United Passenger Extorted For Bribe At Newark Airport Check-In Counter

Most checked bags in the U.S. are limited to 50 pounds. Anything heavier than that and you’ll pay extra. First and business class passengers, and those with elite status, may be allowed 70 pounds. When you approach the check-in counter, they’ll weigh your bags, and if your luggage is overweight you’ll be assessed an extra fee.

However it’s not always so simple. There’s an unspoken cat and mouse game between airline employees and passengers.

One United passenger reports being extorted for a bribe at Newark airport terminal C when checking a bag for their flight home.

They self-tagged their luggage and went United’s bag drop to have it weighed. The scale “read 47lb then the number started slowly climbing until it went up to 50.5lb.” That didn’t make any sense since the bag was within allowable weight on the outbound portion of their trip.

That’s when things got weird:

The employee says, “ah, don’t worry. I don’t see anything” and gives me a high five. In my naivety I thought, wow that’s so kind. Then he says, “but you can leave my tip right there” pointing to an inconspicuous spot on the counter. I asked if he was for real, he said yes so I left him $5.

I thought something was off but it wasn’t until I walked away that I realized I just got scammed. I couldn’t see his feet so I don’t know for sure but as soon as I got home I weighed my bag and it was 43.7 lb. Also when he took the bag off the scale it read -0.5lb but I’m not sure if that means anything?

United Airlines Newark Terminal C

Airline check-in agents soliciting bribes to ignore overweight bags isn’t, itself, unheard of. What’s different here is the agent making the bag overweight in order to solicit the bribe.

And bribery in the airline industry reaches the highest levels. United Airlines actually lost a CEO in a bribery scandal involving Newark airport. And recently three of the airline’s executives engaged in a bribery scheme involving Newark renovations.

If I knew my bag wasn’t overweight and I was being scammed for a bribe, I’d hit record on my cell phone. I’d call over a supervisor, who might well be in on it (the employee could be kicking up). And I’d insist on checking with a different scale.

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. It is like cheating at cards … totally obvious to everyone , but the scammer thinks getting away with something . Perhaps the actual Good people of Newark who DO follow the Commandments will be hired by the airlines ? Don’t hold your breath . Airlines are generally a scam , all around .

  2. I use a digital hand scale to check my bags before going to the airport. I carry the scale in my jacket pocket when flying. Occasionally the airport check in scale says more than the allowed amount but I always complain when it does. Most of the times the check in agent can zero the scale with nothing on it by clicking a few keys on their keyboard. No need to go to a second scale. When that happens, the bag now weighs what my hand scale says it does. Funny that. Almost all of the misreading scales have been at LAX. I would not tip someone for lying to me.

  3. When you import so many from the third world and then tell them their culture is better than the oppressor culture they moved to this is what you get.

  4. Weight and balance will be off. That can get people killed if the aircraft isn’t configured correctly!

    Any employer that does that should be terminated and charged with bribery. It’s no laughing matter they are playing with people’s lives.

    When I worked with passengers I would keep in mind that lives are at stake.

    Ah the stupidity of people. I guess that is what happens when not paid properly. They give in to greed. Still inexcusable.

  5. Wow what a bunch of tattle tales today’s “savvy travelers” have become. I miss the day when you could smoke and drink whiskey on a plane and talk with other people doing the same. They served you something to eat, even in coach, even on a short flight from Toledo to Chicago. Of course men were considered dressed casual if they had a sport jacket on, women had a dress or skirt on. Stewardesses would join in on the fun, had an upbeat spirit to them. And you tipped everyone who did you a favor, skycaps, ticket agents, even the stews. These days you have some fat slob with giant hairy legs in gym shorts or an obese woman squeezed into yoga pants with B.O. thinking she’s Kim Kardashian with her snout stuck into a cell phone screen dictating what everyone should be doing to please her, because she/he is sooo special. They buy a $39 dollar seat on a plane and think they own a Gulfstream, complain about paying a few bucks for luggage and wifi onboard and line up in the lounges like pigs at a trough. Flying has become the same as riding on an inner city bus, except with security checks, no pleasure at all. I really miss the good old days.

  6. Can you place a memo when paying
    “required payment / tip / bribe for 4 lb overweight bag”
    and the then turn them in. Before that, be prepared for them to come to your house and kill you.

  7. I was told my bag was 27 kilos when it was actually 21 kilos. I had my portable scale with me, so I showed the agent his scale was wrong and I wanted to try another scale. I put my bag on the next scale and it came back with 21 kilos not 27.. She wanted me to pay 150 euros! She didn’t seem happy..

  8. Just went yesterday through Cancun and was stunned to read this article. My digital scale read exactly 50 lbs on both of my two bags. The United agent showed me 53.5 on both. I complained. She went to get a supervisor and didn’t return. Someone else came along and finished my check in process. What was this about?! Too many customers complaining?? Anyway pulled out my diving regulators from each bag and was given boarding passes. Unbelievably lucky my wife took them and put them in her baggage to fly tomorrow with Lufthansa. Same weight for her; no issues at the airport. Got home and found my bags to be still just a hair under 50 lbs on both the digital hand held and the bathroom scale. But you know what?… the fact that they are so petty that my bag was 1 kg overweight is for me insulting. Admittedly I almost never fly through the US and never fly any American airlines. The reason? Substandard service at all levels.

    As a paying member of a passengers association I choose airlines by their ranking. Austrian Airlines like most airlines rank higher than almost every US carrier so I booked with them. But because of a sizeable discount I booked a return with a leg through Newark. Big mistake on so many levels never to be repeated. I cannot remember the last time in 40 years, honestly, that an agent said I must remove items. Granted I’ve not flown on a US carrier for 30 years back in the days even American carriers would not pull this stunt.

    As a result of my experience with United I will never again fly an American carrier, instead fly in and out with my preferred carriers: Austrian, KLM, Iberia, Air Canada and of course Singapore, Qatar and Emirates where and when available.

  9. Carry a small bag scale. When this happened to me, I told the agent I would weigh it with my scale. She said, “Oh, don’t worry I’ll let it go this time”. Hah!

  10. Wesley’s comment is demented, and whatever racist culture is “his”, I want no part of it.

  11. @Adam: Actually, no. Average standard bag weights are used. Exact weights are not used unless it’s a flight under certain circumstances like small aircraft or an abnormal load like carrying a football team with a tons of equipment (and they’d use real passenger weights in that case too).

    At my last airport station, the state required only annual scale inspection and calibration. I had it done every 6 weeks (to the tune of about $450 for the 19 scales we had). Additionally, my agents were instructed to let it go if under 2 lbs. Because at that point, you’re going to either have an argument or waste time while people plop open their bags since you know they’ll do it while blocking the counter versus stepping out of line to the re-packing/weighing area we had on the side. Plus we allowed pooling bag weight (so as long as the average weight was okay amongst multiple bags, no problem because you’d correct it if we were going to charge you anyway). I always thought that even though yeah we did charge for everything, and maybe lost a fee here or there, common sense should at least be factored in and by having fewer disruptions to the check-in line and fewer arguments to possibly get escalated, it was worth the money lost.

  12. While working for Continental Airlines back in the day, there were quite a few agents that regularly checked in DR flights and took $25 bribes that saved the passengers $25 off the $50 fee. And almost everyone going to the Dominican Republic had over weight and oversized bags. The agents were caught and charged with felonies.

  13. Adam – lighten up, Francis. If they did this on every checked bag, the actual weight would be less, and it would only be for borderline bags. For jetliners, they don’t use the actual bag weights or assign weights to different holds based on CG. I doubt there are a lot of 50 lb+ bags on the puddle jumpers where they have to be a bit more careful with CG.

  14. United bribes at Newark? Can’t be! It’s not like they are running flights to destinations nobody wants to go to except the Director of the Port Authority!?!

  15. Here is another to look so i am premier elite and we are are eligble for upgrades if available. I booked months early and was on wait list i asked and we were 5 and 6. So we were waiting to see we if would be upgraded i asled and they said to ask the agent before boarding. I asked her and said i was on wait list. Now i know you get pushed back if people buy tickets but i saw the night before and i saw the empty seats. Out of curiosity i said what number are we she said 9 amd 10 i said how did we movw to 9 and 10 from 5 and 6 and she looked flustered oh lots of people bought tickets.
    Really? How does that change your number? Now someone sat next to us ironically and he said his wife has been bumped up to business class and they were surprised. How does that happen when he was even on a list and was not premiere.

  16. “ United Airlines actually lost a CEO in a bribery scandal involving Newark airport.” We should thank the bribery case in 2016 that got rid of Jeff Smisek. For passengers, that was the best thing happened after Continental taking over UA.

  17. Angelo
    just wait til United releases its 1st quarter financial results on Tuesday followed by management’s discussion on Wednesday which will almost certainly include a further downward revision in the number of aircraft deliveries from Boeing that United thought it would get this year.
    Not even denigrating the FAA and DOT – let alone more cash – will get UA what it wants and needs.

    WN is expected to be a smaller airline at the end of 2024 than at the beginning because of Boeing’s problems and the fact that there is a point where it doesn’t make sense to keep stretching out the life of aircraft.

    United will find out that it has to accept the same fate that other airlines are seeing. Not only will UA not grow as much as it wanted, but its planes will still get older and its maintenance costs to keep the ones it has will grow even faster.

    no amount of bribes can fix that.

    And specific to UA’s employees, the company will find it much harder to come up w/ cash to settle w/ labor groups that don’t have a contract such as FAs while those that do have contracts will see their profit sharing fall way short of what they thought they would get and what some competitors are giving their employees.

  18. @Wesley
    Some of those third world imports are now running Microsoft, google, IBM, Micron Technology, Adobe just to name a few. A few are in State Dept too.
    Go figure!

  19. when i worked for UAL at LGA there was an agent who always wanted FC check-in so she could get greased for upgrades. I figured it was a NYC thing.

  20. Let’s not forget these scams are actually theft. The scammers are stealing from the airline. Not likely to garner any sympathy but true nonetheless.

  21. The only time I ever encountered an airline employee that wanted cash “incentive” was non-reving from Mexico City. $50 per passenger to get us on the flight that was booked full with no seats for non-revs. Dare I say the name Mexicana Airlines. Haven’t been back since.
    Parts of US are definitely experiencing Third World behavior.

  22. any airline employee recording underweight baggage needs to be fired summarily as they are endangering the aircraft, its crew and its passengers. Passengers must be asked to stand away from the scale on weighing, and if any dispute, a second airline scale must be used, not a passenger’s scale.

  23. The only time in 30 plus years of flying did I have anything stolen from my luggage. Thanks Newark

  24. @Adam and Glenn While this behavior is despicable, it is in no way a threat to aviation safety. Even if the actual bag weights were used for W&B calcs (which they usually aren’t for normal airliners,) a few pounds is not going to make anywhere near enough difference to have a significant effect on an airliner’s performance. It matters a lot more on much smaller planes, of course. If exact weights were actually needed for the bags for W&B calcs, then exact weights would also be needed for cabin luggage as well as the passengers themselves!

    Now, on sports charters and such, then, yeah, you actually do need real measurements for all of that (because nearly everyone is way over average body mass and they’re also carrying equipment that varies quite a lot from average baggage,) but normal airline flights just use long-term averages (which can br adjusted by season to account for heavier winter clothes and such.)

  25. If happens to anyone, should be reported. This practice csn cost many lives. Including yours. You will be on that plane, remember that. Over weighted snd unbalanced plane will cause an acciddnt that can be fatal. The person who fall for that also should be banned of flying. You don’t play with peoples life including yours for 5 bucks! Really!!! I worka at the airport with cargo and bags and this is not a joke!

  26. @glenn e. pickard demonstrates the mentality of lying airline employees. If one airline scale is wrong, why would another airline scale all of a sudden be a reference standard? From a background of testing and measuring to national standards, going to another unknown airline scale is just garbage. What needs to be available is a 50 pound calibrated weight that can put on the scale to tare it at 50 pounds. Then the amount that it is off can be added or subtracted to find the true weight of the customer bag. For instance, if it reads 55 pounds then 5 pounds has to be subtracted and if it reads 45 pounds then 5 pounds has to be added. My experience has shown that my handheld digital scale is more accurate than the scales that airlines use since they don’t calibrate theirs after each customer. I test my scale against my old school doctor’s office balance beam scale and they always agree on weight down to fractions of a pound.

  27. @NedsKid Thank you for your post. It’s refreshing to see some common sense left in this world.

  28. Board of directors cares for their business long-term bad things & employees will be corrected ASAP. Greedily always comes from the top down regardless of races. Be nice to each other. We are human beings Not animals. Please stop turning our planet into a giant animal kingdom.

  29. Suppose the Newark airport check-in counter agent asks you to pay a tip for your non-overweight passenger baggage. In that case, I recommend tipping using foreign currencies, such as the Ugandan Shilling (UGX), where 1 shilling is worth 0.000267 dollars, the Guinean Franc (GNF), where 1 GNF = 0.000116 US dollars, or the Sierra Leonean Leone (SLL), where $1 equals 17,665 Sierra Leone leones. Counter agents are especially delighted to receive their tips in Uzbekistani Som (UZS).

  30. A South Asian ethnicity United Airlines check in agent tried this with me several years ago at Newark. When I pushed back, his colleague came running to intimidate me. This stuff happens more often than you know. I probably should’ve reported it but I had zero evidence so I didn’t report it.

  31. This culture starts at the top. Not just at the top of the company but at the top of the country and the world. Capitalism drives greed at every level of the world, country, county, city, company etc.

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