American Airlines offers $50 voucher after being accused of scale ‘sham’

You probably already suspect that the weights used at the airport check-in counter are less than accurate. But what happens when a passenger catches an airline in the act of tipping the scales?

Shawn Rabin knows. Last week, his wife and three-year-old son flew from Phoenix to Chicago on American Airlines.

“My wife packed very prudently and smart for both of them and was able to get everything in one checked bag,” he says. “I always pre-weigh our bags at home, and at home my scale said 45 pounds.” They checked one bag, which weighed in at 44 pounds at the airport.

Now fast forward to the return flight last weekend. Same exact bag. But in Chicago, it weighed 52 pounds and incurred a $50 fee.

“When the flight landed I met my family and retrieved the bag,” Rabin told me. “I then proceeded to American’s check-in counter and asked the agent if I could weigh my bag. It weighed 47.5 pounds — her bag had lost 4.5 pounds on a 3 1/2 hour flight.”

What to do?

I recommended Rabin write a brief, polite letter to American Airlines requesting a refund. He did.

Here’s the airline’s answer:

Dear Mr. Rabin:

I am very sorry to learn that we’ve disappointed your wife and son in so many ways. I have reviewed the problems you reported and am glad you’ve given us this opportunity to respond.

We appreciate your inquiry about the accuracy of our airport baggage scales. Each airport station calibrates their own scales in accordance with regulations defined by individual states. American Airlines is in full compliance with the policies for scale calibrations.

I know you were disappointed at having to pay a fee for the baggage when your wife traveled with us to Phoenix. However, while it might not be readily apparent, there are additional costs associated with the handling and transportation of excess or overweight luggage. Accordingly, we must respectfully decline to refund the checked baggage fee you paid.

As a gesture of goodwill and to encourage your continued business, we’ve made arrangements for an eVoucher (see details below) for you and your family to use toward the purchase of a ticket to travel with us. I hope you will accept our gesture in the spirit of compromise. The next time you travel with us, we’ll do our best to make sure your trip is a good one.

Mr. Rabin, you may be sure that the manager involved has reviewed your comments. Your letter has served as a focus of discussion on how to better handle similar difficulties in the future. You have given us the opportunity to improve our service and we will do our best to do just that.

Please travel with us again soon. It is always a privilege to welcome you aboard.


Lynn P. Ferguson
Customer Relations
American Airlines

Rabin says he is pleased with the response.

The voucher was for $50. I will use the voucher, and given I never expected my money back, I am as happy as can be expected. I do not believe the customer relations person that all scales are in sync everyday, and I do not like that she glossed over the fact that the two scales in two cities weighed different amounts.

I still think American has some explaining to do. The scales in Phoenix are problematic, which is something American is almost certainly aware of.

I would have been happier with a full refund, although in a few weeks, that will be irrelevant.