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 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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Comments

  1. Gary – if you knew you were correct why didn’t you “fight” for what you knew was correct. I have had bad AA gate agents and “sizer” and attitude issues…. I am always happy when I show them they and their attitude is wrong. And ps – AA owes you something for this….apology and mea culpa bonus miles….

  2. @CJ – “if you knew you were correct why didn’t you “fight” for what you knew was correct.”

    The flight was already 15 minutes into boarding. I was with my wife and daughter. I made a split second calculation that it was better to board the aircraft than to escalate.

  3. I like your articles and I follow you a lot. But I really think you’re out of line on this one to use your bully pulpit to socially slam somebody individually. Everybody now knows who Matt is because of you are widespread audience. Social media shaming sucks. Every time someone has a bad experience there he’ll they have to broadcast it to the world. Again I get it but when you get to a personal level and call someone out like that I just think it’s too much. Besides what if there are two gate agents in San Diego name Matt. One’s going to get bashed unfairly.

  4. This has to be particularly annoying when you have a connecting fight at DFW – that has to be truly dreadful with a two year old but no stroller.

  5. Publicly name-shaming an employee? And then tweeted that the employee was “an embarrassment”? Volunteered to the FA that your stroller was “confiscated”? Sure sounds like you should have checked your ‘tude along with your pricey pram.

  6. @Dublin – How else do we get the attention of responsible folks at AA to know they have a rogue employee that is underperforming? It’s clear the “contact customer service” route is an abject failure; they BACKED HIM UP.

    This is a problem with one employee, exacerbated by corporate failing.

  7. @Dublin — I think Gary crossed the line, too. Especially since while Matt made a mistake, he didn’t make an egregious mistake. He made the type of mistake that humans make every day, all the time. We have complicated rules, and not everyone understands all of them all the time. Like when I call an airline and there’s a special waiver for a change fee (like it’s waived if Covid rules prohibit your travel, AND you call within 15 days of the flight) and the agent insists he can’t waive the fee. That’s life. The dumb enforcement of imaginary rules can make your life a little harder. Matt was told to be stricter with carry-ons. He (not surprisingly) misinterpreted the exception-to-the-stroller-rule. I’d be unhappy with that, I’d try to explain why my stroller was permitted, but if he still refused to help me, I’d move on. I wouldn’t use my blog to tell the whole world about how Matt is a bad apple. But that’s me.

  8. Woah what is up with some of the commenters such as @Dom?

    Gary was way more polite than he needed to be. The gate agent deserved to have the stroller shoved up his posterior.

    Zooming out and putting attitudes aside, I’ve heard this story on another airline. Maybe the practical lesson for us is we should just expect to check strollers every time. Kind of like how TSA Precheck says you can keep light jackets on, but about 20% of the time, they stop me before I walk through the metal detector and tell me to take mine off. Even though if my jacket were any thinner it would be a torso condom. Speaking of condoms I hope this gate agent has one permanently sealed to his member as the world has no utility for his “power trip” gene. Not to mention his “total dick” gene.

  9. “made himself feel better by threatening me”
    and then Gary made himself feel better by publishing this.

    The policy must not be well known because other AA employees (social media) did know it either.
    I know it is a hassle, but pick your battles. Everything doesn’t need to be a pissing contest.

  10. @chopsticks – he declared that the stroller couldn’t board unless it fit in the sizer, and demanded I show him. So I did. It fit in the sizer, because its dimensions are allowable by the airline.

    This wasn’t a mistake. Once he saw, by the standards he and the airline declared, that the stroller was permissible that is when he got angry.

    What’s ‘complicated’ about this?

  11. Wonder what would happen if airline employees starting putting rude/arrogant/misbehaving customers on blast and doxxing them on social media? I’m sure they deal with a lot more bs than a passengers outrage over a miscategorized overhead bin item. This article is online bullying plain and simple. But I’m sure it made you feel better. gross.

  12. @chopsticks – when you stop patting yourself on the back let us know. Good job omitting the agent’s bad attitude and the actual inconvenience of lost time while connecting in DFW. The stroller policy is not complicated.

  13. @ELO – “The policy must not be well known” the gate agent said the policy was the stroller had to fit in the sizer, it does fit in the sizer, where is the ambiguity here?

  14. @ABC @Gary Leff – coaching on how to deal with customers only works with employees who are not dicks.

  15. Gary, All gate agents are under a lot of pressure to get flights out on time. Many delays are caused by the amount of “carry on bags” passengers bring. They all simply don”t all fit on full flights. Matt would have also got disciplined should he have dispatched this flight late due to excessive carry on bags. There is two sides to every story.

  16. @Dublin is right on….using your social platform to get back at someone that treated you badly is just as juvenile and thoughtless as Matt’s treatment of you. You rightly complained to American, and in such a people-oriented business a company like AA will respond. But don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill. Let it go.

  17. Maybe I am missing something, but the AA stroller policy that you linked says:

    Each ticketed customer is allowed 1 stroller and 1 car seat to be checked free of charge
    Strollers over 20 lbs / 9 kgs must be checked at the ticket counter
    All other strollers should be checked at the gate before boarding
    If you have a stroller and a car seat only 1 can be checked at the gate

    I do not see any exception that allows for compact, collapsible strollers to be taken on board the aircraft.

  18. People who excuse Matt are just enabling bad employees to ruin a company’s reputation, which costs good employees more.

  19. I have to agree that it is not appropriate to name specific employees in a blog but AA clearly does not resolve issues when they are escalated which these days includes via social media. When AA’s social media team saw this, they should have immediately sent a supervisor onboard to talk with Gary or met him at the gate if it was too late to resolve in SAN.
    Every company has rogue employees. AA has created layers of rules and empowered people who have no common sense. Somehow , DL and WN employees do a better job of de-escalating situations that blow up at AA and UA. Not always but more times than not.

  20. @Gary Leff: “What’s ‘complicated’ about this?”

    Your manufactured outrage and self-importance.

  21. @John C – He didn’t say ‘there’s no space left for carry on bags’ – that would have been one thing, even though there was still space and no broader announcement had been made and people behind us were permitted to bring carry on bags on.

    Instead he said that the stroller couldn’t come on unless it fit in the sizer. It fit in the sizer. He still wouldn’t let it on because he resented being shown he was wrong about its size.

  22. @ Gary — On more than one occasion, I’ve had agents tell me my bag has to fit in the sizer, I’ve fit it in the sizer, and they’ve told me I still had to check it! I think it’s psychology: it can be very hard for some people to admit they’re wrong. What can you do? I never raise my voice ever, but my family tells me “I’m too insistent” when I try to get the agent to reconsider (it sometimes works) before giving up and being inconvenienced. My life is filled with these type of instances. I run into imaginary rules all the time –probably because I’m more likely to inventively try to “game the system” to make my life a little easier. When I had babies, I too cleverly had a collapsible stroller that met the carry-on rules. A couple of times, I ran into agents who insisted I check it because “strollers have to be checked.” Life will inevitably filled with these instances. We are humans; we don’t get all the rules right. And then sometimes we don’t admit our mistakes.

  23. @Dom – it is self-important to expect employees to follow their employer’s policy which they themselves explain?

    You said this policy was ‘complicated’ and I asked you how, I guess by attacking me in response you’re conceding your first claim isn’t defensible?

  24. I’m sure the stroller did not fit. I often see passengers argue about this left and right. It slows down the boarding so much. What’s wrong with following simple rules? I’ve seen folks with super large items arguing that it fits. Clearly doesn’t. As an Executive Platinum myself I feel for the amount of disrespect agents get at the boarding lounge from other frequent flyers who feel entitled to everything and doesn’t want to take no for an answer. I am glad AA sided with the agent. Im sure your complaint is nothing new to the airline and publicly shaming someone is not cool at all. I hope you feel great about yourself and that you accomplished something really good. Next time just follow the freaking rules period.

  25. @chopsticks I agree “it can be very hard for some people to admit they’re wrong.” But that doesn’t excuse being a jerk about it, right?

    Imagine a world where it was acceptable to dig in whenever you’re wrong, just because it’s ‘hard’ to accept being wrong. Is that the world you want to live in?

    When mRNA was first proposed, the scientists who founded companies like BioNTech couldn’t even get *published* because the idea was considered too farfetched. Imagine if the scientific community refused to admit they were wrong, dug in, and kept the ideas out of journals still. We wouldn’t have the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

  26. @Jennifer “I’m sure the stroller did not fit.”

    1) I’ve shared the full dimensions of the stroller, it is within AA’s published carry on size.

    2) The stroller did fit.

    Seeing “folks with super large items arguing that it fits” and inferring that the stroller must not have fit is inopposite because of the actual dimensions of the item (which are also published on the manufacturer’s website, the stroller is specifically designed to collapse and be brought on board an aircraft).

    I bring this on board European narrowbody aircraft. I bring it on board regional jets.

    In any case, I will acknowledge that a gate agent sees people bring oversized carry on bags all the time. In this case he insisted *seeing it in the sizer*. And it’s only after he saw that it fit that he became belligerent.

  27. @ Gary How many carry on bags beside the stroller did you have ??? Be honest because they can pull video tape from that boarding area . If you had the max even if stroller collapses and it exceed FAA minimum then you’re completely in the wrong because at that point if not gate check it counts towards carry on.

  28. @Tim – I had my laptop bag (personal item). My wife had her purse (personal item). My daughter had a toddler-sized back pack. That is it between the three of us. I checked my rollaboard. My wife checked hers. This was the only item, between the three of us, that went in the overhead bin across our four flights of the trip.

    I think I mentioned this in the post above.

  29. Gary,
    you might also get the FA in trouble by noting her name given that she offered a beverage service that wasn’t authorized. The AA union nazis could have a field day.
    I was on a WN flight earlier this year and smelled coffee. I went to the back, asked if I could have a cup, was told that they weren’t authorized to serve it to passengers but I could have a cup if I stood in the galley. Did so, turbulence started, they asked me to sit in one of the back rows w/ them and then return to my seat after I finished the coffee and when the captain gave the all clear for cabin movement.
    Some people just know how to meet customer needs and follow rules. Others don’t. Some companies foster than mindset while others reward pugilism.

  30. I 100% back Gary here. He handled this like a pro and with more courtesy than I would have. He was totally in the right to call out Matt publicly and Matt *should* lose his job, though he won’t. Hopefully Matt will be re-trained and never harass customers again out of egotistical pride.

    Appalling service and bad apples will only change when they are called out.

  31. Does the AA policy explicitly say strollers are allowed in overhead bin? All I see is “Strollers over 20 lbs / 9 kgs must be checked at the ticket counter” AND “All other strollers should be checked at the gate before boarding.”

    Are you interpreting the words “should be” to mean they don’t HAVE to be checked at gate?

  32. I felt this post was pretty balanced; drag Matt, applaud Sonora. And maybe FAs should also drag unruly and rude passengers too! F*ck it! Covid19 and quarantine has sucked A$$ and many folks are even more sensitive, socially awkward and lack manners more than ever. Folks, Matt doesn’t deserve a reprieve, the Gate Agents can view the Passenger’s relationship with the airline and the current seat class once the pass is scanned… he chose the wrong one that day.

  33. After flying on three airlines for a long trip last week, I plan to never fly American Airlines again.
    After a five hour delay and emergency flight from BWI to DFW, I encountered two BWI gate agents, one apathetic and one aggressively rude, both completely unhelpful with the problem I encountered in flight. Additionally, their check in gates were the most chaotic and hard to navigate.
    Now I get to wait and see how they handle my lost item request for help.

  34. Matt might be in a minority of bad employees at AA but not that unusual in my experience with AA. He deserves to be disciplined at least. You can’t even discuss such things with crew or gate folks as you will lose the argument every time. They hold all the power to ban you from the flight.

  35. Oh my, a bunch of snowflakes those defending “Matt”. How about he treats everyone with respect and he won’t have anyone writing on social media in such a way? You can say no and still be polite and respectful. “Crossed a line”, give me a fn break.

    Gary, thank you for doing this, WE NEED MORE of holding people accountable nowadays, not less. Please don’t listen to a bunch of these cry babies, these are the types that are going on their power trips at work themselves probably.

  36. These replies are hilarious. “He shouldn’t detail his experience on his own personal blog.” It’s literally his own personal blog, he can write whatever he wants. You would think by these comments he tweeted out his home address and called for his children to be attacked. I’m betting you all are also the crowd that turn around and complain about censorship.

    None of these replies actually care about the gate agent – these negative reactions are pure jealousy that you don’t have a platform to attract attention to yourselves when you want to complain about something. Not to mention how the replies that reek of “he should have complied if he didn’t want to get shot by the cop”-type responses.

  37. I get it, but part of travel is dealing with ‘issues’ that shouldn’t occur.

  38. Gary’s issue is that the reason Matt gave was inapplicable since the stroller was within the size limits. Rather than conceding, Matt still denied. I would be upset too. I might complain to AA, but probably not. I don’t think I would complain to the flight attendant. And if I had a travel blog I don’t think I would publish a separate post about it as I personally don’t feel this that big of a deal (if part of a trip report, ok). It’s not like anyone actually missed a connection. The family was inconvenienced for what was probably 10 minutes max.

    As other commenters note, the linked policy actually says all strollers need to be gate checked. Matt could have given that as the initial reason for denying. I wouldn’t be surprised if he commonly used the size issue as a proxy; less resistance from others and avoids “show me the policy.”

    I don’t doubt that Gary has taken the stroller as a carry on countless times. As a top tier status holder and prolific travel blogger, I would not be surprised if most agents looked the other way.

  39. The GA has a bad attitude that appears to be standard for him. In the past, complaints about him may have gone unnoticed.

    But having a blogger put him on blast may be the catalyst needed for AA to take corrective action. Bad customer service doesn’t help a company, and not giving the company feedback on their employee (specifically doing their job satisfactorily) isn’t helping the business, or employee, improve.

    Some employees just need to be better trained, and some should not be in their job as they are a poor fit.

  40. @Hepworth – gate agents don’t flag me as a ‘prolific travel blogger.’ Occasionally I get res agents who read the blog. But there’s no GateReader tag telling agents at American to give me better treatment.

    The gate agent wasn’t stating strollers aren’t allowed, they said oversized items aren’t and we showed this was not an oversized item.

    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.”

    And the linked policy says > 20 pounds ‘must’ be checked and doesn’t use must for smaller ones, because the policy is that compact strollers do not have to be.

  41. Matt, as you tell the story, may have made a mistake. But you, in telling this story and publicly calling him out by name, made an even bigger mistake. It makes you look small. Do better.

  42. Like many of you, I choose to fly AA, sometimes going out of my way to do this or paying more. I get slack from my friends for my loyalty, especially living in a city with frequent Delta service and formerly in other regions with even more frequent United service. Yet, I defend my choice because of my overwhelmingly positive interactions with AA employees, despite a few with truly horrible ones.

    It’s clear Matt here was wrong, was given the opportunity to correct himself, and yet chose to be an a$$h0le. He would have saved time and gotten closer to D0 more easily by letting Gary take the stroller onboard, yet did not want to be proven wrong. Because AA’s Twitter team also refused to escalate this, I see nothing wrong with him being called out. Should he lose his job? Depends on his track record, but he definitely needs to learn. Being called out on this blog is harsh but warranted, and Gary shows how wonderful many (most) of their employees are. Kudos to the flight attendants aboard his flight to DFW.

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