American Airlines To Passenger: You Can’t Fly If You Try To Avoid Overweight Bag Fees

I love flying with status, whether I’m in first class or not. Traveling with my wife and daughter I learned all about checked baggage. When my daughter was very young the amount of luggage was truly impressive. Once you have to check bags, you might as well check multiple bags. And babies and toddlers come with a lot of stuff!

On our trip last week I traveled with my 20″ rollaboard, but we still had two checked bags. We flew Alaska Airlines one way, and Southwest back. I didn’t worry about baggage weight on Alaska. As a oneworld emerald I get a 70 pound per bag allowance. On Southwest bags fly free but the limit is 50 pounds. At check-in, one bag was 52 pounds and the other 40.

  • I’m often skeptical of the scales at check-in. They’re constantly being slammed by luggage and often aren’t calibrated and tested on schedule.

    In 2020 the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services found half a dozen scales at the Charlotte airport were miscalibrated. This happens all the time. People are slamming heavy suitcases on them all day, every day, and sometimes at odd angles. They need maintenance!

  • We were called out on the overweight bag. (I’d guessed we were a pound or two over just based on the feel of the bag, but wondered whether they’d let it slide.)

  • So I opened both bags up, moved a few items, and they accepted the bags without their $100 overweight fee.

Together we’d have had a 6 bag, 300 pound allowance. We were checking two bags weighing around 94 pounds. Still, we had to redistribute weight. But it took less than 90 seconds to do so. No big deal!

It’s no big deal, of course, unless the person you’re turning the bags over to will not allow you to redistribute weight and also get on your flight.

  • A passenger was told that if they wanted to remove an item from their checked bag to get under their 50 pound allowance, they would have to go to the back of the line and start over – and then they would miss their flight (or, presumably, the cut-off time for checking bags before their flight).

  • Of course paying the overweight bag fee would likely take at least as long as avoiding the overweight bag fee.

American’s response to the customer, who shared their story on Twitter, was to point out that they are allowed 50 pounds for their checked bag.

It’s easier when you’re at home to weigh your bag before heading to the airport. Passengers shuffle their belongings every day at the check-in counter, though, when confronted with overweight bag fees. And I frequently see small overages ignored – because a pound or two over may be slightly mismeasured, and $100 for 1 pound seems far more punitive than $10 for 10 or 15 pounds.

Most check-in counter agents, though, are fortunately more solutions-oriented – often suggesting to passengers that they remove something from their bag, maybe taking out a jacket and wearing it, in order to stay within their weight limit and avoid fees. One passenger had a bag that was found to be 50 grams overweight. The airline wanted to charge him. So he took chocolates out of the bag and ate 50 grams’ worth until he got the weight of his luggage down.

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. Not sure I’m buying the twitter story here. Surly AA employees certainly checks out, but disallowing a quick removal of some items from a checked bag? Never heard that one before.

    Either way, the real error would be the tweeter’s asking of permission to remove the two pounds. Had they just stayed silent and quickly commenced with removing a thing or two from the checked bag, there would have been no issue. The surliest AA employee isn’t going to physically intercede to prevent you from doing that. It requires too much effort, and it may even be criminal to do so.

  2. Just buy a $15 travel scale and weigh before going to the airport. It is ridiculous to hold up a line with ppl’s bags open on the floor in front of multiple check-in stations while playing the multiple attempts at redistributing weight. This is worse than the inexperienced fliers going through security multiple times with metal in pockets. No sympathy for these people here.

  3. I just flew Emirates with 4 bags, 2 well over the limit. Check in staff put all four on the scale at the same time, average was well below the limit. Not even a discussion.

  4. I could easily see something like this happening because someone took a long time trying to rebalance.

    And the fact that you have 300 pounds of allowance doesn’t make overweight bags acceptable–different rules apply for lifting items above 50 pounds.

  5. Delta compared to other major 3 US airlines are horrible and PITA with this, a few pounds overweigh and it’s a no-go, even if you are an elite member but flying in Economy.

  6. RSW is terrible for that kind of stuff. I am CK on American and had an RSW check in agent tell me that my 58 pound checked bag was over the “50 pound limit” (of course, it’s really 70 pounds for Plat Pro and above advantage members) and charged me the overweight bag fee and would not budge. I had to call AA after and get it refunded.

  7. Your bag should be under 50lbs, but AA’s social media team is the absolute worst – they’re always either (a) condescending and/or (b) completely unhelpful

    My guess is they’re trying to embody Ryanair, who does this kind of style really well and it’s funny, but it falls flat when you’re supposedly a full service airline

  8. Many Indian airlines (domestic) allow a weight total limit instead of per bag limits (within a reasonable limit per bag for safety reasons).. airline staff could be a bit more reasonable

  9. Often there’s a scale somewhere in the airport, maybe an unused counter.

    Once I wanted to check in a pair of small scissors, permissible to carry aboard in the US but not it that country. They wanted $100 for the small box that I put the scissors in. No thanks. I said I would mail it but then……what should I do? Sneak it aboard? I mailed it for less than $10. It was a nice pair of scissors, something that I didn’t want to throw away.

  10. Who lugs all this crap with them? Skateboards, production level film equipment, video game consoles, pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, a frying pan, cooler, etc…?? All to take their bratty, dirty faced kids on a disney cruise… Can’t anyone just tarvel with a suitcase and maybe a briefcase anymore?

  11. What is with the AI imagery? This guy has three arms, is weighing his bag on top of the counter instead of on the scale, and his heavy bag appears to be full of a … chocolate bar?

  12. The only airline to give me lip was DL from Joberg to Atl. Had 2 bag allowance but only had 1 checked bag plus carry on and backpack.

    I was 1 pound over the bag limit. Check in guy was giving me grief. At the time, I’d broken 4 ribs on the trip, was in a wheelchair and he insisted I get up and redistribute that 1 pound despite the fact I was alloted 2 bags and was only checking 1..

    Thankfully, a supervisor overheard him as I was dragging myself out of the wheelchair, chewed him out and waved me through.

    Supervisor actually tracked me down later, upgraded my ticket and personally escorted me onto the flight, handling my carry on luggage.

    I appreciated that. Despite the ribs I’d been lifting that carry on piece to not bother anyone but I wasn’t sure how much more damage I was doing to those ribs hanging by a thread.

    And I had a copy of my x-rays taken in Joberg with me to take back to my doc at home. Her comment was, you are damn lucky you haven’t punctured anything.

  13. Waving hand at who lugs stuff.

    The daughter is a diver, I’m a snorkeler and we are both underwater photographers. We fly internationally atleast once a year and for 3-4 weeks.

    We carry our own gear which means we rock 4 large carryon.

    We do have a travel scale and try to make sure we are under the weight limit (for our own backs sake as much as anything) but I have noticed that airline scales don’t match our travel scale about 30% of the time.

    Fortunately because we are flying business or first and have status, we haven’t been challenged on a pound or two.

    Some people do actually fly to exotic locations and have a reason for extensive luggage. Her 2 Nat Geo style cameras with lights and lenses are enormous. BTW, it’s also a side business for her.

    So, judge not when you see us dragging extensive luggage to the counter or through the airport.

  14. #TeamJill

    You only need to read a few other of this persons tweets to realise they are likely to have been the unreasonable aggressive one

  15. The scales are off. Two weeks ago, I traveled from PHL-BOS-MHT-CTL-TPA-PHL over a 10 day period, lugging Skis, a boot bag and luggage (and summer clothes for spring training!)

    The Skis and Boot bag never changed contents (maybe sweat? lol).

    Scales read at 34, 31, 38 pounds at the three different airports I checked into fr the skis and boot bag. It’s the same stuff- exactly- three times.



  16. Two observations:
    #1 Travel scales are very small, fit in your carry on. Should not be any surprises at the airport.
    #2 If you are that close to checked baggage cut off, maybe arrive earlier to the airport.

    “ribs were hanging by a thread”
    I don’t understand what that means. They’re either fractured or not.

    I fractured 3 ribs in Italy. I knew they were fractured, been through it before in a car accident. I was in pain and had trouble taking deep breaths. Knowing that there is no treatment, I did not seek medical intervention until I returned home (x-rays confirmed what I already knew).
    I continued the remaining 4 days of my trip, including handling luggage. At no time was I in a wheelchair. I’m very confused as to why you were so incapacitated by broken ribs.

  17. On my last flight from PNH to DMK. the weight for my carryon came out over the 7kg limit. I complained since my handheld digital scale said it was 6.8kg. The agent pressed a few keys and the scale zeroed correctly. Then my bag weighed in at 6.7kg. Airport scales are often off and most times in the favor of the airlines. I always carry my digital scale in my jacket pocket when flying. That being said, redistributing weight is ridiculous if it is close and the total weight of the allowed bags is below the permissible total weight. However people should weigh their bags before getting in line to check in or drop them.

  18. I once had a bag coming in one pound over, the rep said to remove something or be charged. I opened the bag pulled out a pair of socks and she said that was enough. No way did those socks weigh a pound. Now I just weigh everything before leaving the house and aim to be two pounds under. I also use lightweight luggage, I don’t need 20% of my 50lb weight allowance to be the bag.

  19. This exact scenario happened to me today on Sun Country. A few pounds over and had to go to end of line to redistribute. Must be a new trend.

  20. Making people pay fees for checked bags that may or may not even arrive and if they do, late is unacceptable. If you have to pay for bags or overage fees, there should be a guarantee that you’ll get it.

  21. @Schip:
    > “ribs were hanging by a thread”
    I don’t understand what that means. They’re either fractured or not.

    A bone can have a crack that doesn’t go all the way through–it doesn’t cause the pain of a broken bone but you have to avoid stressing it because it can easily complete the break.

    I once knew a woman that was in a traffic accident. A few days later she went to the doctor, X-ray, doc sent her straight to the hospital. Her neck was cracked most of the way through–one wrong motion and she could have dropped dead.

  22. Anyone not travelling with lots of small children shouldn’t be packing more stuff than weighs 50 lbs. I am a Two-Million miler on United, lifetime 1K, and used to travel all over the world for business for 35+ years. Much of my travel was Business Class, with quite generous weight limits, etc. Even if I were going to be gone for 2 weeks, I rarely needed a suitcase. My carry-on was fine. When I go on vacation overseas, I like to scuba and snorkel and beach, as well as hit a couple of nice restaurants for an occasional dinner. I might take a suitcase in these instances, but more than 50 lbs of stuff? No way! Who wants to drag a heavy bag all over the place, through airports, taxis, buses, trains, etc? Learn what you need, and learn how to really enjoy your travels without all that stuff!!!

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