Update on Travelgate

We wrote in July of 2019 of the liberalizing of airline rules for bikes, specifically, that for certain airlines – including American Airlines – bikes could travel as checked baggage if they met certain rules. They height + width + length of the travel case (which must be a hard shell case) could not exceed (in American's rules) 126” (and easy one for most bike cases) and the entire package could not exceed 50 pounds (not always that easy, as most travel cases weigh at least 30 pounds).

Two weeks ago a Reader Forum user, NMGal, reported on our Forum that upon presenting her Scicon hard case, total packaged weighing 46 pounds, to an American Airlines gate agent, she, “should have been charged a second bag fee according to their website.” Instead the “agent charged me $80 and said all bikes got charged double and threatened to throw me off the flight unless I paid.”

Upon appealing in writing to American Airlines post-travel, the response she got was, “Because our agent determined that the total amount, size or weight of your baggage exceeded the free allowance, the excess baggage charge was collected. It would not be appropriate for us to overturn that judgment since we don't have the benefit of actually seeing your items as our airport agent did. While we try to be as consistent as possible in collecting excess charges, we do not make adjustments after the fact. Based on your description, we would guess that our other agents overlooked collecting correct excess baggage charges at other points on your itinerary.”

NMGal stated in a further post that the gate agent lowered the fee to $40, and that American Airlines subsequently granted her a $40 travel voucher as a “goodwill gesture.”

While American Airlines tried to do the right thing for its customer I had procedural questions about this, so I inquired of American Airlines myself, relaying the story above. My interface with American Airlines is with media relations, and I had an exchange lasting several emails with Whitney Zastrow, who works in that capacity.

“Our policy on sports equipment has not changed since 2019,” was the reply I got. “Specific equipment, including non-motorized bicycles up to 70 pounds and 126 linear inches, can be checked as a bag. Like baggage, if the bike is over 50 pounds, it will be subject to our oversized bag fee. With all our policies, if there is determined to be an error in application, we work to make it right with our customers.”

I answered back, asking, “When the gate agent’s error is in conflict with the written policy? Which is preeminent? The gate agent’s decision? Or the policy as written? If it’s the policy as written, then the customer should expect to be made whole post-travel. It seems to me there were two mistakes made here: the gate agent’s decision; and AA’s remedy.”

“We stand by our policies and if there is an error in application, we address it,” was the reply received, along with, “seriously happy to connect her with our customer relations team if she isn’t happy.” That introduction was made, and all has been set right. "Wow. I got my AA issue totally resolved!" wrote NMGal to me this morning. "Most importantly [the customer service rep] gave me her contact information and told me to just contact her if it ever happens again, and she will fix it."

Further updates will appear on the Reader Forum thread describing this episode.

For further questions about sport-related travel, we maintain a curated thread, Ministry of Travel, on our Forum, just for questions about travel such as these. A “curated” thread on our parlance is one that we officially monitor, and for which we try to provide timely answers.