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. One of the many reasons I refuse to fly AA. Is it a coincidence that it is always an AA flight where the FA’s act like nazis? I think not.

  2. I’m actually sympathetic to the passenger but he could have asked before sticking his bag in the bin up front. But in these times where there is an excess of #FA, it’s time for some #FO too.

  3. I don’t think the flight attendant was being unreasonable. When he was told to move it, he should have done it and shut up. I’m pretty sure he didn’t start the same scat on the next flight.

  4. AA is correct!. And, I am 99% positive that the photo you show of an empty overhead bin is not from that altercation. So, shame. Shame on you. The overheads are always nearly packed because no one puts anything under the seat in front of them.
    Americans are fat and have too much crap in roller bags with four wheels now and seem to take up 1.5 m while walking down the concourse.
    The entire reason to fly in Biz is to have the restroom and dedicated overhead space.
    The seats in Coach are fine. But, they are rogue with guarantees hence all the Gate Lice trying to board first. Please- get real.

  5. Bottom Line: Put tape over your mouth. Don’t even give the slightest hint of not doing 110% of what an FA says – they are the arbitrary, all-powerful rulers of the sky! If you want to get from point A to point B in a reasonable period of time you have to give up all your personal liberties, freedoms and other constitutional rights….and you need to do whatever the FA wants you to do, without ANY backtalk.

    Interestingly, I have seen on more than occasion a non-rev putting things in the first class compartments and then going back to coach for their seat and the FA’s say NOTHING – becuz the non-rev is “one of them,” and not one of the paying customers.

  6. DYKWIA pax upset after FA tells him the rules. If he wants to use the FC storage, he can pay for the ticket. Otherwise, just drive, not fly.

  7. I hope he puts his bag in first when he is row 30 next time. I’ll just take it off with me, remove his valuables and leave it in the trash next to the gate. Arrogant price. If he is back of plane he has no status and deserves to be kicked off. Like today I was flying another airline towards the front, someone way in the back left their bag in bin above me. Nice little profit, stupid idiots. I never leave me bag out of sight. If u do, good luck… hahaha

  8. I just came off a combination of international and domestic flights. This was DL but one bin in FC was full of crew bags. Most of one in Comf+. I see this regularly. FA say they need the space since they may need to run to the next flight. But by the time they get through deplaning their bags could be pulled from the cargo compartment and sitting in the Jetway. Then there is the last flight of the day terminating in crew rest. Yep. This crew bags were taking up space overhead.

    Maybe all the airlines need to rethink crew bag storage.

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

    And off the plane you go. People forget, this is a ship, and ship rules apply: Captain is in charge and he doesn’t need to put up with a wise aleck because that same guy will be a problem in the event you need people to listen when it is important. Good riddance.

  10. Gary, where you talk about the standards for a pilot’s decisionmaking re the “inimical to safety” standard (like that they cannot be arbitrary and capricious but need not meet a reasonableness standard), is there FAA guidance on that? Administrative or court decisions?

  11. Though harsh…siding with AA. Even with a 1st class ticket, I always “line up” and rush to board because the overhead bins get full..yes even in 1st class. As another reader pointed out..people are outrageously plump
    and completey oblivious to their surroundings.

  12. First of all he didn’t get thrown off for using the first call bag storage (took bag back to coach). He got thrown off for arguing w an FA then apparently raising the issue to one in the back. You heard his side which I’m sure is understated as to his behavior. I don’t like overbearing FAs but, in around 8 million miles on many different airlines, I have NEVER encountered a ride or over bearing FA. Passenger attitude and behavior has a lot to do with it. Most feel entitled. First of all glad he wasn’t allowed to out the bag in first and I’m willing to bet the FAs were concerned that with is attitude it could be a problem in flight. Better to kick him off than risk further problems. No sympathy at all for this dude.

  13. There would be more space for bags in coach if 1) Flight attendants were not reserving themselves with a full rack of overheads to put their huge and non-compliant multi-bag carry-ons and 2) If airlines were not storing all kind of junks there (oxygen bottles, pillows, seat belt extenders), and finally 3) of they were enforcing carry on size

  14. This guy deserved exactly what he got. The FA did ask him nicely and he argued and then started asking a bunch of questions repeatedly during boarding/prep for takeoff. I’m one of those PAYING First Class customers that will do everything in my power to stop You from using my overhead bin, and the bathrooms in the FC Cabin. There is a reason there is a partition. Follow the rules of decorum. Period.

  15. Wouldn’t the sign inside each bin indicated it was only for the use of passengers in a specific cabin be considered a placard and doesn’t Federal regulations require compliance with all placards aboard the aircraft?

  16. I don’t fly in the back of the plane. However, when the front is boarded (and in this case sounds like a pax in the one empty seat wouldn’t be taking up that much overhead) I think this person should be allowed to place his/her bag in the overhead. I just flew AS/SFO-LAX this week, First was fully seated and it was a full flight and the F/A told the last group of pax to put their bags in any open overhead. At that point, seems completely reasonable to me. That said, sounds like this pax should have had a little different attitude…

  17. Some FAs are like rouge cops. Some are lazy, too.

    One problem is that schools teach kids that there is freedom of speech and everyone is equal. No, the FA is the Nazi concentration camp guard and we are scum.

  18. First class bins and lavs are for FIRST CLASS ONLY. Didn’t pay for it or get upgraded to it? You don’t get to use it.

  19. One of the main reasons for pay for F is dedicated baggage space and restrooms, so you don’t have to deal with the riff raff. I cannot stand it when FAs decline to enforce the dedicated baggage space and restrooms.

  20. I always felt pilots were glorified bus drivers who’re give outsized respect and deference. In fact, buses are harder to operate and navigate.

  21. NO sympathy for this man at all. The bin is reserved for first class, you’re not in first class, unless someone specifically invited you to use it, don’t touch it, it’s not for you. Bring your bag to your own seat.

  22. Should the first class overhead bins be for first class passengers only? – Yes. They even mark it that way to avoid problems and misunderstandings. If you want an exception to a CLEARLY written rule, you ask.

    And if so, should a passenger get kicked off of the flight when they disagree – even if they move their bag back to coach? – If they’re stupid enough to keep messing with the FA, you bet! All the jerk had to do was keep his mouth shut over not getting special treatment but that was too much to ask from this guy.

    Ultimately, the guy got precisely what he deserved. If he hadn’t been annoying and repeatedly warned I might have some sympathy but since he was warned I don’t. I think the four hour delay is just about right except since he’s still whining about it he obviously hasn’t learned anything from this incident. I suppose I should be surprised by that but given his behavior it’s not really a shocker.

  23. No sympathy for this arrogant, loud-mouthed jagoff. Good for the crew for kicking his carcass off the plane.

  24. United Airlines FA using up my business class overhead bin above my seat with her massive baggage on a Trans-Pacific flight four years ago caused me to avoid UA. That, and domestic first class is worse than coach class less than twenty years ago, with no hot meal but a cold box of salty sugary snacks, no welcome cocktail, overhead bins filled with FA personal bags, FA’s moving my small bag from above my 1st class seat to the seat across the aisle and back a couple rows to accomodate a coach class passenger’s bulky wheeled bag (this just happened to me two weeks ago,) a constant parade of coach class passengers using the 1st class toilet, and a pilot pulling down a $600+k salary for being able to stay sober and push the autopilot button, no aisle curtain to separate classes, and coach class seats like RyanAir seats. Yeah, at first blush, I was going to skip over this ridiculous story; but, upon further review, I saw that it encapsulated nearly everything that is preventing the legacy airlines of UA, AA, and DL from reviving the Golden Age of Travel.

  25. AA is a joke. They don’t enforce “airplane mode on large devices” and are always having side conversations about everything but the task at hand. Maybe they aren’t paid enough to take pride in their job

  26. Now if they would just stop the coach passengers from using the first class bathroom – that’s the real problem.

  27. In 2023 customer is NOT ALWAYS RIGHT! IF Anyone has flown enough we all know this would not have happened UNLESS the coach refused to move his item, and if no space, REFUSED TO STOW IT BELOW.

  28. The crew is in control and the captain is in charge – for everyone’s safety. No question here. Do you pull this kind of stunt with TSA or jokingly mention a gun at the checkpoint? I think not. Begrudgingly follow the instructions and no one gets hurt. It’s as simple as that.

  29. I find it disgusting the comments calling the FA a Nazi. Flying today is a nightmare. Obese entitled people with stuffed roller bags and carryon food. It’s like a Greyhound bus in the air. People in first pay for the seat and the bin and service. If you don’t understand that then don’t fly.
    The number of people flipping out on flight crews is insane. I support the crew. What a thankless job. The flying public have become wild animals.

  30. I’ve been flying AA 29 years, 4 million miles, it has never been as bad as it is now. From one who flies every week, this is a company gone completely bad. I just flew my, no credit card use, actual flight miles, reaching, the 200k level for Plat Exec, and I can honestly say the last six months have been pure torture. I have written to AA several times, and have made it clear, the minute I attained Plat Exec, I would run hard away from them and put the rest of my every week travel, for the rest of the year, on the other airlines. This company dies not care any more one bit, about customer service and satisfaction, all they care about is the dollar. Run fast from this airline, run hard, and don’t look back.

  31. Dude feels like FA is making up arbitrary rules. It’s an AA FA so they are also likely being a jerk about it.

    Dude challenges the FA, just as a matter of learning what the rules specifically are.

    Captain gets involved, dude is feeling ganged up on by power tripping staff.

    So many entitled people here whining in the comments. One Internet tough guy going as far to admitting but only to wanting to commit crimes but that he actually committed those crimes so either he’s a criminal or he is just some dude looking for attention and is pathetic. That’s who the rest of you are aligned with.

    Everyone needs to have more grace. Changing you routine, being at the airport early, getting yelled at by TSA because this agent wants you to do something different than the previous agent, getting on your flight, etc it’s all stressful and it’s a process filled with people trying to tell you what to do aggressively.

    I’m not saying he should talk back to the FA. They also go through basically the same thing, but daily. I’m saying the passenger should have grace for the FA but he’s also not a professional. The FA is supposed to be the professional and know when to let it go.

  32. Good finally a FA that enforces rules and signs. The FA made an example of the pax hopefully other pax gets the message. I board early to make sure I get bin space everyone should do the same. Drives me nuts when boarding is only half complete and Y pax start throwing their stuff into F bins. Feels like their way to stick it to F pax. I remember once when F bins were full because of Y using F bin space and we all happily pointed out which bag did not belong to F pax. I was really annoyed when I was coming back from TPE and sitting in J on CI flight the guy across from put his bag over my seat. Like why? He had a huge bin over his seat.

  33. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if you are going to worry about orders you need to follow from the flight crew, as far as I understand it, until the doors are closed the flight crew only has authority to order pizza. If they were still boarding the door couldn’t be closed. Therefore even if the order was valid and pertained to flight safety, you could still lawfully ignore it.

  34. Really? C’mon now. This is ridiculous. Talk about a power trip, geez! Just because someone gets butt hurt over bag storage doesnt mean they won’t follow directions in an emergency.

  35. I’m actually glad to see that she said something. Many times when I board and I am priority the overhead bin where I sit is filled and yet no one is sitting around me which means my bag has to either go and somebody’s bin in front of me or behind me. Just put it where it belongs please.

  36. Try spending time is a small tube traveling at over 540 mph in weather that can and does change enroute… Getting slapped. , spit at , yelled at and at times getting punched in the face ….Safety is the number one issue . Any possible disruption for what ever reason by a passenger and having a pilot enter the issue Watch out you deserve to be put off .. Imagine the jerk tries to move his bag while the aircraft has taken and has to decide to reroute and land to try to stop more disruptions for the sake of safety at 35000 feet …..As for. The Nazi issue you posters are nothing but future trouble makers …Remember the Air Canada flight where the PAssenger disconnected the smoke alarm on the bathroom because he wanted to smoke and a fire started and lives were lost I remember …Just one of many assjokes thinkj a few hundred dollars gives them right to the Keys To the kingdom…….Be civil and ASK first…… .

  37. First/business overhead bins and first/business bathrooms BOTH should be reserved for first/business class passengers. Period.

  38. I think if the people way in the back seats could board first it would make things go faster. And stop giving people with kids the evil eye.

  39. American Airlines FA just had a quarterly module a few months ago on deescalation. Apparently this group didn’t get the lesson ingrained.
    AA flight attendants tend to make up their own rules and policies as they “thought” they heard them. Heard the lead FA the other day tell passengers to use the lavatory in their ticketed class of service. That is not an AA policy. Just his rule…. And made long annoying PA’s. “No, you weren’t hired so you could control people and make long PA’s as if people want to hear your comments!”
    The FA was being a jerk, fulfilling the role of “Sky Nazi”. If everyone is on in FC, or in this case all but one, and there is an empty bin, who really cares where the coach passenger put his bag?
    Had he put it in the compartment above the first row of MCE, would the FA had said anything?
    Captains back the FAs no matter how crazy the FAs may be.
    Was it a “safety issue” that the bag be in coach? Because the FAA doesn’t grant unlimited authority to FAs on everything they do. The FAA is concerned with safety of flight, not which cabin a passenger’s bag is stowed in.

  40. He/She fully deserves it. Just follow the instruction and if there’s no space back there, the Y FA can solve the problem.
    These days there are just too many self entitled folks.

  41. FA should have been firm, but could have skipped the ‘compliance’ monologs.

    Coach passenger did a douche move. Rationalizing it away is still a douche move.

    On multiple occasions I’ve been connecting, in First. boarded late, no overhead space. Last time, FA found a space 10 rows back in Coach, so I had to wait to clear those rows to get back to get my bag, making some Coach pax angry. And while I was standing watching Coach people pass, two people pulled their bags out of the first bins.

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