Coach Passenger Kicked Off American Airlines For Using First Class Overhead Bin

An American Airlines passenger shared that they were kicked off of a flight on Thursday after putting their carry on bag in a first class overhead bin while flying economy.

He tells me that when he boarded full class was nearly full, with only one seat still open. Everyone else in the cabin had already stored their bags. But the flight attendant up front asked him to take his bag back to coach. Instead of simply complying he says that he asked, “why, the bin is empty? The [one] person left to board can’t possibly be bringing 5 bags to fill this bin.”

The flight attendant’s response was to ask, “are you refusing to be compliant?” And at that he grabbed his bag and went to his seat in the back of the aircraft while saying “that is idiotic.” It’s the back talk that does it every time.

The passenger shares that he chatted with crewmember in the back of the aircraft and asked where he’d find the rules limiting overhead bin space to American’s passengers? That flight attendant went to her on board phone….

One minute later a third flight attendant comes back and says the captain wants to know if I am planning on being compliant for the rest if the flight?

I said my bag is back here what do you mean?

I said does the captain have a copy of the passenger rules I need to abide by.

Three minutes later, he reports, that two employees board the aircraft and escort him off. American booked him on the next flight, and he sat in the airport for four hours waiting for it.

Now, coach passengers store their bags in first class all the time, even though American generally has signage on bins indicated that they are for first class, for Main Cabin Extra, and for economy section passengers.

There’s no rule in the airline’s contract of carriage, or published elsewhere (other than on the inside of bins themselves) stating that a passenger may only use the bins whose labels correspond to the seat assignments on their boarding passes.

As a matter of etiquette, first class passengers should have priority for bins in their cabin, and all things equal a passenger should have priority for the space above their seat. But when space runs out, all bets are usually off.

In this case there was space in the back for the passenger near his seat in coach. He didn’t need the first class space, and neither did first class passengers. It’s common for coach passengers to stick bags up as soon as they find space, when boarding late in the process, “just in case.”

However passengers need to follow crewmember instructions, but that is actually limited! For instance 14 C.F.R. 121.317(k) states passengers must comply with instructions regarding seat belts and smoking. You aren’t required to share your lunch with crewmembers, for instance, if told to do so. You aren’t obligated to turn over your jewelry.

But 49 USC § 44902 provides broad latitude, within certain bounds laid out by the FAA, for the captain of an aircraft to refuse transportation to a passenger if they feel that passenger might be “inimical to safety.”

A pilot’s decision cannot be arbitrary or capricious – but that’s not the same as saying it has to be reasonable! It’s generally presumed that the actions of the pilot are reasonable, and judged based on facts the pilot was aware of at the time and the time constraints they’re under.

  • If they’re given only one side of the story, and it’s incomplete
  • And they make a decision based on that information
  • And they’re in a rush to get the plane out
  • That’s probably going to be fine under the law

So if the captain felt that a passenger could be a safety risk solely because they weren’t listening to a flight attendant, even if it involves an issue where they’re not obligated to follow instructions, they’re probably within their rights to kick you off the plane. It probably wasn’t fair here, though the passenger was unwise to escalate things.

At the same time, cabin crew probably should have handled things better so that it didn’t get to this point. If they want to be the one of the few flight attendants enforcing first class overhead bins for first class passengers only, they might have offered:

Excuse me sir, would you mind taking your bag out of that overhead bin please? We’re restricting the use of that bin right now, and there’s plenty of space towards the back of the aircraft. [And, if possible under the circumstances] I’d be happy to show you.

Should the first class overhead bins be for first class passengers only? And if so, should a passenger get kicked off of the flight when they disagree – even if they move their bag back to coach?

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. Lynette – bags only under the seat? Let me guess, you’re 4’11”? A dwarf? Those of us that are actually human size need the space under the seat for our feet.

    You ignorant hobbit.

  2. Walter – Why sling insults? I happen to be 5’10”. It’s a shame that we cannot post our comments without someone posting juvenile insults. I expected better admin review from VFTW. What a shame.

  3. Lynnette – I’m insulting you because you made a moronic suggestion and deserve the response you got. And then you go crying oh poor widdle me, someone protect me…. Shut up.

  4. There’s something that has only been touched on and that I’d there is the possibility this “innocent guy” had an ulterior motive. I think that he wasn’t happy with being booked in the back of the plane, all due to circumstances he probably was responsible for. I’d bet most of the readers have encountered people like him “When The Plane landed”. They were the ones that when the plane touched down, barged their way down the isle, pushing and shoving people who were getting their luggage, so he could get his to his bags from 1st class and then disembark from the plane first. I’ve encountered these self centered narcissistic jerks not to think this guy might have been one of them.

  5. How did we get so far away from something like this from the FA? “May I help you find space near your seat? This first class bin is reserved for flight attendant luggage and for first class passengers when there’s space left over.”

  6. My guess is that the passenger used profanity towards the flight attendant which is a big no go. Both sides need to show respect and there should be no problems. Just ask would it be ok before stowing. FA’s are under so much pressure at boarding time and not getting paid until the door is closed.

  7. There is likely more to this story.
    Flight Attendants don’t just serve food and beverages, we are also tasked with protecting passengers and ensuring the people who board the airplane are not going to become unruly or threatening.
    The minute boarding starts we are evaluating each person to see if they may be a problem.
    We can’t kick a passenger off the plane but the Captain may take that action if a passenger does not follow instructions or has a seriously bad attitude.
    1st class overheads are for 1st class and if there is any unused space it is kept in reserve for late boarders or when coach bins become full.

  8. That happens to often in America with old rude union employees.
    All Asia airlines never have problem cause is good job they nice, helpfull. Do there job , all in uniform .
    Has anyone had problem with, Japan, tiwan, philipean airline.

  9. There are many wonderful flightcattendants out there working very hard. However there are a few female flight attendants that have the personality of a Gestapo Agent from World War II and these are the ones that get people ejected from flight because they want to wield their power over people especially men. This is why I stopped flying unless it is a death emergency.

  10. Flight Attendants don’t try to cause problems..It’s most always the passenger who is non-compliant and rude..
    It’s become a huge problem and it needs to stop..
    Arrogant passengers are a huge danger to everyone on the plane…Remove them!!!

  11. The passenger Eff’d around and FOUND OUT. Don’t take something that someone else paid for and then mouth off and argue with the FA who is just doing their job too. He is lucky he only got delayed by 4 hours!

  12. This was an unresonable action by the flight attendant and by defacto, AA. They are trying to silence passenger freedom of speak and expression. Nothing indicated the passenger was out of line or non-compliant. AA should compensate this passenger for the forced delay.

  13. He should have tried to find a space in economy before grabbing space in First. Maybe she could/should have been more tactful in asking him to move it, maybe not, but I can see that if he was angry/aggressive about the request it could have made the crew nervous about having him on board.

  14. Even taken at face value and assuming the situation played out exactly as told, leaving out no extra conversations, arguments, or colorful language, the passenger decided it was a good idea to challenge the reasonable directive of the flight attendant on at least two occasions. Do they want to have the same conversation about not using the FC lav too, in the middle of the flight, where it’s not as easy to unload a passenger who doesn’t seem to able to process common sense and/or simple instructions. Is this guy going to be one of those who just HAS to take his bag during an emergency evacuation?

    Point is, flight attendant gave a simple instruction and his immediate impulse was to argue about it. I can absolutely see why the crew wouldn’t want this guy on their plane.

  15. It’s obvious to me that the passenger is use to traveling on SWA where the boarding announcements generally say “take any open seat and available bin space.”
    Also good that AA didn’t use UAL style corporal punishment for the offending act but instead gave him “time out” to think about his “non-compliant” actions. “No soup for you” sir, enjoy your airport appreciations time. Some people fly to DFW just to enjoy the airport . . . lounges.

  16. Nothing more annoying than passenger in 20C deliberately placing their bags in first bins causing 1st class to have to place their bags halfway down the plane and having to wait till THE WHOLE PLANE TO DEBOARD to retrieve it. ITS A TRASH MOVE BY THIS MORON and a common complaint by 1st class passengers.

  17. As a FA myself one of my pet peeves is people leaving stuff in front and heading to the back. This causes people sitting there to have to stow their bags farther back and delays deplaning. It’s rude. If I see it I’ll correct this behavior. If you don’t comply I’ll grab it, check it and bring you the tag.
    Likely won’t kick you off unless you’re a hole.

  18. I tend to believe the FA. IN 35 years of flying 3days a week. I very seen enough poor decision making by aggressive passengers.

  19. Could Walter be a bigger douchebag? Live and let live much, Walter? You’re the exact kind of angry a-hole that delays a flight because a flight attendant was doing their job. Take a Xanax and chill the F out, Walter.

  20. Great.
    Let’s enforce the rule the front cabin lavatory bis just for first class.
    I’m tired of paying so much extra and having to wait because coach Karen is in line with her 2little monsters.
    You fly coach get the coach amenities, and respect the first class amenities.

  21. I don’t feel the passenger did anything wrong. He questioned authority; the rules but, still abidded by the rules. He asked what his rights were and moved his bag. Since, when aren’t we allowed to speak up in America or, have freedom of speech or, our own opinions?

  22. Like usual, my guess the FA and passenger could both have chosen better alternatives on how they handled this. A FAs job is not easy. The high percenttage are great. But just like police officers, while the high majority are great and fo a wonderful job, there is also the rare bad apple every once in a while who likes to exert their “power” unreasonably over us minons.

  23. You want to use the first class storage then buy a first class ticket. Just because there was space in the first class storage that does not mean you can use it. That’s like saying I sat in the first class seat because it was empty.

  24. If the bins are full all bets are off? Have you seen 1st class fares? I fly first class and you’re God damned right I expect my overhead space. No apologies.

  25. If he would have just asked if it ok before doing it ,things would have turned out so differently ..People at the bulkhead have to use those bins for everything too!!

  26. I can see why pilot thought he might be a problem. Was he going to go through a list of rules to see how far he could push it? He was not allowed to put bag in 1st class, so put it where u should and sit down so plane can take off.

  27. Lynette. You are right. People who throw out gratuitous insults on line are just cowardly bullies trying to show how tuff they are.

  28. Problem is a lot of people are bringing too many carryons on the plane

    Then you have people, like this one, stowing their items far from where they sit – and not in their class of passage

    Then you also have people putting a jacket or purse or some small item in the bin which they can place either on their lap or under the seat, freeing up bin space

    Further, I personally think that you should only be allowed to place your items in the bin above your assigned seat, if this were enforced, it would solve problems like this – as he is not the only one who places their items away from where they are seated – and it would also reduce the amount of carryons, as, if your items don’t fit in the bin above your seat, then they will be removed and late checked to the belly of the plane

    Finally, they need to board, starting with boarding from the back forward and deplaning from the front back, with the exception of persons with tight connections able to deplane first

  29. No airline uses flight attendants as TSA agents but it is also true that they diffuse conflict and are the last defense against someone storming the flight deck door.
    Passengers get on the plane and are generally clueless about the circumstances and don’t realize that it takes a TEAM to keep them safe and comfortable. That means airline crews working with TSA.
    After 9/11 FAs were instrumental in stopping terrorists but they also are on the lookout for human trafficking, weapons, drug smuggling and more.
    Would you want to sit next to this guy if he wasn’t removed and started behaving badly at his seat?
    Someone like that who disrespects the FAs is not going to respect his fellow passengers.
    Once airborne, everyone is stuck with him unless he gets violent and the pilots land.

  30. I blame the airlines for the mess that they created with their carryon.baggage policy. Passengers bring oversized baggage into the cabin to save on the extra charge that the airlines apply as a new revenue stream. These large suite cases should not be allowed as carryon. The cabin crew are then left with the task of solving the shortage of overhead baggage space in the short time between boarding and pushback.

  31. Almost certainly much more to this story. The comments, though, are precious. From this doesn’t happen on Asian airlines (yeah, it does) to everyone should just use the under seat space? (I always do myself for anything that fits, reserving the overhead space for things that don’t, but that’s my choice doesn’t need to be a “rule” – I prefer to have my things where I can mess with them in fight is all, and I’m not especially tall, either.).

  32. If boarding was nearly complete with only 1 seat remaining in FC, who cares. Another FA on a power trip. Bring back the 80s when there was smoking onboard, everyone got along and FAs weren’t beeches.

  33. If you look at Walter’s comments, it sounds like he was the passenger kicked off the plane. What a douchebag you are Walter. You deserved to be kicked off and you can lick my boots you crybaby puss.

  34. Good comeback Walter. Are you projecting from something personal? And it was your ugly whore of a mother that touched me…for $20. Still overpaid

  35. Walter – I’m not sure why you had to descend into useless criticism and name calling?
    Possibly you were the one removed from that flight?
    If so, or if it was someone equally distasteful, it would prove the FAs and the Captain were correct in their actions.
    It is unfortunate that we all have to deal with people like you on a daily basis.
    Civil courtesy, in person and online, go a long way toward improving everyone’s experience of the world.

  36. I’ve seen FA’s tell a coach passenger to go ahead and use the 1st class bin since the others were full. They need to be consistent.

  37. These flight attendants too frequently bring the bad behavior onto themselves with their own bad behavior. They are not entitled to deference. On the contrary, they are entitled to reap what they sew with their all-too-frequent sour attitudes and lack of hospitality. FA should have been more constructive and less obnoxious. AA should compensate this passenger just as a restaurant or hotel would if an obnoxious staff member dealt with them in a less than hospitable manner. They are not entitled to be less than hospitable toward guests on the aircraft by virtue of their uniforms.

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