Luggage Restrictions

To take advantage of COVID remote work norms and reduce rent, I moved this week from SF to live with friends in Ardmore, a suburb of Philadelphia. Will be here until at least end of year. Looking forward to catching up with east coast folks, living flexibly out of my suitcase, and many board game nights!

From cleaning my apartment, throwing out many items, giving stuff away, to packing, shipping, and ultimately traveling, there was only one hiccup in the entire transition. American Airlines decided to charge me an extra painful $40 for my carry-on bag at the gate.

The tragicomedy started with a message to the waiting area: “We’ll gate-check your bags for free on this flight, so come on up.”

I decided why not, since I had already checked my larger bag and would be stopping by the baggage claim anyway. I was happy to have this opportunity. Until midway through tagging my bag when the woman suddenly exclaimed, “Oh this bag is too large! We’ll have to charge you.”

My reaction was instantaneous. I became livid, infuriated. Perhaps it was lack of sleep, COVID worries, or the stress of moving. But more likely it was the simple injustice of the situation and some misaligned expectations. I would not have been charged had I boarded normally, so this fee seemed absurd, especially after the promise of a free gate check.

I know that I would not have been charged boarding because I have taken this particular carry-on bag many places, with many airlines. In fact, I flew on the exact same flight from SF to Philly in July two months earlier. Nothing substantial has changed since then with the carry-on policy or the sizing of overhead bins.

So yes, I agree that my bag is slightly larger than 22” x 14” x 9”. But no, I disagree with the charge, because it’s an arbitrary application of the rules and makes me justifiably upset.

You are not enforcing a consistent policy, American Airlines, because I can point to many other customers in the line to board who have equally large bags that also fit perfectly well into the overhead bins. These folks (and myself two months prior) are boarding without any issue or screening, so they wouldn’t expect a charge for a free gate check.

I was further dismayed when the customer service coordinator came over to inform me that my choices were to accept the fee or to go back through security and check the bag at the front counter, guaranteeing I miss my flight. Incredulous, I even repeated back his words to confirm. It was like being in a strange dream, where somebody says you have three hands, and you can’t believe them even after you look down at your three hands.

It would have been so easy to say, “We’re going to waive this $40 fee for you Mr. Trattner and gate check your bag for free as promised. Thanks for flying with us multiple times per year and bringing us thousands of dollars of lifetime value as a loyal customer. Next time, please make sure your carry-on is within the size constraints.”

Why didn’t the airline say this, through either the gate agent or the supervisor I interacted with, even after I explained my position in clear terms? According to Seth Godin, it’s the same reason “Joe Biden is long winded…laziness or lack of will (or focus)”.

American Airlines simply isn’t thinking strategically about customer care. As a result, they may lose business over time. Starting with mine.

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