Matt In San Diego Is An American Airlines Bad Customer Service Apple

American Airlines gate agent Matt in San Diego is a real bad apple. He made the start of my trip miserable, and he seemingly did it because he made a mistake, didn’t want to admit it, and made himself feel better by threatening me.

This is my blog, and I share a lot of personal travel stories here, both my successes and failures and the reasons why I do things. So it only feels appropriate to share with readers how a gate agent got the better of me.

My wife, daughter and I spent a few days in San Diego. The non-stop flights home to Austin (on Southwest and Alaska) didn’t work for me, and I had a $99 companion ticket valid for two people, so we flew American Airlines through Dallas.

When we travel with my two year old we bring a stroller, though she’s also great walking through the airport. It’s a YoYo stroller bought specifically for travel, to be able to collapse it and stow it in the overhead bin. The stroller’s dimensions are well-within carry on limits. This stroller has been all over the world and on dozens of flights in the U.S., within Europe, and Asia Pacific where stricter rules often apply.

As we walked up to board our flight in San Diego, American’s gate agent Matt said “strollers must be checked.” I smiled and offered that this one collapses and is no problem to fit in the overhead. He pointed to the bag sizer beside the boarding door and said “show me, people say that all the time and it’s not true.”

So we showed him. We took my daughter out of the stroller and collapsed it. It fit inside the sizer just fine, because its dimensions are within American’s rules. He got mad. “You’re still going to have to check it, or you won’t be boarding this flight.”

Ok, I wasn’t going to fight him. But this meant having to wait on the jet bridge for the stroller to come out, rather than having extra time to connect in Dallas – to stop make stops for our daughter before our next flight. That just makes travel a little more difficult when you’re flying with a two year old.

He wouldn’t even let her stay in the stroller down the jet bridge. He confiscated it at the gate – perhaps now knowing that it does fit in the bin, he presumably wanted to ensure we didn’t board with it, since he realized it would fit. And that meant I even needed to wonder whether the stroller would be boarded or not.

Now, I tweeted this and the American Airlines twitter team backed Matt up.

American’s social media team argued that all strollers must be checked but that’s not actually what the policy says. And a spokesperson for the airline confirms, “our policy does allow for compact, collapsible strollers to be taken on board the aircraft and placed in an overhead bin, provided there is enough overhead bin space.”

Even if there was a policy to forbid strollers that are smaller than a carry on, that’s not Matt’s understanding of the policy. He wanted to prove to us that it was oversized, which is why he insisted we put it in the sizer – to show us it wasn’t an allowable carry on based on size.

I suppose I should give Matt in San Diego more of a benefit of the doubt. The airline did just tell agents to become more zealous enforcing carry on bag sizes.

He shouldn’t take it out on customers, but it’s possible he was just having a bad day – I only dealt with him once perhaps he’s not always a jerk on a power trip the way he was towards my family. Although, perhaps he’s just ill-suited to the role:

And after describing the gate agent I dealt with,

Update: and another one,

The thing is, Matt is an outlier. My family had a row of Main Cabin Extra. A flight attendant on board saved space in an overhead bin for us (this wasn’t a plane with the new bigger bins). I thanked her but explained we didn’t need the space, since our collpasable stroller had been confiscated at the boarding door. She apologized.

And then during the flight when she came down the aisle with the traditional water, snack and sanitizer bag Sonora thanked us for our business and apologized again – knowing that it sets the travel day off on the wrong foot. She even offered us drink service of soda, juice or water (a service that doesn’t return to coach until next month on American).

Later in the flight she even came back with a thank you note, the first I’ve ever gotten flying American. And I was in coach. She made every effort to turn around a bad interaction with the airline – and she did.

The problem, though, is that the outliers like Matt bring down the reputation of the airline. They also bring down the morale of the employees who work hard to go out of their way to take care of customers. It’s tough to work alongside bad apples who get away with it day after day and reap the same rewards as those who love their job and live it each day. And Matt will go on treating customers this way, creating resentment towards his airline.

Fortunately for me I’ve never had an interaction like this one with anyone else at American Airlines in 10 years as an Executive Platinum member. And getting to fly with Sonora? That was actually a treat.

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. Just read many posts above advising to ‘just gate-check the stroller’. Inexperienced travellers probably are not aware of how many miscellaneous checked items are returned damaged. Instead of throwing rocks at his head, some of the commenters here might want to do a little research before giving advice to the article’s author.

  2. Maybe he knows you are anti American Airlines in 99.9% of your blogs! Maybe he and giving you the business because you’re consistently a negative Nancy about his airline. I don’t think I have ever EVER seen a positive article from you about AA. It’s possible that you have a reputation as well. One for thinking you’re entitled and looking for any reason to trash AA! I’m sure you reveled in the idea that you were gonna “show him” about your stroller. Since you didn’t mention it I’m assuming you got your stroller and made your connecting flight???…. So why complain about something that didn’t really effect you?

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