American Airlines Checked Baggage Fees Vary Based on the Meaning of Words

When President Clinton testified in front of a grand jury he suggested that his truthfulness depended on the meaning of the word ‘is’.

It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the—if he—if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not—that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement

Precise words matter in a courtroom and — it seems — when checking bags with American Airlines.

Checked baggage fees can be complicated.

  • For instance audio visual equipment can be checked at a discount if you’re a member of the media.
  • Most sports equipment counts as standard checked baggage for fee purposes, but golf equipment costs $42.50 to check on Brazil flights.
  • One hockey stick and one hockey bag count as one piece of luggage.
  • And one ski bag and a ski boot bag are together just one piece of luggage… but cost $28.05 on Brazil flights.

Here’s the question: Is curling a sport? And is that up to the Olympics or your American Airlines gate agent?

Granted I’m not really a fan of curling, myself, sliding stones on a sheet of ice towards a target.

Erin McInrue Savage is. And she got into a disagreement with American Airlines on the subject. She claims American Airlines wanted to charge her $150 to check her curling broom because it’s oversized, and she wanted to pay $25 “the standard fee for an excess sports equipment bag.”

She claims, though, that “[The agent] said curling isn’t a sport,”

“[The agent] said it wasn’t an ‘elite’ sport like golf,” McInrue Savage recalled, noting that even after giving the customer service agent a history lesson about curling’s origins, as well as offering to demonstrate how the brooms worked by unpacking them, the agent only relented slightly.

…McInrue Savage said after about an eight-minute exchange, the agent finally agreed to allow her to pay the $25 standard sports baggage fee, but not without resistance. McInrue Savage said the agent ended their exchange by telling her, “I hope you never fly American Airlines again.”

Here’s the thing. I can’t find anything in American’s baggage rules suggesting that if curling were a ‘real’ sport her oversized equipment would cost just $25. The passenger says that’s what her teammates were charged on their outbound flight — on another airline.

And even if there was a disagreement over checked baggage, I don’t see why the agent would have told the customer not to buy tickets on the airline again.

American spokesperson Ross Feinstein, for his part, said that American Airlines agrees “that curling is a sport,” that the check-in agent happens to be a former gymnast and coach, and charged the correct oversized sporting equipment rate of $150 — and that if it ‘wasn’t sporting equipment’ the amount would have been $200.

In this case sporting equipment meant a lower baggage fee, the particular merits of curling notwithstanding.

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. So if a person with sporting equipment is an AA credit card holder would they get the baggage for free domestically? Internationally? Would it matter?

  2. I checked a golf bag last week as my only checked luggage and it was not assessed a fee. It counted as my one checked bag. But do make sure it does not exceed 50 lbs.!

  3. Oh come on. I’ve curled before, our brooms were no longer than the longest golf club. How is that oversized when a golf club isn’t??? Maybe curling buffs need to just pack in a golf bag…

    AA continues to show that poor customer service is the path to the bottom. What a shame for them since customer service (and making customers feel like they got away with something) is SOOOO easy to accomplish. Just offer a ‘one time exception’ every single time and let the customer win…the customer thinks he/she got away with something and will return for another flight to try it again. This isn’t rocket surgery!

  4. Where is this alleged $25 fee documented? I see it nowhere on the AA site. Most sporting equipment is simply classified as regular baggage and standard baggage restrictions apply. There are a few exceptions (golf clubs, surfboards, etc.), but for the most part everything is treated as standard baggage.

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