Is this a reason for American to throw me off my flight?


When Mike Thompson boarded his American Airlines flight, he tried to bring a piece of carry-on luggage aboard. The gate agent refused to allow him to do so and ultimately threw him off the flight.

Thompson thinks the gate agent overzealously tried to enforce the carry-on restrictions, and that his removal from the flight was unreasonable and inconsistent with good customer service. We thought so too – until we looked more closely into Thompson’s case.

Thompson and his business partner were about to board a flight from Dallas to Nashville, in order to attend the wedding of one of their employees, when the gate agent stopped them.

“You aren’t taking that bag on the plane,” the agent abruptly told Thompson. He stared back in confusion at the agent, who then told him, “You can’t take that bag on the plane. You have a basic economy ticket.”

Thompson had purchased a “basic economy” ticket, which allows for one carry-on that must easily fit under the seat in front of the passenger.

Believing that the gate agent was referring to the size of his carry-on, Thompson placed the bag in the measuring box, where it fit within the acceptable dimensions for carry-on luggage.

But the agent insisted that Thompson pay a baggage fee of $50 in order to check it. Thompson’s business partner produced a credit card and paid the fee.

Unfortunately for Thompson, he tried to continue the discussion with the gate agent.

He explained that he “travels on 100 flights per year” and that this was the first time he had ever been prevented from boarding with this carry-on. But the gate agent “elevated his aggressive tone and had no patience or empathy for me, the situation, or my understanding of it.”

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Then Thompson made a mistake.

He responded: “You need to work on your customer service, tone, and tact.” After complimenting two other gate agents on the “great job” they were doing, Thompson turned and walked towards the ramp.

Then, says Thompson, the following happened:

[The first gate agent] yelled, “I have the authority to refuse you boarding.” He then ran in front of me down the ramp as I kept walking. Once he got halfway down the ramp he turned around and told me to stop and that I was not allowed to get on the plane. I was without words at this point but felt like I was in a verbally abusive situation. So I began to capture the situation on video with my phone.


As he walked towards me and past me, he stated to me, “You’re not allowed to go in here. That’s a closed jetway. I’m calling the police.” Then he told the two gate agents, “Call DPS [Department of Public Safety]. Call DPS.” I then turned around, walked out of the ramp, back into the terminal and sat on the terminal chairs. I told my business partner to go on to Nashville and I’d try to get there when I could.

Thompson then waited three hours to speak to a supervisor, who told him that he was not going to be able to fly that day. He offered Thompson a standby ticket to Nashville for the following day.

And Thompson asks: “Was such escalation necessary?”

He used our contact information for American Airlines to complain to higher-ranking customer service executives, but the response he received supported the gate agent:

As you may know, according to the Federal Aviation Regulations under our Contract of Carriage, we will deny boarding to any passenger who may pose a threat to the comfort and/or safety of other passengers or employees. I have reviewed our records and they show that our station manager supported the recommendation to deny your travel on this flight. These decisions are made for the safety of all passengers. For that reason we uphold the decision.

American Airlines’ conditions of carriage indicate that

American may refuse to transport you, or may remove you from your flight at any point, for one or several reasons, including but not limited to …

  • Refuse to obey instructions from any flight crew member
  • Engage in any action, voluntary or involuntary, that might jeopardize the safety of the aircraft or any of its occupants.

So unfortunately for Thompson, who describes himself as an “upstanding citizen,” this provision allows American Airlines to unilaterally refuse service to any passenger who disobeys its personnel. All airlines’ contracts of carriage or similar legal documents contain such provisions.

Thompson then asked our advocacy team for assistance in getting a refund for the flight he wasn’t allowed to take. But when we reached out to American Airlines, we learned that Thompson disobeyed a crew member’s orders and walked down a closed jetway after being told he was not flying. So we can’t assist him.

We can only advise air passengers to comply with airline personnel directions at all times, no matter how unpleasantly you think those personnel are behaving, because they have the right to ground you if you don’t — and they will, as numerous cases earlier this year have shown.

Was American Airlines correct to prevent Mike Thompson from boarding his flight?

View Results

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org.

  • Hanope

    Did the gate agent ever explain why he couldn’t have the carry on? It seems like many times these problems occur because gate agents don’t tell the passengers what the problem is, they just say “no”. then when the passenger reasonably asks why, the gate agent says they are arguing and not obeying them so the passenger is kicked off the flight. The passenger here may not have realized that his basic economy ticket didn’t allow a carry on.

  • Beverly Walker

    Should have flown Southwest in the first place.

  • AJPeabody

    Basic economy does not include explanations from gate agents. It’s an extra fee. (humor icon, please)

  • Bill___A

    I wish it would just be spelled out. It looks to me like he tried to bring on a “normal” carry on when in fact he had one of those new fares that didn’t allow that type of carry on. If this is the case, then he was the cause of the problem. Someone who “flies 100 times a year” should know about the rules.

  • Bill___A

    It says in the article that the gate agent told him that he was on a basic economy fare and couldn’t bring the bag on, so yes, the gate agent did. That statement does highlight the reasoning right there.

  • Lloyd Johnston

    If you can have a reasonable conversation without looking like you ate showing somebody up , most people will try to use what discretion they have to work with you. Once you start being a donkey then expect them to follow the rules to the letter and take full advantage of their discretion to get rid of you.

    When I used to fly a lot for work, Westjet agents were the best at this. But I never made the mistake of forgetting that all of them could keep me of the plane.

  • ChelseaGirl

    I didn’t know that new basic economy fares don’t allow carryon. (I have only flown Jetblue lately.) That’s charging you extra whether you check luggage or carry it on. Another ridiculous airline policy but that’s another post…i do think the agent was rude and unprofessional. Sadly, We have to accept the abuse if we want to get on the plane.

  • jim6555

    Basic economy fares came about because the legacy carriers were losing business on OTA sites to ultra low cost carriers.like Spirit. The fare were intended to be attractive to passengers who book based on price alone. The results thus far have been mixed. The legacy carriers are getting more bookings but, because many passengers don’t understand the restricted nature of the fares, problems have occurred at check-in counters and and at gates. To bring an end to the confusion, United Airlines has dropped basic economy fares from most of their routes.

  • Dutchess

    “Was such escalation necessary?” I don’t know Mr Thompson, perhaps you should ask yourself that question. Was it necessary to make snide, condescending comments about the gate agent? Was it necessary to mock the gate agent and say his coworkers were doing a great job? Seems like you brought this on yourself. You reacted childishly and immature and you sparked anger in the gate agent. Wasn’t that EXACTLY what you wanted to happen when you made those comments? Geesh, this passenger lacks self awareness asking if this escalation was necessary.

  • Hanope

    But the agent didn’t explain that only a small carryon under his seat could be allowed. The ‘carryon size box’ is for the overhead compartment and the passenger said it fit.

  • Bill___A

    “You can’t take that bag on the plane. You have a basic economy ticket.”

    First part was in reference to the bag in question, second part is in reference to why.

  • KennyG

    A PAX that is a problem and cant/wont follow instructions while the plane is still on the ground, can put hundreds of passengers lives at risk at 35,000 feet when he again decides he doesn’t want to follow crew members orders.

  • Debbie_K

    If his business partner paid the $50, then the only thing the OP was doing was mouthing off. Was that really a threat? Stupid yes. But I honestly don’t think it was worthy of denying him boarding. He wasn’t making threats to the plane to the passengers or anything like that he was claiming that the Airline employee didn’t know their job

  • Jeff W.

    As someone who “flies 100 times a year”, he should know better. And unless those previous 99 flights were on Southwest and this was his first time flying AA/UA/DL, Basic Economy should not be a new concept for him.

    He most likely has status and though his “eliteness” trumped the fare rules of Basic Economy. And he lost.

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    So the lesson is, show the proper respect at all times to the burger flipper type behind the counter, or he’ll ruin your day because he can.

  • cscasi

    People need to take responsibility and know what they can and cannot carry on flights; especially if they are flying on a low class ticket. Second, we do not exactly what transpired at the boarding gate as we only have the word from the passenger, and not the words of the gate agent (not to say the passenger is not telling the truth, but we do not know exactly what transpired and how). If the passenger raised his voice and/ or became obnoxious, all the more reason towards removing him from the flight. If the rules are not enforced, we would soon have more people on lots of flights arguing with airline personnel about this and that.
    I admit, flying is not as nice as it was 30-40 years ago when the seats were all comfy and carryons did not seem to be a problem. But, more and more people are flying these days and we just have to work through these things as best we can to get where we want to go; or not go.

  • cscasi

    Perhaps. However, we do not have the gate agent’s side of the story. It is hard to judge the accuracy of issues when they are one sided.

  • Bill___A

    I believe the $50 would be to gate check it, not carry it on. I honestly do think he should have been denied boarding and I would go as far as to say to even put him on the no fly list.

  • Bill___A

    The lesson is don’t try to break the rules and continue to try to break them when you are called out on it.

  • Nancy

    Sounds to me like the gate agent manipulated this situation to get the last laugh on a rude passenger by having him booted from this flight, and the passenger walked right into the trap. There was no need to remove this passenger for safety reasons. If they felt he was such a “danger” for failing to follow instructions – why let him fly the next day? Did a night of sleep magically make him a less dangerous person? This was just a gate agent making a power play and showing who is in charge. It happens all too often lately with airline employees.

  • Nancy

    I used to have to deal with prison staff when a loved one was incarcerated. Dealing with airline employees these days is amazingly similar to dealing with prison guards. You can’t ever forget that one wrong move and you end up in handcuffs.

  • Alan Gore

    Gate agent having a bad day taking it out on a pax who quibbles momentarily over a fee. We have heard this story before, and will hear it again until crew and passengers are required to file depositions with the FAA for ejections.

  • Michael__K

    Rules change every day and I’ve flown that many times some years and I’ve never had a Basic Economy ticket.
    The real problem ultimately wasn’t the bag. It was the customer commenting on the agent’s customer service and tone and the agent being offended by this and using their authority to punish this passenger.

  • Alan Gore

    Mouthing off before boarding is not an air safety threat, but it’s a dandy excuse for ruining someone’s trip. I think they get extra points for that.

  • Michael__K

    According to the artice, they were perfectly willing to put hundreds of passengers lives at risk at 35,000 feet the next day.
    Or even the same day if the customer hadn’t commented on the agent’s customer service, tone, and tact after instructions were followed.

  • KennyG

    A PAX that is a problem and cant/wont follow instructions while the plane is still on the ground, can put hundreds of passengers lives at risk at 35,000 feet when he again decides he doesn’t want to follow crew members orders.

  • KennyG

    At 35, 000 feet, the gate agent having a bad day cant cause any problems, however a passenger that cant or won’t follow instructions while the aircraft is still on the ground, can potentially put hundreds of passengers lives at risk in the air when he again decides he wants to dispute something a crew member says and doesn’t want to follow crew members orders.

  • Todd Brown

    I offer a flip-side story. I boarded an AA flight with my son who had only a small backpack. We boarded early due to my Platinum status. When the plane started filling up, a flight attendant pulled my son’s back pack, rudely asked whose back pack it was, and handed it to my son to stow under his seat. I asked her why she removed my son’s backpack, when part of the privilege of status is boarding/stowing luggage early. Her reply, “Do you want to be removed from this flight?” I responded that I am video taping the conversation and that I wanted her to repeat what she just said to me. She walked away. I had an uneventful flight and when deplaning, asked the pilot for the flight attendant’s name. He refused to give it to me. (She had hidden her name tag throughout the flight). I wrote a letter to AA, and received a personal phone call, apologizing profusely, offering me miles, etc, and said that the situation with both the flight attendant and the pilot was addressed. So when I read this story, I believe the flyer made two mistakes; he tried to bring on a bag that was not part of the fare, then he openly disobeyed an AA employee’s instruction. Had he engaged with respect/politeness, then perhaps things would have worked out for him. I’ve flown AA for over 30 years and had a few uncomfortable instances. However, I can say that when I step back from the situation, all have been resolved professionally and appropriately.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    You keep saying this and I don’t believe it. You seem to equate a passenger annoyed about carryon policies with an ISIS terrorist. Not the same thing.

  • C Schwartz

    In trying to give the passenger the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he did not know that he was booked on a basic economy fare (maybe an employee booked it and checked him in) and basic economy is relatively new on AA (last of the Big 3 to roll it out). So perhaps this was a surprise to him. But the OP should have noticed that he was in the last boarding group.

    BE gives no access to the overhead bins — and those luggage sizers are for the overhead bin space and not for the space under the seat in front.– apparently UA has two luggage sizers at some gates, one for under-seat BE carry on and one for overhead bin carry-on but I am not certain if AA does

    It does not appear that the traveler or his business partner actually were aware of the fare they had — as the check in luggage at the gate fee was $25 normal and $25 service charge for BE travelers trying to avoid paying:

    From the AA website:

    “You can board with 1 item like a purse or small handbag that fits
    under the seat in front of you and is not larger than 18 x 14 x 8 inches
    (45 x 35 x 20 cm). You won’t have access to overhead bins.

    All other items must be checked at ticket counters and cannot be on. If you
    take them to the gate you’ll pay an extra $25 gate
    service fee per item plus the applicable bag fee”

    The $25 dollar service fee would have been avoided if the passengers had paid for check in luggage at ticket counter check in.

    And although the traveler claims to have flown 100 times this year, the majority were likely not with AA as according to the website elite members get access to overhead bin space on a BE fare.

    If the traveler booked the ticket themselves they should familiarize themselves with the luggage restrictions –if someone else does it the passenger should be certain that they are informed.

    Have I seen some less than polite gate agents? Certainly. But the traveler knew what he needed to do to board the flight — pay the $25 bag fee and $25 service fee for the gate check in for cargo luggage, just as the business partner did, Arguing about the sizer for overhead luggage is a bit disingenuous — and has a frequent traveler of 100 flights a year the traveler should realize that the space underneath the seat in front is significantly smaller than the space in the overhead bins,

    If one is told pay the luggage fee or do not board and one ignores that and starts walking down the jetway with the kuggage… that is a situation that will escalate and may not end well.

  • Bill Miles

    The contract says “Refuse to obey instructions from any flight crew member”, and tyhe write-up says “we learned that Thompson disobeyed a crew member’s orders..”
    Since when is a gate agent a crew member or flight crew member.?
    Not that I don’t agree that the situation was handled poorly on both sides.

  • bayareascott

    Because you didn’t buy the ticket. He purchased the ticket, and thus, should have been aware of the rules because they are spelled out *very* clearly.

  • bayareascott

    Most agitated people will calm down by then, or they still won’t be traveling.

  • bayareascott

    Missing the point. The customer was agitated. Agitated people who are acting out are a danger for this very reason. By the next day, they will usually be calmer and act more rational. So yes, a night of sleep may make all the difference.

  • MF

    Punitive behavior by gate agent: because we can – likely a power trip by underpaid minion who woke on the wrong side of the bed.

  • pauletteb

    The fare does allow a carry-on, but it must fit under the seat in front of you. You have zero access to overhead space.

  • Kevin Nash

    That may be true, but that underpaid minion has the ability to keep you off the flight so fliers should learn to keep their wisecracks to themselves.

  • Michael__K

    If your premise is that the real problem was agitation, not compliance with instructions and not offense taken by the agent…. And if your premise is also that this agitation only reached a problematic threshold at the same time as the critique about the agent’s tone and customer service…

  • Altosk

    He was on a Basic Economy Ticket. This means no carry-on luggage. You are only allowed a small “personal item.” It’s basically Spirit Service on a Big Name carrier. No empathy. If he truly takes “100 flights a year” he’d know this.

  • Altosk

    Yup. I witnessed a total meltdown of a Di$ney Mom (complete with Pinetrest’ed matching shirts) flying my fave route (IAH to MCO, for those just joining the fun here). She booked 8 tickets on Basic Econ, got mad when her brood was mixed across the cabin and then literally started screaming about “families need to be treated better!” and some garbage about “oppression of children” at the gate when told her carry-ons were no-gos.

  • bayareascott

    There’s a lot of “ifs” there. I’m only responding to your comment that they were perfectly willing to put passengers at risk the next day. I’m saying people on occasion get out of control, but that doesn’t mean they stay in that condition permanently.

  • Michael__K

    Fair enough, I was only responding to the comment premised on the customer putting other passengers at risk because they “can’t/wont follow instructions.”

  • taxed2themax

    I guess I’m torn here.. I DO think the AA agent’s action were principally punitive.. That said, I also think that in life there are (and I’m OK with) consequences for what I’d simplistically call “mouthing off” or being a smart a$$.. and I have zero doubt that it was this was…. Now, the things that lead up to this may have played a part.. that’s true.. and I also think that the AA agent actions were also probably (but there is no independent account of what was said and the manner in which it was said) a contributing factor.. So, I’d reasonably guess (again, as there is no independent factual reporting here) AA is not totally without blame.
    The bag charge to me is legit — the number of times the OP has flown before is, to me, irrelevant.. So long as the fare and baggage rules were properly applied, then I think the charge itself was legit (and it sounds like it was)..and I also agree that knowing the limits are the passengers obligation… but its AFTER that were I think the OP mishandled it and behaved in a manner that opened him up to consequences… but I suspect that the AA agent probably also had other options to help diffuse the matter well before a denial of boarding.

  • Alan Gore

    If that were actually their reasoning, then he would have been on their no-fly list for good.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    It seems like his business partner has common sense…if I was him, I will have concerns about Mr. Thompson.

    How about the OP buying a fare with carry-on luggage? He is going to a wedding of an employee of his company…can’t spend a few dollars for a fare with carry-on luggage? It seems like he doesn’t value this employee.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    Was the flight attendant from the old AA? the old US Airways? the old America West? In general, I have received good to outstanding service from the old US Airways and the old AA flight crews. It has been a different story from the old America West flight crews. As I have said before, I won’t hire 80% of the America West flight crews to work at a fast food restaurant. Hiding a name tag was a common ‘trick’ or ‘maneuver’ at the an old America West…especially when there was a delay due to mechanical, the name tags disappeared.

    Just like there are passengers that are on power trips (i.e. I am a super uber Platinum member), there are employees that are on power trips as well. The best way to handle them is to be respectful, polite, etc…remember that they control the ‘admission’ to the plane…it is generally a losing battle to challenge them. You can always deal with the problem with corporate after the flight…lose the battle and win the war.

  • RightNow9435

    Exactly—–sorta like those “contempt of cop” events, only this time it was “contempt of GA”, with the GA retaliating for the perceived disrespect by the passenger.

  • KennyG

    No in between? You are either an ISIS terrorist or else, no issue? Take a PAX that won’t follow instructions on the ground.. Say said PAX winds up sitting in an exit row seat. Now the pilot is going to have to make a not so pleasant landing and happens to have four deadheading pilots/crew persons in the back of the airplane. Since this is a possible landing that may need to use emergency exit procedures, the pilot wants to move those fully trained personnel into the exit rows to facilitate as quick of an exit from the plane as possible. Here is our problem PAX now arguing with the stewardess that he is not going to move, he paid for the exit row seat and thats where he is staying. So this guy isnt an ISIS terrorist, he is just a pain in the butt, problem PAX that is now potentially putting several hundred other passengers at risk. Talk to an airline pilot and see if he/she agrees with you or what I have said. You may be surprised. You present a completely binary choice, either ISIS terrorist, or not in issue. As has been seen repeatedly lately, there are a vast number of people who in their everyday lives may be perfectly pleasant, but for some reason believe that they are in charge once they get on a airplane. I would guess 99.99% of those troubled passengers were in fact not ISIS terrorists, yet became problematic.

  • KennyG

    Perhaps, as many people would, when he returned to the airport the next day he would have been sufficiently calmed down to not be a concern. Many people “lose” it over perceived or real issues, but calm down after whatever the trigger was [perhaps an airline employee having a bad day and being a jerk], and the next day are perfectly fine. This isnt a binary decision. Ok to fly at all times or on the no fly list. Some people actually even learn from situations and whether right or wrong, then adjusttheir behavior to avoid conflicts, especially when there is no upside to escalate that conflict.

  • MF

    Perhaps the PAX ‘learned’ from this experience to not hack off those who hold their fate in their hands? Or perhaps the PAX is a real slow learner? Well, they got their Spirit-like customer service to go with their Spirit like fare.

  • C Schwartz

    A deposition? As in live testimony taken by an attorney in front of a court reporter? What would that accomplish? And if the deposed give conflicting testimoney then what? Subpoena witnesses? And for what end or resolution?

  • KanExplore

    I’m voting with the passenger, not because I think he made no mistakes, but because the whole “basic economy” scam is hostile to consumers. and wasn’t explained adequately. This is a relatively new device to extract the same amount of money for a worse product, in the hope that people will “buy up” to the product they’re used to. It may be that the customer didn’t know he had that fare, if someone else purchased the ticket. I don’t know the details, and perhaps he should have known the restrictions. He was obviously confused if he put the bag in the measuring box, which is not pertinent to this situation. I think there will be many such cases in the future as infrequent flyers don’t fully understand this “product” and buy it in error. Airline personnel need to be trained to be patient and complete in their explanations, even though their corporation has placed them in the position of being the bad guy.

  • KanExplore

    I don’t think the comment about the customer service should have anything at all to do with it. That would be hypersensitivity turning an unpleasant interaction into an escalated conflict. What he did wrong was seek to get on the plane when he was told he couldn’t. That is what will always cause a problem.

  • KanExplore

    That was the line they gave originally, but instead they created a sub-economy fare class, but kept it at the same price as their previous economy ticket. I don’t see how it competes with Spirit if you now have to pay more than before for the same service, or pay the same for less service. If you want lousy service, fly Spirit, and you’ll save money. AA fares are rarely competitive. If you want decent service, fly Southwest or JetBlue.

  • Greg Paul

    The airline crews are turning into little petty tyrants, with the teensiest shred of power over the passengers, a very select few choose to go passive aggressive should anyone have the temerity to question their ruling from their throne. THis didn’t need to go this way…and the denying of the refund was petty and unfair; Yes, deny boarding if a few words make you and a plane full of passengers feel unsafe.BUT…money was paid for transport, and didn’t happen. The airline isn’t entitled to those funds if they didn’t do anything to earn it.

  • Bob Curtis

    He only “tried to get on the plane when he was told he couldn’t” AFTER he was denied boarding! Yeah, he was a jerk, continuing to berate the agent, but the agent then decided his poor feelings were hurt, and denied the passenger boarding.

  • Alan Gore

    My statement was part of an ongoing discussion that you have probably not seen. Some time ago I proposed a requirement that for all passenger ejections, including individual denied boardings other than oversells (for which a mechanism already exists) a report would be filed with the FAA detailing the reason for the ejection and including a sworn statement and contact information for each pax and crew involved. Formal depositions would be taken if court action resulted from the ejection.

    Such a mechanism would protect everybody. Perennially toxic passengers could now be identified and put on no-fly lists. It would give airlines feedback on how their crew are handling the passenger interface. Just knowing that the system exists would inhibit both gratuitous passenger rudeness and the “junk” ejections we have covered in here that start with “somebody on our flight felt disturbed.”

  • Michael__K

    That’s not the sequence of events the article describes. The fee was finally paid. At that point he had no reason to believe he could not get on the plane. It was only later that he was told he couldn’t get on the plane:

    Then Thompson made a mistake.
    He responded: “You need to work on your customer service, tone, and tact.” After complimenting two other gate agents on the “great job” they were doing, Thompson turned and walked towards the ramp.
    Then, says Thompson, the following happened:
    [The first gate agent] yelled, “I have the authority to refuse you boarding.” He then ran in front of me down the ramp as I kept walking. Once he got halfway down the ramp he turned around and told me to stop and that I was not allowed to get on the plane.

  • Michael__K

    One must not escalate unnecessarily unless one has the power and authority to gratuitously inflict real harm and get away with it.

  • jim6555

    I certainly agree with you about Southwest and JetBlue and fly them whenever I can. I live in Florida and Alaska Airlines in not an option for me unless I want to travel to the Pacific Northwest or to Alaska. If I lived in the western part of the United States, I would certainly give them a try.

  • MarkKelling

    Or, he could have returned the next day after stewing all night about how much he now hates the airline that he has really become a threat to safety instead of just a loud mouthed jerk.

  • MarkKelling

    If he flys on the company dime 100 times a year, he may not know there are different types of economy with carry on limits because the travel department makes all the arrangements for him probably without input from him. Since this was not a business trip (going to a wedding) he probably bought the ticket himself and saw the cheep price and chose that without reading the restrictions.

    Still doesn’t excuse his attitude toward the gate agent. (Or the gate agent’s attitude either.)

  • MarkKelling

    The airline crew members only have to say “I feel uncomfortable about that passenger” to the captain and the passenger is off the plane. No more explanation is required. There is no recourse offered to the passenger. The reason could be simply because the passenger didn’t respond to the crew member’s greeting and that crew member is having a bad day. This has to change. I do agree that there are probably many passengers denied boarding with good reason, but in this case other than being a jerk and probably needing to be taught a lesson to be less confrontational and less agitating in the situation (which might not have happened anyway), I feel the gate agent was being petty.

  • MarkKelling

    The airlines tend to treat passengers that way — either you are a good passenger or you are going to bring the plane down in flames because your attitude is wrong. There really is no in between. People who are planning on being a real threat to an airplane are not going to agitate the gate agents or the flight crew because they know better.

    Could a passenger with a bad attitude who mouthed off to the gate agent be difficult on the flight? Of course, but then he might be so relieved that he got on the plane he doesn’t say or do anything the entire flight. And someone who is perfectly calm and composed makes it on the plane, has a few drinks, and then gets into a fight with their travel companion could cause all kinds of difficulties too. You just don’t know.

  • greg watson

    when is a carry-on not a carry-on ??…………………if it fits the measuring box…………it is an acceptable item to bring on board…………..I have never seen 2 separate measuring boxes & he was allowed 1 carry-on with his ticket………….end of story…………the agent was aggressive & wrong

  • greg watson

    the agent was wrong……………the OP was allowed 1 carry-on…….which passed the measuring test ???????????

  • Carol Molloy

    He was allowed a carry-on that would fit under the seat in front of him, per the terms of the ticket he purchased. The OP had a bag that was permissible for overhead compartments. However, he chose to purchase a ticket that did not include using the overhead. I have to side with the agent.

  • Carol Molloy

    You have succinctly expressed my own thoughts. Add lacking emotional maturity to the list of items he would be well-served to reflect upon. I do not like trashing people who come to this column for help, but this gentleman has a self-inflicted problem.

  • joycexyz

    With the basic economy ticket, the carry-on had to fit under the seat. The measuring box is for carry-ons to fit into the overhead compartment. Picky and absurd, but the airlines make the rules and the gate agents are responsible for enforcing them. Arguing is grounds for grounding. I do think, however, both the OP and the gate agent could have handled it better. Did the gate agent explain the difference in the carry-on types? And the OP should never have attempted to board when cautioned not to.

  • joycexyz

    I think you’re right. You get what you pay for, and basic economy does not purchase civility, politeness, or explanations. Just do as you’re told!

  • joycexyz

    Perhaps they were prison guards in another life.

  • joycexyz

    The issue is always who has the power in a particular situation. In this case, it’s the gate agent. And referring to him or her as a burger-flipper type is not a good start, because they do have the power to deny boarding.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    When was the last time that happened? (Are you an airline employee, perhaps?) While I’m sure there are drunks who are problems, I am suspicious of the concern for a “difficult” passenger when that same person is rebooked on a later flight.

    If he is a “pain in the butt” on Monday, what’s changed to allow the same guy to fly on Tuesday. Nothing, just the attitude of the gate agent. So I disagree. Either a person is safe to fly or they are not, not sometimes based on the subjective mood of airline employees. (And I should note that I have never had anything but courteous treatment from airline employees).

  • KennyG

    You are entitled to disagree, but I would suggest you have a conversation with some airline employees [pilots or stewards that actually make a living at 35k feet, and see what their thoughts are about PAX with attitudes before takeoff.

  • KennyG

    Or he could have brought milk and cookies to the gate agent he had problems with. Or brought back his Mommy to explain that he was a bed wetter when he was younger and had emotional problems. Make up as many hypotheticals as you want, it doesn’t change his behavior on the day this occurred.

  • Dutchess

    This has nothing to do with his carry-on and everything to do with his attitude.

  • y_p_w

    Doesn’t matter if the fee is paid. He wasn’t allowed to bring it into the cabin. The story doesn’t specifically say it, but it sounds like he tried to walk into the plane with his carry on anyways.

    Part of the rationale for these fares is that they reduce the use of overhead bin space and make boarding and deboarding easier.

  • y_p_w

    On Spirit a passenger can still pay a carry on fee at the gate. The prices keep on escalating the closer one gets to the gate, but I think now its a $100 carry on fee at the gate.

    With these “basic” fares bringing on anything bigger than a designated personal item is no way, no how. Once your at the point where a fee is being paid, it’s going into the baggage hold or not at all.

  • y_p_w

    greg watson:
    the agent was wrong……………the OP was allowed 1 carry-on…….which passed the measuring test ????????

    Your assessment is not correct. Basic Economy on AA includes one “personal item” (18”x14”x 8”). The fare is designed to reduce the demand for overhead bin space by not allowing any standard sized carry on.

    https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/baggage/carry-on-baggage.jsp
    Personal item
    Your personal item must fit under the seat in front of you. Dimensions should not exceed 18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm ).

    Basic Economy customers are only allowed 1 personal item. All other bags must be checked.

  • DChamp56

    Not being allowed to board, seemed completely retaliatory just because he mentioned the person lacked customer service skills.
    In that case, while he’s an ass for saying that, it did not justify refusing him to board. JMHO

  • Michael__K

    Exactly which part of the article are you getting that from? Sounds like you are reading a different article. The OP interacted with 3 agents before going down the ramp and the first time he heard a command to stop was when he was halfway down the ramp, at which point he stopped and began recording with his phone.

  • BubbaJoe123

    “then the only thing the OP was doing was mouthing off”

    Seems an excellent reason to deny him boarding. If rude people suffered the consequences for their behavior on a more regular basis, the world would be a better place.

  • y_p_w

    Well it doesn’t say he actually gave up the bag, but then again many of these accounts are short on specifics.

  • Kerr

    If so, they’ve done so very quietly. I still see those fares on routes like IAH-LAS, IAH-PHX, etc.

  • jim6555

    I would guess that United is keeping some Basic Economy fares on routes when there is direct competition with an ultra low cost carrier. Frontier flies IAH-PHX and Spirit has flights from IAH to LAS.

  • Kerr

    BE fares don’t allow fliers to earn FF miles. So the main differences are between UA BE and ULCC are price and schedule/frequency. From what I’ve seen, UA BE still isn’t as low as the ULCC and schedule/frequency preference rests on each fliers’ unique needs.

  • greg watson

    now………….I have heard everything………………how do you purchase a ticket for an under seat carry-on……………or purchase a ticket for an overhead carry-on………somebody help me out here……………..seems like so much BS to me……….but you could prove me wrong…………..show me the proof !

  • IGoEverywhere

    Not if you have a basic economy ticket. To save money, there are cheaper tickets available and they require that the carry-on bag fit under the seat. There is no reference at all in those rules that the carry-on must fit in the baggage sizing basket. If Mike does indeed, as stated in the article, fly 100 times a year, then he knew that he was trying to get away with something. The basic rules also state that your preferred status with the airline, will not allow these rules to be ignored. AA may have over reacted to the safety of the flight, but in the end they were correct.

  • greg watson

    apparently you didn’t read the whole article……….allowed 1 personal item which must fit under the seat………& 1 carry-on which must fit the sizer for the overhead storage……………………….duh !!

  • y_p_w

    greg watson:
    apparently you didn’t read the whole article……….allowed 1 personal item which must fit under the seat………& 1 carry-on which must fit the sizer for the overhead storage……………………….duh !!

    Did YOU read the article? Here’s the part that I suggest YOU read several times, understand what it means, and match up with the AA description of what “Basic Economy” passengers are allowed to bring on board. Could you at least type “basic economy” in your response so it’s clear that you’ve actually read that?

    “You aren’t taking that bag on the plane,” the agent abruptly told Thompson. He stared back in confusion at the agent, who then told him, “You can’t take that bag on the plane. You have a basic economy ticket.”

    Thompson had purchased a “basic economy” ticket, which allows for one carry-on that must easily fit under the seat in front of the passenger.

    He is allowed one personal item and no standard sized carry on according to the fare rules for Basic Economy.

    https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/experience/seats/basic-economy.jsp
    Restrictions

    A ticket gets you a seat in Main Cabin, with restrictions:

    * 1 item that fits under the seat in front of you (no access to overhead bins)*
    * Seats assigned at check-in
    * Fees to choose a specific seat
    * Not eligible for upgrades
    * No flight changes or refunds
    * Board in last group*

    Baggage details

    You can board with 1 item like a purse or small handbag that fits under the seat in front of you and is not larger than 18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm). You won’t have access to overhead bins.

    All other items must be checked at ticket counters and cannot be carried on. If you take them to the gate you’ll pay an extra $25 gate service fee per item plus the applicable bag fee.

  • Carol Molloy

    Greg, several others have already provided this answer. It is a class of service called Basic Economy. Pretty soon we’ll have a class called “BYOO”, or Bring Your Own Oxygen, in which they strap you to the wing.

  • Lindabator

    It clearly stated so – which is why the partner paid for it. But h had to escalate the issue, instead of just bing content that his partner paid for it, per the rules of his ticket.

  • Lindabator

    plus when he went down a closed jetway and was told not to, but proceeded anyway, he was in violation of the rules.

  • Lindabator

    NO – basic only allows a bag UNDER thee seat, not in the overhead bins – which was why his travel partner offered to pay for the bag – this is clearly shown throughout the booking and on the final confirmation – he sounds like a real tool

  • Lindabator

    NO – just a personal item for basic fares — IF he wanted to use the overhead bin, he could pay $50 to do so – which his travel partner did

  • Lindabator

    NOT allowed a carry on — just a personal item – you really seem to not get it either

  • Lindabator

    all the airlines offer this class of service on specific flights now, and have for a while to compete with the Spirit/Frontier flights out there

  • Lindabator

    these fares are only in those markets heavily booked by the LCCs – so it is comparible, and offers as little as they do

  • Lindabator

    amen

  • Lindabator

    they are crew members – just not flight crew, which are specific to the flight

  • Lindabator

    but he CHOSE that ticket, so no excuses – others paid more for their tickets, because they did want the service.

  • Lindabator

    his walking down the jetway when told not to escalated the situation

  • y_p_w

    Well – I’m not sure there’s any need to be rude, but I’m pretty sure that the early boarding and stowing privileges don’t effectively guarantee more than the one piece of carry on can go into the overhead bins, and even then only if it qualifies as a “personal item”. They’re going to want it to be stowed under the seat if it seems that overhead bin space is filling up and where they might need to go to gate checks. I’ve seen plenty of cases where there were jackets, shopping bags, purses, etc that could easily be placed under the seat but where a passenger wanted it in the bin. I think it was reasonable to have it removed, but it needs to be explained calmly and rationally.

  • KanExplore

    The Legacy 3 do that, but not Southwest, Jet Blue and Alaska. Let’s make sure they don’t get lumped in with the Monkey See Monkey Do three carriers that are racing hard to the bottom.

  • jsn55

    Nobody ever fully understands a situation from the report of just one side. People are booking these super-cheap fares and not reading the rules. The Gate Agent’s job is to get the plane loaded and outta there. When an airline person snarls at you, accept the warning you’ve been given … don’t mess with this person! Right or wrong, your goal is to reach your destination in a timely manner. You can argue right and wrong later.

    As this story illustrates, thinking that you can apply logic to a situation at an airline gate or on the plane is naive. The Gate Agent rules the gate. If s/he doesn’t like you, you’re doomed if you argue. If s/he’s in a bad mood, you’re not going to get any help. That’s life, folks. Argue all you wish … my goal is to always board the plane and fly to my destination. Whatever the airline people tell me to do, I do it. And you can be sure I read the terms and conditions of the tix I booked so I know what to expect.

    Same situation with a flight attendant … don’t mess with the flight attendants! You may be right, but you’re also still at your home airport. I’d rather follow instructions and be silent … and arrive at my destination. I can take up the problem after the fact, through all the good advice on this website.

  • wilcoxon

    Apparently I’ve had absolutely different experiences with agitated people than you have. If he’s agitated on the ground, yes, he might become agitated in the air. However, many times, it is not an instant transient circumstance. There is about an equal chance he would become agitated in the air today (immediately after this incident) or tomorrow.

  • wilcoxon

    I keep seeing this excuse. I don’t buy it (and it runs contrary to how I’ve seen people act). Many people will be agitated before boarding and calm down once on the aircraft. Of the (few) people I’ve seen be agitated in the air, none of them showed any agitation on the ground. Put people in an actual crisis situation and nobody (likely including the person) can predict how they will act.

  • KennyG

    Past behavior is one of the better [not infallible of course] ways of predicting future behavior. But of course, your personal experience differs from that reasonably held thought, as is your right.

  • wilcoxon

    Thanks so much for the condescending response.

    I agree that past behavior is a good indicator but that’s not actually what’s being done. A good past indicator on if someone is going to be agitated IN THE AIR is if they were agitated in the air previously. If they are agitated on the ground when having to deal with the oh-so-(not)-helpful TSA agents and (some) gate agents has no correlation to how they will behave in the air. A common cause of agitation in the air is being intoxicated and most people don’t do that until airborne.

  • KennyG

    No condescension was intended. Simply stated that your personal experience differed from what you ultimately turned out to agree with and that is of course your right.

  • jah6

    I agree with you. I am an RN of 30 years and I would not be able to get away with behavior like this gate agents. Too many of them are little Hitlers

  • jah6

    Lol, you may be right!

  • Lee Delong

    Airline personal have devolved into petty tyrants.

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