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?