American Airlines apologises after forcing Chinese musician and her cello to leave plane

Cellist told she must buy first or business-class tickets or she could not fly back to Chicago

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 August, 2018, 6:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 August, 2018, 6:45pm

American Airlines has apologised after a Chinese music student was removed from one of its flights from Miami to Chicago because the cello she had on the seat next to her was oversized.

Hu Jingjing, a student at DePaul University’s School of Music in Chicago, boarded flight 2457 on Thursday and was told that her cello was too big for a seat on the Boeing 737, even though her husband had checked with the airline that she could bring the instrument on board. He booked an extra seat for the cello, with Hu buckling it up with an extended seat belt, CBS Chicago reported on Sunday.

American Airlines passenger says she was targeted and mistreated

In a Facebook post, Jay Tang, Hu’s husband, said that when he bought two round-trip tickets for his wife he told the airline that one was for the cello (which is worth nearly US$30,000) to be classed as cabin baggage.

“I was told it is allowed and she won’t have any problem,” he said.

“When I flew from Chicago to Miami, I didn’t have any trouble with that,” Hu said in an interview with NBC 5 on Friday.

She had given a performance at the Miami Music Festival and her problems began on the return flight to Chicago. After citing a lack of understanding on the part of Hu, cabin crew called police.

“So surrounded by three law enforcement officers, my wife was told again that either she purchase first or business-class tickets out of her [own] pocket or she could not fly back to Chicago on an American Airlines flight because of Federal Aviation Administration regulations,” Tang said in the Facebook post.

“So basically you either have to be rich to purchase the tickets, or just settle in Miami.”

Lindsey Martin, a spokeswoman for American Airlines told the South China Morning Post on Monday that the incident arose from a “miscommunication”.

“Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication about whether the cello she was travelling with met the requirements to fit on board the particular aircraft she was flying, a Boeing 737,” Martin said.

“We apologise for the misunderstanding and customer relations has reached out to her.”

Hu was accompanied by a representative of the airline and security while she waited for a later flight, but was again refused permission to fly with her cello, because it was also a 737.

At the airport she was shown the regulations stipulating only that “bass violins or fiddles”, are prohibited on a Boeing 737.

American Airlines’ policy is that instruments “that are too large to be stowed in an approved carry-on stowage location, or are too fragile to be checked may still be taken in the cabin and transported in a passenger seat if certain requirements are met, including purchase of a ticket for an additional seat”.

How the world's 5 best airlines measure up

Hu was not able to get on a larger Boeing 767, on a flight back to Chicago, until the next morning and American Airlines provided her with overnight accommodation and complimentary meals, said Martin.

Hu was so upset by the incident that she was reduced to tears at the airport.

“I could have been told those regulations when purchasing the ticket,” Tang posted.

“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.”

Last year, another musician, John Kaboff, was also removed from an American Airlines flight, from Washington to Chicago even though like Hu he had brought an extra seat for his cello. The airline later apologised for its error, gave Kaboff a refund and put him and his cello on the next available flight.