Why does the bag fee for my son’s musical instrument cost more than his ticket?

Emily Miletich of Seattle contacted us because she said her son was a victim of double jeopardy when he paid for his excess baggage fees. And now she wants us to help get her son out of double trouble.

Miletich’s son is a student at a music conservatory on the east coast and he plays a large, heavy instrument, a double bass.

“Because of its size it really cannot fit in the cabin, unless a first class seat is purchased,” she told us. “So the bass flies in a protective fiberglass case — the case and bass weigh approximately 100 pounds. It rolls on wheels so it is not a strain to move.”

“We primarily fly Alaska and Southwest because they have reasonable bag fees for oversized luggage — $75. We had heard horror stories about American Airlines refusing to take basses so have avoided American even when it had convenient flights.”

That changed when Miletich’s son was returning from a bass competition near Dallas. He was able to fly back to school a day earlier than originally planned, so Miletich booked him on an American flight nonstop to Philadelphia using some of her Alaska miles. Before booking, Miletich’s son reviewed the American website on baggage — it indicated that oversize bags flew for $200 and that overweight bags flew for $200.

“While this was more than we were used to paying, we decided $200 made sense since he could get back to school,” Miletich said. “We could save on meals and hotel for the extra day and it would be a wash.”

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When he arrived at the airport, Miletich’s son was told by a somewhat confused agent that the fee would be $400 because the item was both overweight and oversized. According to Miletich, the website did not make clear that the fees are cumulative and she felt her son was being “gouged.”

“Because we had no American ticket number, we could not use their online complaint system, and they refused to help us by phone to even get the number so we could communicate,” Miletich related. “I went to your website and got the names of the American executives and we wrote to them. We asked to get $200 back, as we felt that was fair.”

American’s response was not what Miletich wanted to hear.

Our website does attempt to explain that more than one fee may apply to a bag. It may not be readily apparent but there are additional costs associated with handling overweight and oversized baggage. To cover the cost of providing this service, we collect a charge from those customers whose luggage exceeds the limit in either size and/or weight.
While we know you and your son were disappointed at having to pay an excess charge for the baggage, we must respectfully decline to refund the checked baggage charge you paid. I’m sorry to disappoint you.

Miletich then turned to us to see if our advocates could get her a “goodwill” refund, but first we wanted to take a look ourselves at American’s Oversize and Overweight Baggage fees.

As the American representative noted, the site clearly read that “more than one fee may apply to a bag. For example, the checked bag fee + oversize fee + overweight fee.”

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Based on this information, we declined Miletich’s request for intervention and strongly encourage her and other travelers to read closely the terms and conditions of any fare purchase.

Mark Pokedoff

Four-time Emmy-award-winning television sports production specialist and frequent traveler. Longtime freelance writer and travel blog enthusiast. Proud papa of four amazing kids who have been upgraded to first class more than all their friends combined.

  • Chris_In_NC

    “Because of its size it really cannot fit in the cabin, unless a first class seat is purchased,”
    Really? A 100 pound bass in a fiberglass case would still be overweight and oversized even on a first class ticket. It would not fit in the cabin regardless of the class of ticket purchased.

  • Alan Gore

    Travel with musical instruments should be prearranged, including an agreement as to what happens in irregular operations. Often an instrument requires its own seat in the cabin. This arrangement could have actually saved LW’s son money, if a seat could have been booked for it at the same time as the passenger.

  • BubbaJoe123

    A quick Google indicates that some airlines will allow double basses to travel in the cabin if the instrument has its own first class seat.

  • BubbaJoe123

    In the cabin, that instrument would have needed its own first class seat (if allowed at all), and the son would have had to travel with it, so you’d be looking at two first class seats.


    My nephew used to travel with his double bass in first class on a couple different airlines.

  • MarkKelling

    The first class seat is purchased to place the double bass into. If you want to fly next to your bass, you buy a second ticket for yourself.
    The bass is not still forced into the overhead.

  • MarkKelling

    In the (recent) past, the musical instrument seat would be charged at a reduced price on many airlines. More than a pet charge, but less than a person sitting in the seat. Still not cheep.

    Not sure how AA would handle this.

  • SirWIred

    I agree with the airline here; it’s not unreasonable that oversize and overweight are going to be two separate charges. It’d be nice if it didn’t double the add-on fee, but it’s not entirely unreasonable they aren’t going to come up with all sorts of combinations of fees either; luggage fees are complex enough as it is.

  • Lindabator

    correct – but that means buying 2 first class seats, not just hauling it onboard with you

  • Lindabator

    but he would have had to purchase a seat for it – I think this guy thought it could go free in first, or just pay a single fee if checked – both on wrong counts

  • disqus_wK5MCy17IP

    The baggage fee should have a ticket number. She could try calling customer service and getting the ticket number associated with the credit card used to pay the baggage fees. Then use the online form to send feedback about the fees. However, I don’t think that would get her anywhere this time.

    Going forward, why not ask others who play large instruments how they travel for competitions and if they have any tips for flying on American.

  • Steve Rabin

    I’ve heard of planes flying on instruments…but the other way around? :-)

  • BubbaJoe123

    Yup, which is what I said.

  • My problem is this part of AA’s reply:
    “attempt to explain that more than one fee may apply to a bag. It may not be readily apparent but there are additional costs associated with handling overweight and oversized baggage.”
    The key words are “attempt” and “may not be readily apparent”. This means the fees were not clearly disclosed.

  • SirWIred

    I think AA was just being polite. I went to their webpage on oversize/weight bags, and it explicitly states, right at the top: “Also, more than one fee may apply to a bag. For example, the checked bag fee + oversize fee + overweight fee.”

    And the bit about “not readily apparent” I think refers to AA talking about how it may not be obvious that these bags are a lot of hassle for the airline, and that’s why they cost a lot of money. I don’t think it refers to the fees not being obvious.


    He always did.

  • Ah! Then I retract my statement.

  • Alan Gore

    For any given instrument, the seating/baggage requirements are supposed to be standardized and knowable in advance for that size and type. There is no reason for this pax to be surprised by fees that pop ip unexpectedly.

  • mcb48204

    Please stop “correcting” commentors when they are already giving correct information. Read the comment carefully before you “correct” them.

  • finance_tony

    Quit horning in on the conversation just to trumpet your sense of humor.

  • Steve Rabin

    I guess you played me pretty well there!

  • MarkKelling

    I think the surprise to the OP is that on Southwest and other airlines they normally use only one of the fees is charged because the bass in its case is just under 100 lbs even though it is over sized and they allow up to 100 lbs for over sized items before the over weight fee is also added.

    AA has a weight cutoff of 50 lbs (70 lbs for 1st class passengers) even for oversized luggage and musical instruments where the overweight fee is added and will not accept any item as checked baggage that exceeds 100 lbs.

  • Skeptic

    This is no way to conduct yourself on Elliott.org. Settle the score, bow out and stop stringing us along!

  • BubbaJoe123

    The fees were only unexpected because the letter writer didn’t read American’s website, where they’re clearly explained.

    As for the seat, there are FAA restrictions for what seats can be used for an instrument, so those seats have to be available. Plus the instrument has to actually fit in the required space. Since airline seats aren’t all identical from plane to plane, and not all instrument cases are identical, I can’t see how any reasonable person could expect everything to be entirely standardized.

  • finance_tony

    You fell flat again. This really isn’t your forte, is it.

  • Steve Rabin

    I could punch you in the nose for saying that, but that would be a random act of violins.

  • Bill

    Your tone strikes the wrong chord!!

  • finance_tony

    True; If there’s two things we can do without, it’s more sax and violins.

  • The Original Joe S

    Was it a large-mouth bass, or a small-mouth bass?

  • The Original Joe S

    If it were, it’d become a viola!

  • The Original Joe S

    seats booked with “miles” by a 3rd party………

  • The Original Joe S

    Airlines seem to think that PASSENGERS are a lot of hassle. Why don’t people just send them money, and not get on the airplane?

  • The Original Joe S

    He shouldda took up the piccolo…….. or the ocarina……

  • The Original Joe S

    It was in the movie…… Same movie where Beaver’s mother said “Excuse me Stewardess. I speak JIVE!”

  • Michael__K

    This is in part an example of the pricing power of oligopolies. AA has 9 of the 10 nonstops from DFW to PHL (Spirit has the other). Southwest does have one flight most days from Love Field.

  • wilcoxon

    She clearly didn’t read the terms carefully but $400 baggage fee is absolutely extortion. We almost never have an oversize or overweight bag but I’ve never flown on any airline with that high a fee (yet another reason to avoid American).

  • Travelnut

    “Chump don’t want no help, chump don’t get no help!”

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