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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.