An American Airlines gate agent purportedly threatened to cancel a flight to Charlotte if 20 people did not agree to give up their seats and take a taxi instead.
Did A Gate Agent For American Airlines Threaten To Cancel Flight If 20 Volunteers Did Not Step Up?
Our story takes us to the Carolinas, specifically to Columbia, South Carolina (CAE), an airport I frequently flew into during law school when my uncle lived there. It’s 89 miles from Charlotte (CLT), an American Airlines hub and AA operates several daily flights between the two cities.
On Saturday, January 6, 2024, a gate agent threatened passengers traveling from CAE-CLT: if 20 people did not give up their seats and take a taxi to Charlotte, he would cancel the flight.
I’m trying to leave Columbia, SC for a 9 am connection in Charlotte. @AmericanAir is announcing that if 20 people don’t give up their seats and get on a taxi to Charlotte, they’ll cancel this flight and no one will make it. Has anyone ever experienced this on American? Insane. pic.twitter.com/IAVntnMex0
— Seth Dillon (@SethDillon) January 6, 2024
We cannot say with certainty whether this story is even true. The complaint was posted by Seth Dillon of the Babylon Bee (consider it the Christian version of The Onion). With him, the line between fact and fiction is often blurred.
But his tweet does not seem like a joke. On the contrary, he appears quite serious and it factually makes sense if the flight was weight-restricted. While it is doubtful that the flight was literally oversold by 20 passengers, it is much more plausible that weight restrictions meant 20 seats had to remain open.
View From The Wing thinks the gate agent was just bluffing, but I am not so sure. Consider if American Airlines had to pay out involuntary denied boarding credit (i.e. cash) to 20 passengers. That would add up quite a bit. In fact, theoretically, it would be cheaper to cancel the flight due to operational reasons, then set up a new section using the same aircraft and crew but with only 50 seats available.
The USA does not have the generous delay/cancellation credit that exists in the European Union and the United Kingdom. A canceled flight may require hotel and meal vouchers, but not cash compensation.
It’s a tricky loophole, but I do not see a legal barrier to such a “innovative” solution to a flight that is suddenly weight-restricted. Sure, AA takes a ding in terms of its operational metrics (competition factor) but it comes out saving money.
In this case, however, it was not necessary because 20 volunteers did step up to take the cab to CLT.
A gate agent threatened to cancel a flight oversold by 20 passengers if 20 volunteers did not step forward to use a taxi for the 89-mile flight. It isn’t clear to me if this was a bluff or not, but apparently enough people stepped up and took the cab.
(and as it turned out they beat the flight to Charlotte Douglass International Airport)