Drunk American Airlines Baggage Handler Fell Asleep in the Cargo Hold, Flew to Chicago

A drunk baggage handler fell asleep inside the cargo hold of an American Airlines Boeing 737 — and wound up flying on board American’s flight AA363, the 6 a.m. departure from Kansas City to Chicago O’Hare on Saturday.

He “wasn’t discovered until the plane landed at O’Hare International Airport and parked at the gate just before 7:30 a.m. local time.”

The decision to fly cargo instead of American’s basic economy might have made sense on one of the airline’s reconfigured 737s with 172 seats — more seats crammed into the space, less padding, smaller lavatories. British Airways baggage handlers simply go in the cargo holds so may have taught a thing or two to this counterpart at their joint venture partner.

However the aircraft in question — ship 3MD — not only still has just 160 seats and more legroom, it still has seat back video and has been retrofitted to offer ViaSat satellite internet.

Last year a United Express baggage handler flew cargo from Charlotte to Washington Dulles because he didn’t have enough miles to upgrade.

Update: American Airlines provides the following statement,

“A Piedmont Airlines employee, who was working an American Airlines flight on the morning of Oct. 27 at Kansas City International Airport (MCI), inadvertently fell asleep in the forward cargo hold of a Boeing 737-800 aircraft. The flight subsequently took off with the team member in the cargo hold, which was heated and pressurized.

“The flight landed safely at Chicago O’Hare (ORD) at 7:09 a.m. CT and taxied to the gate. The team member was then discovered upon arrival at the gate in Chicago.

“Our top priority is ensuring the well-being of the Piedmont employee. He did not request any medical attention upon arrival in Chicago, and we are grateful that he did not sustain any injuries.

“The American team is very concerned about this serious situation, and we are reviewing what transpired with our Piedmont and Kansas City colleagues.”

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. The main advantage of Cargo Basic is unlimited carry-ons, but it sounds like this guy didn’t even bring an 18 x 8 inch personal item.

  2. I wonder how the door got closed. A co-worker who didn’t wonder where his fellow employee was? Maybe just one baggage handler working the entire loading process, followed by an indicator light in the cockpit and a call from the pilot to close the door before takeoff?

    I have no idea what I’m talking about or how these processes work!

  3. Do AA baggage handlers have to punch in [on a time clock] when they start work? If so, did he get paid until he was able to fly back and clock out?

  4. I really wonder how one “inadvertently” falls asleep in the forward cargo hold of a Boeing 737-800 aircraft. You’re either working in the cargo hold or you are not. Can’t wait for the follow up story.

  5. This is certainly an interesting and indeed troubling story (we don’t want airline employees showing up drunk for work). But why do you then go off the deep end by babbling that “the decision to fly cargo instead of American’s basic economy might have made sense on one of the airline’s reconfigured 737s with 172 seats — more seats crammed into the space, less padding, smaller lavatories.” This is not the time for that cr#p. Stick to the story.

  6. @chopsticks
    relax parker, no need to get upset…(you are parker right chopsticks?)
    just get (yet another) drink and you”ll be fine in the morning

  7. If this was a problem that could not be corrected with a better SOP, then Southwest should have at least one incident like this given the amount of luggage they handle and the high frequency of flights they make. Instead, it has happened to UAL, AA, and Alaska Air.
    Whoever opens the door would be responsible for closing the door. The door could only be closed when the ground crew is accounted for. Apparently AA uses random ground crew (the article indicates it was Piedmont employee) so AA will need to work that out.
    The intoxicated state, while a problem, is not the issue because anything could have happened, medical emergency, accident, etc, to any worker, so the only logical person to close the door is the person who opened the door or another person after personally checking the cargo area.

  8. Hey, if you’re riding Cargo Economy, you’ll be able to keep an eye on your dog and be assured it will be there when you both arrive at your destination (as long as the captain doesn’t turn off heat and cabine pressurization).

  9. A ha, Cargo Class… a new stand by option, or perhaps a basic economy downgrade on oversold flights. The monetization possibilities abound.

  10. On the other hand, consider that your Emotional Support Peacock has been downgraded and relegated to Cargo Class due to recent program changes. You’ll get a cheaper ride and still be next to that bird that will provide comfort and a stree-free ride to Chicago! (American quickly revises policies, introduces a new fare that is slightler more expensive that basic economy but includes free moonshine.)

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