79-year-old Joyce Rowland knew it was not a good idea when American Airlines grabbed her sewing machine at the gate, but when she pushed back, she was overruled. Not surprisingly, when she landed four hours later she found her beloved machine severely damaged.
Senior Citizen Forced To Check Sewing Machine At Gate Before Boarding American Airlines Flight, (Obviously) Finds It Damaged Upon Landing
Rowland was not an ignorant traveler. The Chicago resident is an avid sewer and when she traveled to Los Angeles last December for a one-month trip to be with her family on the West Coast, she took her sewing machine along. Her plan was to create Christmas gifts and continue her daily sewing while in California. This wasn’t her first rodeo.
Her sewing machine can be packed up into a traveling case, which is carry-on sized. Rowland required a wheelchair at Chicago O’Hare and was wheeled up to the gate of her flight, carrying the sewing machine in her hand.
But the gate agent literally snatched it from her hand, telling her it was too big to be a carry-on item and that it would get damaged onboard (talk about irony). Before Rowland could even question it, the sewing machine was already tagged and taken away.
When she reached LAX baggage claim, her worst fears were confirmed: her sewing machine was butchered. It had been bounced around in the cargo hold and was damaged. To rub salt in the wound, when she returned to Chicago a month later she had no trouble taking the sewing machine onboard as her carry-on.
Back at home, she took her machine in to be repaired: it cost her $989.22. She submitted the receipt to American Airlines, hoping for a refund, but heard nothing at all. After a few months, she reached out to the local NBC affiliate in Chicago and told her story. When it reached out to AA, the airline finally responded and compensated Rowland for the repairs to her machine.
Don’t Let Them Take Your Bag!
I’m glad this story has a (somewhat) happy ending, but it was such a needless repair in the first place. How sad that the American Airlines gate agent in Chicago did not use a little common sense before forcing Rowland to check her sewing machine.
Rowland told NBC 5 that the lesson she learned was, “I would tell people not to bring their sewing machines.” While that is reasonable, my takeaway is different. Instead, you have to “stand your ground” and insist that a fragile device like a sewing machine (or a musical instrument) is not taken from you. It would have been much safer in the cabin and the TSA allows sewing machines as carry-on items. Assuming it fits in the overhead bin or closet, you must insist that it be allowed onboard or be willing to walk away from the flight.
I think it’s totally reasonable for a traveler to take their sewing machine along on a month-long trip if that is their hobby or source of enjoyment.
When American Airlines forced a senior citizen to check her sewing machine, she knew it would be damaged. And it did. AA has now paid nearly $1,000 for the repair, but it was such a needless error in the first place. If you are traveling with something valuable like that, you better be prepared to step off that flight if you are forced to check your valuable carry-on. That certainly beats dealing with a broken sewing machine or musical instrument.
There is no pushing back on airline employees. if you do, the gate agents: 1. Remove you from the flight 2. Ban you for life 3. Call the police.
AA check in agent at DCA did this to me at DCA two weeks ago. She remove me from the flight and put me on standby for a later flight. I shut my mouth (pretty hard for me to do, BTW) and went to the gate. The gate agent recognized the issue and put me back on the flight albeit I lost my upgrade in the process.
I have to agree with this.
Started flying when I got my first job with Merrill Lynch and I was flying in an overbooked flight with AA. They “randomly” selected me to be put on the next flight when I told them I could not. The gate agent got very hostile and then called the police on me and the police automatically cuffed me when they arrived because all the gate agent told them was “there is a black man being very aggressive.” The officers apologized and I missed the meeting. Luckily, the police officers sent the report of what happened to my boss which backed up my story, and I didn’t get fired at the time.
Crazy. Was there any accountability from AA about this incident?
(You too @rjb)
They did not. They just stuck with their story and kept saying that I was being hostile when I’m a really calm person overall.
To be honest, I couldn’t be bothered/didn’t have the time to pursue with that at the time as I was only a banking associate at the time, meaning I was working 70 hours/week.
Horrible. I would still report it now. Compensation is warranted
$1000 is nothing compared to the PR hit from a headline like “AA confiscates and destroys sewing machine of little old lady traveling to make Christmas gifts for family”
Well done AA
Oh boy! AA is such a bad airline – I will stay away from them as much as I can.
Quality customer service is part of the culture of a company that is nurtured and reinforced from the CEO to the shift manager or purser. Of AA, United, and Delta, AA is at the bottom of my list. These airlines, unlike hotel chains, are not franchises, they have direct, hands on control, of their employees and the ability to enforce their customer service standards. Yet they do not. Hyatt, which is mainly franchises, manages to enforce a high standard across all of the properties with their name on it, no matter if it is corporate owned or a franchise. These airlines need to learn how Hyatt is able to accomplish this and they cannot. No excuses.
Ohhhhh gate agents!!! The nicest people you can find. They are usually so kind and understanding and treat passengers so well, they don’t make their own rules, they are very efficient, ….. Lovely people!!!
The FA unions would do well to encourage some gate agent reform. Just look at the stories alone on this thread from Malik and rjb. Is the pressure on them to board early or whatever else that intense? Also countless stories of plenty of bin space post-forced gate check. Who the hell gate checks a sewing machine. Clearly someone who has never seen one and doesn’t know what it is. You really have to be your own advocate in every situation these days but then again, risk being thrown off.
I fly very often on United on a very small regional jet and since I take that flight very often I know my carry on fits into the overhead bin. Every single time a gate agent tries to gate check my bag and I have to patiently and politely explain that I have taken that same plane before and it will fit. They hate been proven wrong.
It better be their CRJ550! The only regional jet I can even begin to stomach
The larger Embraer’s are ok like 175 but the tiny ones are pretty meh
I can only imagine that you are a gate agent.
The treatment by passengers to Gate agents is appalling
I’m a Former Gate agent for Continental Airlines. However, the control they weird after 911 is out of bounds!
My roller bag fit on an AA 737. The gate agent at ORD insisted it was too big and gate checked it. Like this woman, it was damaged. AA replaced it with a cheap bag but, luckily, my original bag was worn and a bit cheap. I did not want to protest other than one sentence because they could call the police and falsely claim that I threatened to hijack the plane.
Everything about this situation was in American Airlines’ control. I will assume that the sewing machine was the right size in it’s packing because it was allowed to be carried on on the trip back. I have seen good working with passengers by gate agents with EVA Air, a world top ten airline from Taiwan. They calculate how many carry-on bags they need to put in the hold. Then they go around before boarding and politely ask customers if they can check their large roller bags. If they get an affirmative answer, they tag the bag, put the sub on the ticket and wheel the bag to a holding area near the gate. I have allowed them to take my carry-on before. Sometimes I have had to take some things out before turning it over. A few times I declined and they went on to the next passenger with a large roller bag. They always get enough bags checked. A nonconfrontational and cooperative approach. I like almost everything about EVA Air.
AA strikes again. Was on a CRJ Charlotte to Prov and told NO ROLLER BAGS allowed even tho I knew it would fit even under the seat. They took it — left it out on the tarmac in the rain for 20 minutes and when I got it back it looked like a truck had run over it. talked to agents and told write a complaint -I did so and told that is the policy>>> Bad PR and will not fly them again…
After many flights with my sewing machine in a carry-on sized bag, I had my sewing machine taken from me boarding a Southwest flight because they claimed there was no more overhead space. Surprisinglly, the woman behind me threw a fit and they found room for her bag. I insisted they put a FRAGILE tag on my bag which delayed the flight while they looked for one. When I tried to collect for the $500+ repair bill, I was told that they are not responsible for fragile items!!
I have since bought a smaller machine that fits in a roller bag that fits under the middle seat.
First, I’ve read that shipping a machine vis UPS or whomever is safer for your machine. I always save the original box and packing material for this purpose. Second, the Tutto machine cases/trolleys seem to be the strongest out there. I don’t know if I’d trust one with my best machine, but one might withstand baggage handlers—might.
You should read what they do to wheelchairs! And refuse to pay for repairs of the customized wheelchairs leaving people without means of transport, and leaving many people in danger from Ill fitted and worn rentals.
I am a clockmaker, returning home from a national collector’s convention (in 2014). I had purchased six 1880’s French ‘Carriage Clocks’, with repeat function and alarms, at the convention which after I serviced them would (at the time) retail at over $500 each. My bag was not over-sized, but because the flight was full, I was told as I boarded I would have to check my carry-on. I informed the Flight Attendant that my bag exceeded the stated value coverage by the airline (I checked ahead of time – thus why carrying-on), and that the airline would be actually incurring less risk if they made someone check their laptop computer instead (!!!!) I held out as long as I could – just short of being ordered off of the flight and/or arrested, and prayed. They did make it to my destination successfully, but when I wrote the airline to complain, they had zero understanding and sympathy.
With the insane price of airline tickets these days, suggesting to be prepared to walk away from the flight, most people are unable to just walk away from that kind of money and you can guarantee the airline won’t reimburse you at this point.