A music student at Chicago-based DePaul University was kicked off an American Airlines flight earlier this week because the cello she brought aboard the plane was deemed "too big," despite the passenger having purchased an extra ticket for her musical instrument.
Photo of cello fastened to the seat on the plane /Photo via NBC 5
The incident took place on Thursday as Jingjing Hu was flying back from Miami after attending a music festival there.
Hu’s husband Jay Tang had booked extra roundtrip tickets specifically for her cello, which is worth about 30,000 US dollars, so she could carry it as cabin baggage, and had verified with the airline to ensure that both aircrafts could accommodate the instrument.
Everything was smooth for Hu on the Miami-bound flight, during which she was offered a special strap to fasten the instrument. However, after boarding her returning flight to Chicago on Thursday, she was asked to get off the plane.
"She (the flight attendant) said your cello is too big. This aircraft is too small to hold your cello," Hu said in an interview, noting that she was later escorted off the plane by law enforcement officers.
As Hu disembarked with her cello, the pilot claimed he was brushed by the instrument, but Hu said she did not see any injuries on him.
In a picture the music student took, the pilot was seen flashing a "V" sign.
According to federal regulations, musicians are allowed to carry oversize instruments such as cellos in the cabin, as long as they buy an additional ticket.
Jingjing Hu's photo of the American Airlines pilot
According to American Airlines' website, musical instruments are allowed if they weigh less than 165 pounds (75 kg) and meet unspecified seat size restrictions based on the airplane type. Hu’s cello weighs less than 10 pounds (4.5 kg).
According to Hu’s husband, who published details of what happened on his Facebook account, two other passengers took the seats after they became vacant following the ejection of Hu from the plane.
Tang said his wife had to wait for a day in Miami, because the next plane was again "too small for the cello."
While waiting at the airport "surrounded by three law enforcement officers," Hu was told that “either she purchases first or business class tickets out of her pocket or she could not fly back to Chicago on an American Airlines flight," according to Tang.
"Clearly AA is just playing around with customers. They just kick off passengers when they oversell their tickets using FAA regulations as an excuse," Tang wrote.
Jay Tang's account of the incident on his Facebook account
Hu returned on another American Airlines flight the next day, after Tang contacted media and shared the experience on Facebook.
American Airlines said in a statement carried by NBC 5 that there was a "miscommunication" about whether the instrument met the requirements to fit aboard the particular aircraft.
"We apologize for the misunderstanding and customer relations will be reaching out to her," said the statement.
The passenger said she felt humiliated.
A still of NBC 5's report of the incident /Photo via NBC 5
"You had so many chances to tell me ‘you cannot board’ yesterday," she said. "You never told me until I sat down."
A hashtag of the incident became one of the most searched hashtags on China's Twitter-like Weibo on Sunday, with many questioning the reasons behind Hu’s removal from the plane.
"Buying an extra ticket is for the safety of the cello. What excuse did AA have for not allowing the passenger and the cello to board the plane, after she had verified with the airlines in advance," Nana Ou-yang, a young Chinese cellist commented on her Weibo account, adding that she hoped the airline could offer an explanation.
Her opinion was echoed by other Weibo users.
Under Jay Tang’s article, many Facebook users also expressed their sympathy to Hu and complained about the airline’s attitude.
"Customer service was lost long time ago. If not for the social networks, your wife will still be in Miami," said Facebook user Maria-Laura Patino, who recalled her own experience traveling with American Airlines.
Tang said on Saturday in an update to his original Facebook post that two days have passed since the incident without receiving any proper explanation from the airline, after they promised "a deep dive" over the incident.