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. I am sure another airline will transfer your status so you can tell American Airlines to pound sand. I avoid United and American after bad service over the years and will always find other options or I will drive.

  2. I am a bit conflicted after reading this story but in the end I guess I come down on Gary’s side. Rudeness by an employee such as Matt is NEVER acceptable. However, I am sure he was caught up in the stricter carry-on rules recently put in place by AA. If he was going to enforce the stroller must be checked, then he should have been nicer about it.

    My conflict comes from the aggravation all of us have when boarding a plane. We just want to get to our seats, stow our stuff overhead, and sit down. When anyone interrupts that process it is so aggravating. Gate agents also want the boarding process to be fast and smooth. Matt made a quick judgement about the stroller and Gary should have complied without protest. Protesting needlessly held up the boarding process and likely irritated not only Matt & Gary but everyone in line behind them.

    I also want to give kudos AA for starting to enforce the size limit for carryons. Nothing is more frustrating than being behind someone who is trying to jam oversized luggage into the overhead bin. I think airlines should let all passengers who have paid for checked luggage to board first.

  3. I didn’t interected with Matt, but from what you say, he was kust doing what he was told to do. What it seems to me though, is that you are on a power trip. Exposing someone like this, just because you didn’t get what you wanted, come on grow up. I will give you however, the benefit of the doubt, maybe you are not always this jerk.

  4. Different people interpret different things different ways. The policy says strollers of one size get checked in the hold and strollers of another size get gate checked. Airline charges you $25 to check a bag but gate checks for free and the guy who boards first might not need his bag but the guy who boards last and gets forced to gate check his bag does have a connection and gets frustrated. Or, the woman who is still on her cell phone on the taxi or (me) who has a purse, a laptop bag, and a convention bag of materials that knows it will all fit under the seat but clearly violates the number of carryons. Everybody sees different things and judges differently. It’s what makes us human. You likely came off as an entitled show off parent looking for an excuse to do things your way and being right. He was trying to board the plane. And the guy 10 people in front of you who really didn’t need his bag on board but didn’t want to pay $25 or gate check is just as right as you are. There’s only so much space on a plane.

  5. I didn’t interected with Matt, but from what you say, he was just doing what he was told to do. What it seems to me though, is that you are on a power trip. Exposing someone like this, just because you didn’t get what you wanted, come on, grow up. I will give you however, the benefit of the doubt, maybe you are not always this jerk.

  6. Annoyances happen while traveling. This guy may have made a mistake while trying to do his job, but you are a big whiner. This did not ruin your day or trip. You must have still been complaining to the flight attendant, who then tried to overcompensate. Publicly shaming an employee should be reserved for someone who blatently discriminates or offends. The fact that the airline supported him shows he was doing what he had been told to do. Grow up.

  7. @Gary Left – I completely agree with you. I think AA does not have the best reputation because of some bad apples. I’m only a Platinum and I’ve been a huge proponent of AA. However, this changed about 1.5 yrs ago.

    My wife and I was traveling with our 3 month old daughter and 2 of our dogs from DFW to LAX. This was already a stressful situation as it was our first time making such a trip. Our two dogs are small and fits in one pet carrier. AA’s policy states that two dogs are able to share a pet carrier if they fit within the guidelines, and that the pet fee is charged per carrier. I showed the gate agent the policy on AA’s site.
    However, the gate agent insisted that I have to pay for both dogs. Next, I asked to speak to the supervisor but the supervisor took the gate agent’s side. He wouldn’t even look at the AA policy from my phone. I was given the option to pay for both dogs, or not to fly with them. I ended up paying for both dogs and following up with customer service for a refund.

    Fortunately the rest of the trip was uneventful. We also sat in MCE and the flight attendants were great and more than accommodating.

    At the end of the day, there are definitely some bad apples and power hungry AA employees that spoil it for the company. Until AA decides to do something about this, this problem will always exist. The lack of training and customer service centric mindset is hurting.

    P.S. I miss Virgin America! They were my primary airline before AA. Never had a bad experience there.

  8. Did the AA employee at the gate at SAN get angry at any point; or did the AA employee just decide to stick to his plan to not allow the stroller to be carried on as cabin baggage with his stubbornness being interpreted as a sign of anger since the sizer-use did not facilitate his decision to deny the stroller as cabin baggage?

    With stubborn, power-tripping employees who don’t seem to want to reconsider circumstances based on the rules, there’s not much that can always be done in a timely manner unless someone else is around in the employee rank and file to put such employees in check just in time.

    I’ve seen lots of airlines where some employees come up with excuses on why permitted strollers aren’t permitted as cabin baggage. I’ve also seen bus drivers do much the same in places where there is a stroller capacity on the buses but those capacity rules aren’t to apply to folded up strollers like the one pictured above.

    For tight connections, a stroller can be a real drag at times if you’ve got to wait to access it because it’s been placed in the hold as valet tagged luggage or whatever for gate-delivery at the transit/connection airport. That’s why some people don’t take strollers for tight connections and instead use a carrier that enables carrying a 2-3 year old on the back. That or learn to carry a kid like even some children in Somalia carry their little siblings:

    I’ve seen some 4-5 year olds transported that way by their parents in parts of Europe too. Works better at times than a stroller.

  9. I used to travel with a ‘lucky’ rock climbing carabiner clipped onto my backpack. One time while departing France I was told I had to check it with my luggage because I could use it like brass knuckles. This was especially difficult because I was already at the gate and had to go back to the counter and back through security, barely returning in time for my flight. Later, I looked up the policy and sure enough, carabiners are specifically allowed on board. From that point on, expecting this may come up again, I printed the policy and kept it tucked away in a pocket. This way I could just show the policy to an uninformed agent, laugh about how obscure it was, and carry on. I do this with camera bags as well since they are specially excluded from carry-on baggage allowance and many agents incorrectly demand they be checked or stuffed inside the rollaboard.

    Gary handled this just fine and I think gate agent providing service failure should have been addressed by management. In this case management also failed, so it’s good that Gary escalated further by using his platform. It should reduce future service failures, which is good for all.

    Additionally, it doesn’t hurt to have quick access to the policy when you know something you’re doing isn’t widely known or falls under an obscure category. Should save everyone from some struggle.

  10. Can we just call gate agents “Gate Police” so the dems can start calling for defunding them?

  11. Sometimes people make mistakes. It is obvious here that AA has a complicated policy in regards to strollers as even their social media team gave the wrong information initially.

    I don’t think it’s cool at all to publicly name and shame an employee. I think it gives the impression of being a bully and entitled. We only hear one side of the story here and that is unfair if you are to name names.

    By all means, share your experience via your blog – without identifying individuals that are unable to give their own account. And then if you feel the need, complain directly to the airline highlighting the employee in question and allow him the right of reply.

  12. Of course, strollers are checked and it’s because they are bulky. I see them lined up at the gate all the time. I agree with Mike above about the power trip. People working the gate are trying to get tons of people to their connections. Their job is to follow the rules so they can achieve making your day not misconnecting you. Matt dealt with the public all day, can you imagine what that’s like?

  13. @Jerry that is the dumbest comment on here. I bet you refuse to wear a mask too.

  14. I Googled AA’s policy regarding strollers. Seems like ALL strollers have to be checked either at the ticket counter if over 20 lbs. or gate checked if less than 20 lbs.

  15. Longtime SAN based LT Plat here. Matt has always been the “soup nazi” for AA in SAN. Some of his peers are truly wonderful. I avoid contact with him whenever possible. Its just easier that way.

  16. Weird … fly Delta all the time with our stroller that may or may not actually fit in a sizer (Uppababy Minu) … actually just checking now it’s 23″ x 20.5″ x 11.5″, so it’s technically a bit large. Never have heard a peep from staff one way or the other.

  17. Gary, who are you to publicly attack someone, using your job position to do that??! You are in effect a social network bully, publicly slandering someone while you do not even give him a chance to defend himself. That is cowardly, chicken shit behavior on your part. Even if the story as you present it is accurate, your unprofessional publicly naming and bashing of this AA employee is far more egregious and worse than your alleged actions of this AA employee.Being a reporter does not give you the right to use your position as a bully pulpit. YOU should be fired, no question.

  18. Gary, here’s a suggestion so this doesn’t happen again: Buy one of those cheap, thin, lightweight nylon duffle bags just big enough for the stroller and put the stroller in it before you approach the gate. It will still fit in the sizer if you are challenged and won’t be obvious as containing a stroller. The bag will also keep your stroller from getting tangled with other bags and hand loops in the overhead.

  19. I Googled the stroller policies for Alaska, Delta. and Southwest and they seem to have similar requirements as American… check strollers at check in counter if heavy or gate check otherwise.

  20. @ Robert, you are completely off base. I read this blog for Gary’s experiences while traveling so it’s a completely legitimate post and based on the other comments from SD frequent fliers it appears this gate agent is known for poor behavior.
    @ Mike, get spell check and utilize better grammar.

  21. Let me shed some additional light on this subject that most commenters have not experienced. I’m an American Airlines crash survivor (1420) and knowing that everything in the overhead bins get thrown around the cabin in an event, I can tell you that from a safety perspective I would rather deal with bags than potential metal pieces, especially when climbing through debris. This is just risk management geared towards safety. While we shouldn’t condone the gate agent’s behavior, if you travel frequent enough, you understand the dynamics of having a two year old in tow and the necessity to have contingencies and schedule taking that in account.

  22. I have had repeated problems with gate agents over the years. The American agents are probably worse than those of other airlines but there are problems with all of them. They don’t really care whether something fits in the overhead. They just care about making sure that in their opinion the item is not bigger than the specifications. What do you do when there is a strap hanging off of a piece of luggage? A wheel? A handle? Isn’t the whole point to not take up excessive overhead space and to get the stuff in the overhead and get everyone seated? Some of these idiots would rather just argue than the practical. It’s also very inconsistent. My carry-on just barely is have the right size and yet I get hassled about it every so often. At the same time I see other carry-ons that are much larger than mine and people seem to have no problem with them.

  23. Wow. When i worked for BA the customer was always right but we also knew the rules & policies inside out.

    How strict were they, when i was new & on 90 probation after training, i was reprimanded for not smiling enough.

  24. I am amazed at the number of people who excuse failure in favor of not upsetting the apple cart.

    Gary did not write the rule–AA did. Gary did not break the rule-AA did.

    And by “naming” the employee (first name only), Gary provided just enough info for other travelers to share their own interactions with this employee, which demonstate a pattern of malfeasance

    As many employees are reluctant to report colleagues, Gary did this man’s supervisor a service..

  25. @Paul McIntosh “This is just risk management geared towards safety.” Except that American’s policy is to *allow* compact strollers in the overhead.

  26. @Salvador Segovia – except American’s policy is that this stroller was allowed.

    And here’s United’s policy
    “If you’re traveling with an infant or child, you can bring the following items on board in addition to your carry-on bag and personal item: …Compact folding stroller that meets our size guidelines for carry-on bags (9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches or 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches)”

  27. @Robert J Mackay “YOU should be fired, no question.”

    Sorry to let you now that this is my personal blog, so there’s really no one to fire me

  28. @ Gary Leff My point Gary is that there should be a limitation on what is allowed in overhead bins. Just stating that in the course of an event, the last thing I would want to deal with is a stroller with numerous people in self preservation mode and the behaviors that come with it.

  29. Gate agents in general are some of the rudest, most aggressive people I interact with on a regular basis. I never argue, and I always accept their made up rules, but they so regularly talk to pax as if they’re stupid. I don’t understand why they’re all so mean.

  30. Gary, I agree with most of your readers you need to let it go. You never mentioned that Matt put a Escort tag on the stroller (without a charge). On most flights these items are waiting on the jet bridge before the passenger deplanes. So if you had to wait a few minutes because you in the front of the main cabin (MSE) you avoided the inconvenience of lifting the item in the overhead bin. It is not like you had to go to baggage claim to pick up the item. But to complain to the flight attendant, American Airlines, and on your site is too much.

  31. Well done, Gary. It’s great that you have a platform that can identify this sort of behavior. Perhaps it will initiate small incremental changes in needed customer service performance.

  32. Poor Matt, he only has powerful union and a huge corporation to defend him from these mean passengers he’s been harassing and abusing, apparently for quite a while.

    Yes, Gary, shame on you for not protecting his identity and instead sending a useless complaint form, so that Matt could co go on collecting pay, benefits and pension at taxpayers’ expense.

  33. Gary, you responded to me that this is your blog, so you can’t be fired. Lol, this is why blogs are toxic to journalism. Anyone can write anything, true or not, in a blog and not be held accountable in any way. But I also think this blog shows how clever you are — you wrote this hit piece against the AA agent, deliberately to fire up some people (including me), thus generating all sorts of comments and reactions and visits to your blog. Brilliant!!
    And if you’re going to write candid blogs, how about one advocating that fat people on airplanes should have to buy TWO seats? … Because often, they are literally STEALING some of the personal space (with their fat guts hanging over to the next seat) of the person next to them. And why should that person next to the fat slob, in effect have to be subsidizing the fat person’s flight?
    Or maybe the airlines should weigh people, and have an “Obesity Section”.

  34. I wonder if any of the people who seem to defend Matt’s conduct would feel the same if they were the victims of his unprofessional behavior? What say you???

  35. As a frequent AA traveler with 3 toddlers I feel your pain. We have used Pockit stroller when traveling that collapses to similar measurements. I have yet to encounter this problem but we typically collapse the stroller before we board to avoid confusion on the gate checked stroller issue. If I ever got flack about carrying it on in it’s collapsed state…It folds down to a size where we can easily put it in a large purse or backpack- and then it is exactly a same as a carry on- the contents of which (as long as they are TSA approved) should not matter. We usually travel with a small nylon duffel bag that can be used for this purpose.

  36. @Gary,

    “Sorry to let you now that this is my personal blog, so there’s really no one to fire me”.

    Well, companies can deplatform even personal blogs and other internet sites which they don’t like.

    For example, could in theory decide to stop providing services to VFTW. The company ultimately providing server space to host the blog could decide to stop providing services to VFTW. Deplatforming is a form of firing.

  37. Airlines employees/flight attendants have been so emboldened since the events of September 11th!
    Bottom line don’t get on an airplane to begin with. And how come the “attitude” is always the worst on the U.S. carriers ?!

  38. Paul McIntosh,

    I’ve encountered cabin luggage that is far more dense and heavy than that stroller. And I say that as someone who has repeatedly had luggage fall on the shoulder. The danger of sitting in an aisle seat is that while I have been quick enough to avoid having clumsy and inconsiderate passengers’ baggage from falling on my head from in or up by the overhead bins, I’ve not always been able to avoid having falling luggage from hitting my shoulder and upper arm.

  39. I’ve observed similar behavior/attitudes/personality in people who drink constantly and drink a lot so maybe that’s the case with ‘Matt’ Usually worse disposition earlier in the shift. OTOH I’ve known a few who drink heavy but have the will power to show up and do good work every day

  40. I think it would have been more appropriate to title this post something like: “Wonderful Flight Attendant Sonora Saves the Day after Power Trip by gate Attendant”, or something like that. Let’s celebrate the GOOD actions employees do, just as much as or even over the bad actions we experience. Sounds like Sonora is a nice person and a stellar employee, who deserves more recognition than she received, buried so deep in the post.

  41. Did everyone in the party also have carry-ons and a personal item, meaning you would be taking up more overhead space than what is above your own seats?

  42. So many ridiculous comments that Gary shouldn’t be naming and shaming when it’s to AA’s benefit to deal with an customer facing employee who is power tripping. The number of people who always jump to an airlines defense is quite astounding. They are a business, they are not your family. How people personalize an airline that treats them like everyone else or less than is beyond me. I guess it’s the magic gifts the airlines bestow on us for our money and butt in seat time… To me it’s a bit infantile to defend a business for a myriad of poorly defined and implemented policies and then blame the customer for not complying or understanding said policies.

  43. I have no problem following the rules, but they can’t be the rules of that particular agent. I have a bigger problem when the rules are enforced for some and not others. I fly often and I am loyal to routes and not airlines. On spirit, allegiant, frontier, and sun country I have been told I couldn’t put a small backpack into an empty bin because I didn’t pay for a carry on. No problem. But then they allow other passengers to put as many items as they want and say nothing. Spot enforcement is worse than the rule. I’ve had southwest employees hand me my backpack from the overhead to accommodate another travellers roller bag…so I lose my foot room as punishment for packing light??? Your stroller should have to be checked Everytime or Never. Period. And every other stroller like yours should be treated the same. As should every bag, backpack, purse, computer back etc. The rule shouldn’t change when the flight is empty vs full. I’ve paid for a carry on only to see the attendants allow people to put all items in the overhead because the flight was empty. Not fair to the guy that paid because he followed the rules.

  44. POOR GARY! YOU ENTITLED JERK! Here’s the real truth….YOU HAD FOUR OTHER BAGS CARRYING ON! YOU BOOKED A CONNECTION…The gate agent noticed that….you didn’t tell us that. You wanted everyone to see THAT YOU WERE SPECIAL LIKE SIO MANY OTHERS WHO ABUSE THE CARRYON RULES. suck it up son admit it….you ARE NOT IMMUNE to the guidelines.

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