Passenger Calls Police On Aggressive Gate Agent Demanding Carry On Bags Get Checked

Airports and planes seem to bring out the worst in people. We’re crammed together, people bring all of their baggage – real and emotional – and travel can be stressful. A small percentage of passengers lose their cool. Police wind up getting involved.

It’s rare to see police being called on an airline’s gate agents, but that’s just what happened over the weekend in Baltimore when journalist Seth Kaplan and his family were set to fly Air Canada to Toronto.

The news reporter for WHTM ABC channel 27 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and transportation analyst for NPR’s Here & Now (he was founding editor of Airline Weekly since sold to Skift) called police to report passengers being harassed by Air Canada’s outsourced gate agents – delaying an already-delayed flight.

Credit: Seth Kaplan

One of the Menzies Aviation agents required every passenger to place their carry on bags into the sizer in front of the boarding door prior to scanning their boarding pass. And even when the bags fit the agent was requiring them to be gate checked, declaring them too large, according to Kaplan.

Frontier Airlines pays commission to gate agents for collecting bag fees, though there’s no indication Air Canada pays Menzies employees bonuses for this, yet the agents apparently hadn’t indicated there’d be no charge for gate checking bags.

Kaplan shares,

When he got to us, he did the same thing. I said our bags quite clearly fit (see attached photos). He said no, they were a tight squeeze. I explained to him that bags either fit, or they don’t. These bags are within your published measurements, and they fit in the sizer. He said we were denying ourselves boarding, because we refused to check the bags. I asked to speak with a station manager. He said he was the station manager, and there was no one senior to him at the airport. The other gate agent, who wouldn’t identify herself, was doing the same thing.

Credit: Seth Kaplan

Credit: Seth Kaplan

While putting bags in and out of the sizer to show that each one fit, Kaplan’s wife “sliced open her finger” on the sizer. Kaplan “stepped aside and called airport police, who responded promptly.” And, he reports, a responding officer showed the agent that the bag fit in the sizer and confirmed that Air Canada’s published rules on its website said nothing about how ‘loosely’ a bag had to slide in. Police asked the agents to call a supervisor, which they did.

The supervisor informed the Kaplan party that they would need to gate check their bags “because there was no more bin space” rather than because the bags were too large for overhead bins.

  • This is a very strange take, because the aircraft was a Bombardier 50 seat regional jet. No customer’s carry on bags fit in the overhead bin. Instead, full-sized carry on bags get checked at the aircraft door, and returned to passengers there on arrival.

  • Which also makes it strange why the agents would care to begin with, because even if the bags were ‘a tight fit’ for the bag sizer, there’s no risk of delaying the flight because the bags are too big for the overhead bins, causing passengers to take up valuable time trying to get them to fit and then returning to gate check the bags. They all get taken from the passengers anyway!

However this time fees for gate checking bags were waived, and Kaplan didn’t argue further. Menzies Aviation isn’t known for customer service. Airlines outsource to them largely as a low-cost provider.

Remarkable to me is that responding police officers appear to have sided with the passengers, not just on the basis of reasonableness but on the application of the airline’s own rules, and even though Kaplan tells me he never identified himself as a journalist.

Here’s the largest of their bags on their subsequent Air Canada Rouge Airbus A319 flight to Quebec City, a standard carry on inside a standard bin:

Credit: Seth Kaplan

Air Canada does get confused about how cabin baggage works. A year ago they had signs showing that a personal item goes in the overhead bin, while the full-sized bag goes underneath your seat – not even under the seat in front of you.

Credit: aviators99

Having solved that issue, next up seems to be retraining the Menzies agents in Baltimore.

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, 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. That sizer picture has been around for at least a few years. I flew MEM to YYZ (RIP) in 2018, and that’s the same picture they had! Wild that it hasn’t been updated.

  2. I have a theory.

    The GA knew that all bags had to be checked. But the GA feared that passengers would push back for whatever reason. The GA also knows that the vast majority of carry-on bags fail to fit the sizer.* So, the GA hypothesized that by asking passengers to try their bag in the sizer, passengers would see for themselves that it’s oversized, and passengers would be more willing to check it without putting up a fight.

    *I travel with a carry-on bag that is exactly the maximum dimensions of 22x14x9. When I’m in line to board it is visually obvious that my bag is the smallest of everyone else’s, even though my bag is as big as it is allowed to be.

  3. Other than the time spent putting each bag in the sizer, what harm or inconvenience was the agent actually causing?

    it was a CRJ so every bag was going to be checked at the door anyway.

    don’t see anything saying he tried to charge fees

    surprised an aviation reporter didn’t know he was getting on a CRJ with no bins for rollaboards

  4. It so happened that Kaplan’s bag was actually compliant, which threw a wrench into the GA’s strategy, and so the GA got flustered and started making up nonsense about tight fits.

  5. When the Air Canada gate agent in Baltimore attempted to scam passengers by forcing them to gate check bags for an extra fee even though their bags fit in the airline bag sizer, television news reporter Seth Kaplan made the right move by contacting the airport police to report this gate agent fraud. This way, a police report was created to document the Air Canada gate agent trying to collect extra fees from passengers. Hopefully, Seth Kaplan will continue investigating and reporting questionable airport business practices that rip off passengers in the airport.

    On August 4, 2022, people should know that Agility, a supply chain services, infrastructure, and innovation company acquired Menzies Aviation.

  6. And why do the poor police have to babysit & adjudicate a civil, non criminal matter? We expect them to come running and fix every situation yet scream bloody murder and discrimination when something doesn’t go exactly perfect, no?

  7. Well, pay the agents a commission per checked carry on, and they’re going to try to get everyone to check theirs. I.e., bordering on fraud. Retrain? Any agent caught doing that should be fired.

  8. @Alison Apparently you read the article too quickly. I quote from it below:

    “Frontier Airlines pays commission to gate agents for collecting bag fees, though there’s no indication Air Canada pays Menzies employees bonuses for this, yet the [Air Canada] agents apparently hadn’t indicated there’d be no charge for gate checking bags.”

    The gate agent in question evidently lacks common sense. If the plane has no bins for carry-on luggage, why not say so.

  9. That illustration clearly shows that the bag goes under the seat in front of you. If you were supposed to put it under your own seat, there would be a way to do that from the front of the seat. Not sure why looking at that picture you assumed that the seat shown fully in the illustration is YOUR seat, not the seat in front of your seat. I’ve never seen anyone be confused about that and ask the passenger behind them to let them put their suitcase under their seat with no way to access it during the flight. Completely illogical…

  10. I have been on the wrong side of this situation. REGARDLESS of whether or not a bag fits in the carrier, the airline sets the rules about what can and cannot be stowed in the cabin, be it in the overhead bins or under the seat. Piedmont is notorious for refusing to allow ANY bags with wheels (even backpacks) in the cabin. You can argue it until you’re blue in the face. All they will do it continue to tell you “no,” get further frustrated and then deny you boarding.

    I would hypothesize that the reporter was trying to get a “story” here. This should have been handled by filing a complaints with AC and the DOT, not by wasting law enforcement’s. The poor officers are already overwhelmed with the near constant dumbf-ery over at the ULCC gates.

  11. Air Canada does get confused about how anything works.

    I wonder how badly delayed the flight already was as >50% are delayed (OAG)

  12. I flew an AC CRJ last year and people were putting their carry-ons under the seat as shown in the picture (but the seat in front not their own).

  13. Another reminder that AC presents an image of 3rd World corrupt wage slaves as gatekeepers. I think that I’ll continue to fly AC’s competiton. Should I decide to try out AC, given this and other stories of AC sad customer service, I’ll be sure to have plenty of tip/bribery cash to splash on power-made AC wage slaves.

  14. I’m surprised the police got involved at all. Once they determined nothing criminal was happening they should have left the parties to themselves to settle their civil dispute. MAYBE they should have done something with the person who called them for no reason.

  15. How about nobody senior to the gate agent available to the customer, but when the police show up, a supervisor is magically available? Why does it take the police to get involved for the gate agent to actually get their supervisor?

  16. Hilarious. I flew an empty BA flight and, since I have a broken shoulder, begged that my carry on be checked. Against the rules they said. Right next door was a full BA flight insisting carry-ons be checked. Didn’t do me any good. I’ll never fly BA again, as long as I live. which isn’t long, so they don’t care.

  17. The best outcome would be prison sentences for awful customer service, but then all airline staff from Spirit, Frontier and American would be behind bars.

    Maybe we should just put them all on parole with those zap collars that we can use to correct their rude behavior.

    Just a thought.

  18. Sounds like AA..We were flying FC going to MIL funeral in Sept..It was a CRJ but had large ovrehead bins..My bag is soft and fits without a problem.. At the door the FA stopped me and said NO ROLLER BAGS allowed on board even tho it would fit.. I had no choice so bag left on tarmac in the rain and on return –it looked like it had gotten run over and wheel was broken.. AA did not care and told me so in their follow-up email to me…BAD BAD customer NO service and lost of 2 customers…..

  19. @dime bag where are you getting your fake news and conspiracy theories now that Tucker and O’Reilly have been tossed?

  20. @Greg – the difference is between vallet bag check and checked bags. Vallet you get back when deplanning. While when they check them, they goto bag claim at final destination.

    @Tom – the sign issue is that the carryon is being shown to go underneath Seat. It’s not an issue of which seat rather they mixed up that personal item goes underneath and carry-on in OH.

  21. This articles author is a fraud. They knew the type of plane and its limitations, they include it in their story. They falsely claim the agents were talking about carry on luggage instead they were actually measuring personal items. There are two different sizes in the picture and of course the author fraudulently states and shows their checked bag fitting but refuse to show their personal bag fitting on the smaller sizer on the other side. And is the wife a clutz or what? I see only rounded edges and nowhere she could have cut her finger on those sizers!! Fishy, fishy, fishy story, deliberate fraud preying on the readers disdain for boarding agents. I’ve been on this flight before, they only check the personal bags size and force everyone to check the larger carryons because there isn’t room for all of them!! Forcing passengers to get off the plane when overhead room runs out delays the flight, as did your BS antics, just follow the rules or I hope they ban you idiots from flying and instead make you take a bus or car

  22. It’s high time that airlines get held responsible for violating their own rules.
    The airline industry needs to relearn that the customer is always right (unless it is obvious and proofable that they aren’t)

  23. Must be a slow news week for Gary. Highly subjective article that suggests the Menzies agent(s) did something wrong. At no point was there any attempt to collect “additional fees” but that ruins Mr. Leff’s narrative. Furthermore, the bag pictured was NOT Mr. Leff’s. Bottom line, a grown man had to get police involved instead of simply checking his bag (at no cost), that would have been waiting for him on the jet bridge when he arrived at YYZ. Man-child behavior.

  24. False news story. Fake news. What happened to getting both sides of the story.
    But keep lying to push an agenda. Do you.
    – GA @MenziesBWI

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