet a few requirements, such as contacting the embassy in your destination before travel, and ensuring the remains are correctly and safely stored.
10 The ‘flat tire rule’ could get you a new flight if you've missed yours
Next time you’re running far too late for a flight, the flat tire rule could save you next time. This gives check-in agents the flexibility to help passengers who have missed a flight - and while this is supposed to be due to traffic or road issues passengers may encounter, it’s not limited to flat tire-related incidents only!
So if you’re late for a flight due to unforeseen circumstances next time, remembering this rule could help you get a new flight!
9 Pilots aren’t allowed to speak within 10,000 feet of ascent and on approach
This is known as the ‘Sterile Cockpit Rule’, and is a federal aviation regulation enacted in 1981 after a series of accidents occurred when pilots were distracted during the critical phases of flight.
Now, pilots are not permitted to speak within 10,000 feet of ascent and within 10,000 feet on approach in order to ensure they are not distracted at these times.
8 Overbooking could mean you are denied your seat on your flight
Perhaps one of the biggest scandals relating to United Airlines was when an unidentified passenger was forcibly dragged off a flight by a security officer after refusing to give his seat to airline employees.
While the severity of the incident - filmed by other passengers - shocked many people around the world, overbooking is not at all uncommon, and passengers are often offered a new flight and compensation in these circumstances.
7 Flight attendants have a limit to how much jewelry they can wear
United Airlines flight attendants not only have to be cautious of their facial hair for men, and makeup for women, but they also have limits as to how much jewelry they can wear when working on a flight.Reportedly, United Airlines allow "a total of four rings” to be worn on both hands, with "no more than two on each hand” by each flight attendant.
6 Passengers are not served any snacks or meals containing peanuts
Peanut allergies can be potentially fatal for those who suffer from them, so United Airlines have a strict rule that means no snacks or meals containing peanuts are served onboard.
This does not, however, extend to the food passengers bring onboard themselves, so people with peanut allergies should still notify flight attendants to avoid coming into contact with peanuts from other passengers nearby.
5 You’re entitled to a full refund if delayed for two or more hours
If you are delayed for two hours or more and decide not to travel, you are entitled to a refund from United Airlines to your original form of payment.
Additionally, you can also get a refund on optional services such as checked baggage, but ticketing fees are not refunded by United Airlines under these conditions.
4 Surfboards are free on flights to and from California
In response to a change in California’s legislation, naming surfing as its official sport, United Airlines announced it would waive all baggage fees on surfboards flying to and from California.
Surfers will be thrilled with this rule - although you should note that this does not apply to connecting flights. United’s President for California commented on the rule saying “we want to make it easier for customers to surf our beautiful beaches, whether they're visiting or call the Golden State home”.
3 Babies aren’t allowed to cry for longer than 5 minutes
In 2018, United Airlines made news once again when a woman traveling with her 8-month old baby was told by a flight attendant that it was “absolutely unacceptable” and against their rule book for her baby to cry for any longer than five minutes.
After international outrage, the airline did issue an apology to the woman concerned and clarified that the attendant’s conduct did not affect the airline's commitment to their passengers.
2 More than 20 dog breeds are banned from flying
United Airlines came under fire last year after several pets were found injured or died after enduring a stressful flight. After a series of pet deaths, the airline has now amended their animal transportation regulations to prevent more incidents from occurring.
Part of the airline's changes means that more than 20 dog breeds are now banned from flying, as are 4 breeds of cat deemed to be higher-risk breeds.
1 Switching seats could lead to a trespassing charge
A woman sued United Airlines in 2014 for “treated like a criminal” because she tried to change seats during her flight.
Police handcuffed the 68-year-old woman and pulled her off the flight, and claims that flight attendants over-reacted when she attempted to move to an empty row of seats on her flight. She eventually spent three days in prison for the incident.