American Airlines Kicks Chinese Music Student Off Flight, Says to Buy 1st Class Ticket to Get Home

For DePaul music student Jingjing Hu, her cello–worth–nearly $30,000 is priceless.

“Maybe I’m exaggerating but it’s more than our life,” she told NBC 5 Friday.

So, for her trip to Miami to perform in a music festival she and her husband booked two seats: one for her and a second for her prized cello. Hu said she called American Airlines and verified with the agent that both her departing and returning flights would be able to accomodate the cello in a set.

“When I flew from Chicago to Miami I didn’t have any trouble with that,” she said. The flight crew gave her a special strap to hold the instrument in place.

But after boarding her return flight Thursday she was told she needed to get off.

This is how American Airlines treats musicians! So my wife Jingjing Hu, a DePaul University School of Music student, is scheduled to fly back to Chicago on American Airlines flight 2457 from Miami today. She is travelling with her cello in a hard case as a cabin baggage. I purchased two round trip tickets for her and her cello on Apr.2 on the phone directly from AA and told them specifically that one ticket is for the cello as cabin baggage. I was told it is abosolutely allowed and she won’t have any problem. She flew from Chicago to Miami on American Airlines 335 on Jun. 19 without any problem. She checked in her flight back yesterday online for both herself and the cello. Today she arrived at Miami International Airport – MIA 3 hours ahead, checked in her luggage, went through security check, and boarded the plane normally. Just before the flight attendants were about to close the gate, she was told to get off the plane because “the aircraft is too small for the cello”. She was assured that she could get on the next flight to Chicago about 1 hour later. When she was turning around and leaving the plane, her cello case touched the pilot. The pilot immediately claimed that he was bleeding because of the touch, while apparently there is no blood or injury to be found. My wife then took a picture of him and he was doing the victory sign to her and said “this is why we need to get her out”. Interestingly my wife was travelling with a friend, who remained on the plane. She told us that after my wife left, two other passengers came and sat in her and her cello’s seats. The story does not end here. After she got off the plane and trying to find the next flight that was guaranteed, she was told that the next flight was also “too small” for the cello, and they called the police because my wife was “not being understandable”. Fairly speaking no one can understand what’s happening. So surrounded by three law enforcement officers, my wife was told again that either she purchase first or business class tickets out of her pocket or she could not fly back to Chicago on an American Airlines flight because of Federal Aviation Administration regulations. So basically you either have to be rich to purchase the tickets, or just settle in Miami. I don’t know how are musicians supposed to travel to comply with those “regulations”. But clearly AA is just playing around with customers. They just kick off passengers when they oversell their tickets using FAA regulations as an excuse. I could have been told those regulations when purchasing the ticket. My wife could have been told those regulations when flying from Chicago to Miami, at check in counter in Miami International Airport, at the gate or even when boarding the plane. Yet they chose to kick her out last minute after she was seated and her cello safely secured. They even need law enforcement involved. What a shame. Please share and forward this if you can. We are so helpless when facing those giant companies. We demand American Airlines to offer my wife and her cello a flight back to Chicago, an explanation and an apology. CBS Chicago ABC 7 ChicagoWGN TV Fox 32 Chicago DePaul University help my wife please. I just want her back safe and sound.

Please retweet this if you can as many of you tell me that they respond faster on twitter.

****************** UPDATE ******************

I wrote the story when my wife was told that she either had to purchase two first or business class tickets to fly or she would never get on board. At the mean time I have made contact with news media about the ongoing story.

Hours later, she was booked flight 2796 back to Chicago today, and given a room at Holiday Inn. The police officer escorted her to the shuttle bus. Once she arrived at the Holiday Inn, she was told that she was at the wrong Holiday Inn. So she had to wait for another shuttle to another Holiday Inn. I wonder how many Holiday Inns are around MIA.

This morning, she was told she could only have breakfast for $12 or less, otherwise she had to pay by herself.

At the gate, she was denied pre-board and boarded the airplane in Group 5. She felt very anxious, constantly asked me if she would be kicked off the plane again.

The flight took off just now as scheduled and she is on the plane.

Interestingly minutes after take-off, I received a DM from AA saying the cello cannot fit into a 737 is the reason that she was kicked off. A screenshot is posted.

I’m hoping that I can pick her up at noon without further complications. Her luggage checked in yesterday was on the original flight. Not sure if they can keep that. Her music sheets are in that luggage and musicians know how important and value they are.

****************** UPDATE #2 ******************

My wife is back home! Her luggage that arrived yesterday at ORD on the original flight was already there at the baggage claim help desk. I am not sure if this is the normal service they provide or because of the incident. I am trying to be objective and only state facts.

I got more replys from AA on twitter. They insisted on the size of the cello. I am waiting to see what their “specialist” can give us after the “deep dive”. Another screenshot posted. Please forgive me typos.

Thanks for everyone who shared this and supports us. She is exhausted but physically OK. Her well being is the only thing I care.

“She said your cello is too big,” Hu recalled an America Airlines employee telling her. “This aircraft is too small to hold your cello.”

Hu was cleared by security and and American Airlines representative to board the plane on her return flight, and given the strap again even though it was a slightly smaller plane, she said. But after securing the instrument, it appeared the airline had changed its mind.

Federal regulations allow musicians to carry oversized instruments like cellos in the cabin when passengers purchase an additional seat.

American’s own policy makes this clear on their website: as long as the instrument doesn’t weigh more than 165 pounds and meets unspecified “seat size restrictions based on airplane type.”

Hu’s weighs less than 10. Still, she says she was escorted off the plane by law enforcement.

This isn’t the first time it’s happened. Last year an American Airlines passenger was booted from a flight because the airline said his cello–also in its own seat–posed a security risk. The airline later said that was an error and apologized. The airline said it rebooked Hu for another flight the next morning on a larger aircraft and provided her with hotel and meal accommodations.

American Airlines told NBC 5 in a statement there was a “miscommunication” about whether the cello met the requirements to fit onboard the aircraft.

“We apologize for the misunderstanding and customer relations will be reaching out to her,” the statement read.

A tearful Hu finally made it back to Chicago Friday where her husband, Jay Tang, was waiting.

“I don’t think we did anything wrong here and I think the way they handled it was humiliating,” Tang said.

Hu says she hopes to get a sincere apology from the airline and hopes other musicians can learn from her experience.

“You had so many chances to tell me ‘you cannot board’ yesterday,” she said. “You never told me until I sat down.”

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One thought on “American Airlines Kicks Chinese Music Student Off Flight, Says to Buy 1st Class Ticket to Get Home

  1. The pilot is not giving the “victory” sign as you state. He is letting the gate agent know that they now have two empty seats in case there are standby passengers that can be boarded. I’m glad your wife is “physically okay”, but, why wouldn’t she be? Her return trip was simply delayed by a day.

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