United Slams Boarding Door in Face of Big Bang Theory Actress

Carry on bags are a challenge for airlines that are trying to depart on time. That’s become far more the case over the past 11 years since US airlines added checked bag fees (so passengers try to carry on more) and they’ve resisted adding flights (capacity discipline) so that planes are increasingly full.

It takes time to store carry on bags on the plane, but perhaps more importantly when passengers discover at the last minute that there’s no overhead bin space left it takes time to gate check their bags.

Airlines have different strategies for combating this.

  • American Airlines is adding bigger overhead bins, first installed by Alaska Airlines. Their new domestic aircraft configuration – uncomfortable as it is – allows one full-sized carry on bag per passenger.

  • United remains the only legacy airline in the US to restrict carry on bags on basic economy fares. In fact if you’re on a basic economy fare and not checking a bag you’re required to check in with a person (wait in line) and not use their app. This inconveniences basic economy passengers further, but allows the airline to eyeball what is being carried through to the boarding gate to prevent slowing down departure.


United Airlines Houston

Maybe it was the carry on bag at the last minute that caused Big Bang Theory actress Mayim Bialik to be denied boarding from a United flight in Houston. She certainly suggests so. As one of the last passengers to board the gate agent may have feared there wouldn’t be space for this first class passenger’s bag, and they wouldn’t be able to hit D0 gate checking it.

She says other passengers were allowed to board at the same time she was denied boarding, and that she would have been happy to leave her carry on anywhere including in her first class seat (buckled in I guess!) while she’d just sit in back.

According to Bialik the gate agent said there were ‘plenty of seats open’ but also that she was there when there was just “7 mins left” while the airline can close doors 10 minutes prior to departure. What’s curious is the part about allowing other passengers to board while she was not.

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Ok @united airlines. i know I barely made my connecting flight. But I made it despite your delays making me late. And you turned me away as you let 5 other people on from my connecting flight because I had a carry on suitcase. They had carry ons too. I understand everything was shut but that lady stewardess didn’t have to shut the boarding door like she did in my face without even saying she was sorry. Or with 7 min left she could have made a small effort to try harder since she said there were “plenty of seats open.” Maybe she hates the Big Bang theory. Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe she hates women who look like they’re going to cry. Now my suitcase is broken from running so hard and aggressively, my asthma is super angry and random people think I’m a prima donna because as she shut the door I said “I have a first class seat!” I didn’t mean I deserve it more, I meant can my suitcase sit in my first class seat and I’ll sit anywhere else? Not a good day for me and @united .

A post shared by mayim bialik (@missmayim) on

United says they’ve been in touch with the actress, and that they “were able to get Ms. Bialik on the next flight to Los Angeles and we are reviewing what happened with our team in Houston.”

With Scott Kirby’s arrival at United from American D0 became a priority and they were behind even American in January for on-time performance. Employees now earn bonuses based on beating all of Delta, Southwest, and American on this metric.

Of course they earn bonuses for customers satisfaction scores, too, and while in theory customers should be most satisfied when flights operate on time the way these two measures play out they’re often in opposition to each other.

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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Comments

  1. “American Airlines is adding bigger overhead bins, first installed by Alaska Airlines. Their new domestic aircraft configuration – uncomfortable as it is – allows one full-sized carry on bag per passenger.“

    American could have prioritized passenger comfort and still allowed one full-sized carry on bag per passenger. Trying to equate the two is a little disingenuous.

    “Uncomfortable as it is” in the AA playbook is all about maximizing profit, at the expense of paying customers.

  2. Intersection between customer satisfaction and operational metrics, and comparative strategies for handling influx of carry on bags as illustrated by a real world experience of a high profile passenger flying first class. But whatevs.

  3. Every time there is an argument, there are two sides

    In most cases, both sides have a reason to be upset

    We rarely have all the required information

  4. Well, I’d say things worked out well for her. Normally United Beats the *#@& out of people. Then drags them off the plane. She is very lucky in this regard.

  5. Ha metrics – fun fact did you know when you go to ER your visit also needs to meet metrics? Next time your doctor spends 2 mins with you, it’s not personal it’s the world of metrics. Key difference, he/she isn’t getting bonused, they get penalized based on metrics…United staff have it easy.

  6. “United remains the only legacy airline in the US to restrict carry on bags on basic economy fares. In fact if you’re on a basic economy fare and not checking a bag you’re required to check in with a person (wait in line) and not use their app. This inconveniences basic economy passengers further, but allows the airline to eyeball what is being carried through to the boarding gate to prevent slowing down departure.”

    that requirement is relaxed for any elite, and the folks actually impacted by the rule are those who would very likely to be in boarding groups 4 and 5 anyway even before the change, so it’s not like their bags have any good chance for overhead space.

    make basic econ too compelling, and it’ll be an effective downsell of your own customer instead of trying to upsell them “back” to regular econ.

  7. Prima Donna? Who said you are a Prima Donna? Perhaps an angry entitled baby….

    Big Bang Theory? Why is that relevant? Does using that line get you dates?

    Ruined your day; asthma attack; suitcase broken…..there is a God.

  8. United Rising
    United breaks guitars,beats passengers to a bloody pulp and runs a horrible greedy FF program
    I would even Fly American if I was forced to over United
    But boycotting both is my personal preference

  9. So I’ve had boarding doors closed (not “slammed in my face”) when I’ve run to catch a connecting flight (and I’m running because my first flight arrived late). I’ve even had this happen at IAH on UA. I certainly thought the airline could have done a better job helping me, but it was certainly true I didn’t arrive at the gate 10 minutes before the flight. So I could believe THAT story.

    What I’m skeptical of is Bialik’s claim that OTHERS were allowed to board, and that the flight wasn’t sold out. That doesn’t make any sense. So there’s probably something inaccurate about her story. I also think it unwise to hype the random “horror stories” of celebrities who complain about their air travel. Less inaccurate social media outrage would be a good thing.

  10. If the US had the slightest consumer-protection a la EC261, airlines would be less inclined to slam the door in the face of a passenger who’s been running to make a connection because their inbound flight was late

  11. If it were not a public face, would United ‘keep in touch with that person and review what happened with their team in Houston’ ? Airlines are selectively abusing their rights soooo often.

  12. The mind boggles at the average American’s idea of what a “full-size carry-on ” might be! Given that is likely to be in the realms of humungous, how would it pass the 7kg max weight test?

  13. @Harry — Actually, regulation might make this MORE likely to happen. Like If you don’t show up 10 minutes before your departure time, you don’t board. Regulations are inflexible. And the regulated often follow them exactly to avoid penalties.

    There are always going to be latecomers for an airline flight. Some will board, some will not. The planes have to leave sometime. Getting the gov’t involved in this matter wouldn’t help anyone.

  14. I don’t understand the whole United thing. If she paid for a seat, let alone a first class seat, and other people were still in the process of boarding why the hell was she not allowed to board? If somebody is going to get bumped it really shouldn’t be the person on a paid first class ticket. I could understand if she showed up late and the gate was already closed, but IF what she says is true about people still boarding then I see no acceptable reason for this.

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