175 Pound Man Taken Off American Regional Jet That Was Overweight. What Were His Rights?

There’s been a pretty silly story making the rounds about how a “man weighing 175 pounds says he was forcibly removed from a flight because he weighed too much.”

In fact, denying boarding because a passenger is overweight isn’t actually a thing outside of the small handful of airlines that actually weigh passengers.

Four years ago Maldivian weighed passengers at check-in and still says they do on their website but in practice they do not.

However an aircraft can be overweight. If a plane needs to take on extra fuel – which weighs 6 pounds per gallon, and thus 30 gallons of fuel may weigh more than a passenger – it may not be able to take a full load. Temperature and length of available runway affect the passenger and cargo weight an aircraft can fly with. This is more of an issue for smaller aircraft than large ones that won’t be nearly as likely to approach their maximum weight.

That’s precisely what happened here. Two passengers were taken off the flight when it was determined that the aircraft was over weight. The “man weighing 175 pounds” reported:

  • That he was an AAdvantage Platinum member
  • That he was told he was the last to check-in and that’s why he was first to be removed.

He was offered a $200 travel voucher after the airline did not receive volunteers. This was not proper compensation.

American’s contract of carriage is actually pretty fuzzy on priority for involuntary denied boardings.

American’s spokesperson gives incorrect information that their regional carrier should have removed the person who booked last rather than who checked in last.

American Airlines also says that its regional carrier, “Envoy,” did not follow proper policy on the flight and should have removed the people who booked last

What American’s rules actually say:

If a flight is oversold (more passengers hold confirmed reservations than there are seats available), no one may be denied boarding against his or her will until airline personnel first ask for volunteers who will give up their reservation willingly, in exchange for compensation of the airline’s choosing. If there are not enough volunteers, other passengers may be denied boarding involuntarily in accordance with the following boarding priority of American. In such events, American will usually deny boarding based upon check-in time, but we may also consider factors such as severe hardships, fare paid, and status within the AAdvantage® program.

Three reactions:

  1. I hate the fuzzy nature of the prioritization, it gives wiggle room to the gate agent to do anything they wish (“usually” .. “may also consider”). Customers will never have recourse against the airline for violating its own rules, nor can they rely on firm expectations for how this should work.

  2. The rules do say – as the agents here did and contrary to the statement by American’s spokesperson – that check-in time is used to determine who to remove from the aircraft.

  3. While they could have used elite status as a factor, they did not. That’s unfortunate.

The rules are also explicit that no denied boarding compensation is due when removed from “an aircraft having 60 or fewer seats…due to safety-related weight/balance restrictions that limit payload” That is consistent with Department of Transportation rules. However the Chicago O’Hare – Salt Lake City route is currently operated by CRJ-700 regional jets which have more than 60 seats. So this limitation doesn’t apply.

Ultimately the passenger received a $500 voucher and 15,000 miles. Was that appropriate?

  • The individual says they “missed the entire weekend” from which I infer that American wasn’t able to get him to his destination within 2 hours of original schedule.

  • In an involuntary bump situation the passenger would be entitled to 400% of their one-way fare up to $1300.

  • We do not know the value of the one-way ticket.

An airline may offer a voucher towards future travel, but a passenger can insist on a check. If the one-way fare was $150 or less I’d say they came out ahead relative to asking for cash. However if this was a $300 one-way ticket I’d certainly be asking for a $1200 check.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary: units check. 30 *pounds* of fuel is only going to weigh more than the very smallest of passengers. 🙂

  2. That’s true, I have a 16 month old who weighs just over 30 lbs, but 30 pounds of fuel will certainly weigh more than 30 lbs of feathers…

  3. This is one of those situations where knowing a thing or two about airlines helps a lot. Even though Delta and AA no longer interline at all, UA still has a ton more capacity on the ORD-SLC route than AA (6 frequencies, including 4 mainline compared to just 4 regional), and AA should be able to have put the passenger on a UA flight if they insisted. Instead, the passenger just “walked away” from the voucher and didn’t try negotiating anything. Too bad these news articles citing “experts” never explain what passengers *should* do in these situations.

  4. How often do airlines still put passengers on other carriers in these involuntary situations? It seems like in all of these reports the “next available flight” offered is now ONLY on their own airline and not another one. And in the case of ORD-SLC shouldn’t there in theory be at least 3 options (AA, DL, and UA)?

  5. It happens a lot. I’ve had it happen a few times on Southwest flights. Once, I was pulled off and twice I wasn’t given a seat due to weight restrictions. My wife flies for Southwest and I fly standby, so I’m always last on. I’m a big guy, but it has nothing to do with it. When they’re overweight or near the limit, it’s just more weight.

  6. “but 30 pounds of fuel will certainly weigh more than 30 lbs of feathers…” No, 30 lbs of fuel is going to weigh the same as any other substance that weighs 30lbs. Period.

  7. “That’s true, I have a 16 month old who weighs just over 30 lbs, but 30 pounds of fuel will certainly weigh more than 30 lbs of feathers…”

    @Brenton – thanks for the laugh

    @Bill – * Humor Alert * old joke. really old, if I remember it.

  8. @kevin Southwest interlines with NO ONE! If the next available flight is 9 days away they will put you on it!

    On a AA SEA-DFW-BOS flight, DFW was closed due to weather. so they put us on AK SEA-BOS but I knew my rights and asked to be interlined onto another airline and had my options available while on hold with AA while everyone else was standing in line waiting for the agent to make the decisions for them

  9. I was very shocked they bumped a PLAT.

    Do you know why there’s a carve out for under 60 seat a/c? Seems like consumers should be entitled to the same comp regardless of equipment.

  10. There’s also a DOT rule that states that airlines are NOT required to compensate passengers removed for weight and balance, though most airlines don’t use this exception.

  11. Well I can see an big drop of people flying on their airplane.
    And If the air lines keep getting money from the government then people will see that and go somewhere else.
    We bail out them and what they do is make us pay more money to fly.
    People are waiting up to their bs.

  12. I was non-revving on Southwest and had to get off to accommodate a last minute revenue passenger. As I saw the passenger get on the plane, I knew I was off and I collected my stuff and started to get up. The F/A got on the PA to call my name and joked that I needed to get off because I was really weighing the plane down. I’m 6’3″ 275… It was pretty funny hearing the comments as I was walking down the aisle… Kind of surprised by this story, but I get it

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