American Airlines Staffer Refuses To Let Me Fly Twice In One Day

We’ve posted numerous stories in recent years about airline staffers booting passengers from flights or having them detained after the plane lands for reasons that seem pretty petty. And here’s the story of a Consumerist reader who says he wasn’t even allowed on his plane because an American Airlines employee had issues with both of his passports, even though the TSA had no problems.

Jonathan was set to travel to London from Chicago with his college class. When he got to O’Hare Airport, his passport wouldn’t scan because his dog had apparently taken one too many bites out of it.

The attendant at the ticket counter attempted to scan it at another computer, but that’s when her boss came over and got involved in the matter.

Writes Jonathan:

She snatches my passport right out of the attendants hand, comes up to me and says, “Sir, you are not flying today.”

We ask her why, and she just says that it’s her call, and that she doesn’t have to accept anyone with a damaged passport.

Jonathan’s professor was with him at the AA counter and pulled out her own water-damaged passport to show that she was able to get her boarding pass. He says the American Airlines boss told the professor she should consider herself lucky she wasn’t being pulled from the flight.

This is when Jonathan remembers that he has an Israeli passport back at home. Everyone seems to agree that this is acceptable, so he changes his flight to one later in the day and heads home to get the second passport.

But his second attempt at getting a boarding pass was foiled by the same AA boss, who looked at Jonathan’s Israeli passport and told him, “You won’t be flying today, not with this passport.”

The reason? According to Jonathan, she declared that a 1 centimeter tear on one page of the passport was sufficient grounds to bar him from the flight.

Matt continues:

But then I decided to get creative. I took my passports to the TSA office, found the head honcho and asked him if he would have any problem with letting me through, and onto my flight with either of my passports.

He said that they were both fine; had I only had my chewed up American passport, I’d just need a second form of ID for verification, which I of course had.

So I decide to bring him along with me to notify the AA GM that she is being incredibly unreasonable. Before he can even get a word out, she turns bright red and starts screaming at both of us. She threatens to call the cops on me, tells me that I should be thankful that she’s protecting me and everyone else from terrorists by not letting me on the plane, she threatens to cancel my ticket, and to also charge me the difference for having to move to a later flight.

Well then I walk away, there’s nothing left I can do. Apparently I’m a dangerous atheist Jew w/ a beard whose hell bent on keeping her from protecting her country.

After an hour on the phone with the airline, Jonathan was able to book a flight for even later in the day, knowing full well he could get turned away a third time.

But after yet another trip home and back to the airport, Matt was able to breeze through check-in and security without so much as a raised eyebrow.

In the end, Jonathan’s 7-hour flight to London required 6 hours of travel time to and from O’Hare.


Edit Your Comment

  1. MonkeyMonk says:

    I hope Jonathan is also writing a nicely worded letter to American Airlines. They probably won’t appreciate the bad press from Consumerist but I’d still “out” the activist staffer to her corporate bosses.

    • crazydavythe1st says:

      they could figure out who the gate agent is pretty quickly if they really cared.

      The real question is whether or not Jonathan should/will take the time and effort to write such a letter that will at best probably just net a token 2000 miles or so.

  2. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Someone takes their Security Theater very seriously.

    • dush says:

      Ironically is was the TSA guy who was reasonable.

      • falnfenix says:

        and i want that guy’s name publicized so everyone who hates the TSA can actually give him kudos…then maybe give him a better job than working for that agency.

        • SkokieGuy says:

          I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s already been disciplined. How dare he be customer-friendly and use common sense.

      • Applekid ‚îÄ‚îÄ‚î¨ Ôªø„Éé( „Çú-„Çú„Éé) says:

        Sure, but the beauty of security theater is that we’re all actors upon this whole world of a stage. In this case, refusing a traveler with a perfectly good passport stops terr’ists from getting on planes.

    • Jane_Gage says:

      There’s a fuse involved, but it’s in her panties.

    • Clyde Barrow says:

      Some lady with a huge ego.

      • Yomiko says:

        Yeah, the clue that this was an ego thing and not a legit thing was that the TSA gave him the ok and she didn’t let it go.

  3. dolemite says:

    “after yet another trip home and back to the airport, Matt was able to breeze through check-in and security without so much as a raised eyebrow.” I suppose that manager with a hair up her ass had to go home eventually.

  4. crazydavythe1st says:

    Was it Consumerist that had the Circuit City Death Watch?

    As good as AA normally is to me, and even though they technically have enough cash to operate for sometime, maybe we should consider establishing the AA Death Watch. or the Death-by-US-Airways watch.

  5. Blueskylaw says:

    “American Airlines Staffer Refuses To Let Me Fly Twice In One Day”

    Perhaps the staffer knew the roast beef sandwiches that would be served on the flight were not refrigerated properly and thought they were doing you a favor.

    • NotEd says:

      Roast Beef sandwiches on American Airlines wouldn’t be Kosher anyways.
      Now Hummus or Cheese being spoiled? That would be an issue.

      That being said, that last Kosher meal I had on British Air was delicious! Of course it was 20 years ago. Still, precedent set, right?

  6. Cat says:

    The passport is not the airline’s concern. That is customs / immigration’s responsibility. As long as you have valid identification, you should be allowed to proceed to security / boarding.

    I hope he got her name, and follows up with complaints to the airline. Major power trip.

    • demeteloaf says:

      I’m not sure of this, but i was under the impression that if you were denied entry at your destination, it would then be the airline’s responsibility to fly you back home.

      If that’s the case, makes sense that the airline would want to make sure you have a valid passport. I know everytime i’ve flown internationally, at my point of origin, the airline is the one who’s the most concerned about my passport.

    • Missing in Vlissingen says:


      While this could be a “power trip”, I’m getting a vibe that someone is incredibly stressed out by her job, her personal life, or something. The emotional outburst seems uncharacteristic of someone who is simply laying down the law and doing her job (as she sees it).

      That said, no customer of any business should be treated that way. Airlines suck donkey.

      • bigTrue says:

        Doesn’t matter. One rule on every job I’ve ever had was to leave outside stuff at home. So she’s stressed out, take a personal day. Don’t have a personal day? Call in sick. Can’t do that? Tough tootsie, you’re an adult and you need to act like an adult in a service industry.

    • sirwired says:

      If you show up in your destination country and are refused entry due to lack of a visa, invalid passport, whatever, it is the job of the airline to fly you home, at their own expense, on the next flight out of the country. They also must commonly pay a fine to the destination country.

    • sirwired says:

      A few notes:

      1) If the passport is too mangled to electronically read, many immigration authorities (in a destination country) might well refuse to admit the traveler. The traveler doesn’t get fined when this happens, the airline does. They must also transport you home on the next flight, bumping somebody else off of it if necessary.
      2) The TSA has nothing to do with it and their opinion on the matter is not relevant. Their job is to make sure you are who you say you are; they do not make judgements on if a passport is valid for travel in another country (nor do they do so for travelers entering the US, for that matter.)

      That said, the second passport sounds just fine to me. I would not consider one corner missing from one page to be a “mutilated” passport.

      • sirwired says:

        Shoot, this post wasn’t supposed to be a “replying to” comment. Oops.

      • fs2k2isfun says:

        This is the best comment I’ve read in this thread.

      • McDoctor says:

        That may well be (unreadable passport = fine for airline and return trip home,) but the whole “You’re not flying today….not with that passport” attitude is, alone, unexcusable, and she should be fired for that alone. Granted, we only have the traveler’s side of the story, but why couldn’t the agent say, “Sir, we can’t let you fly with that plane because if your passport is unreadable, we’ll get fined and you’ll have to come back on the next flight anyway.” However, I guess we’ve all become so accustomed to horrible customer service from airlines that no one even notices, cares, or expects airline employees to be pleasant or reasonable anymore.

      • godospoons says:

        Best comment of all of them… TSA can only make a determination on whether it can be used for passing security and boarding the flight, CBP makes the determination as to whether it’s valid for reentry and each country can set its own rules for admission based on the passport and can reject you for any reason (machine readability would be likely high on that list).

        Having been in and out of the UK a couple dozen times on a US passport, I can assure you that the UK Border Agency takes passport rules very seriously. I can’t speak for the state of either passport, or which page/section the tear was on, but another poster was also right in saying that the airline could be fined and responsible for return to point of origin if the passenger was rejected by the Border Agency. I was almost rejected by Germany once on entry because I only had two valid blocks left in my passport, but the Dutch just stamped the exit on a page with six other stamps because there was space. YMMV. Broadly.

        As it says in the passport itself, these things are important citizenship documents and should be treated as such. You can’t blame the aviation industry if you and your dog don’t feel the same way. I’m just glad that I wasn’t behind this person entering the UK.

  7. smartypants503 says:

    Excuse me sir, I am trying to save you from you being a terrorist….

  8. axhandler1 says:

    Man, I would have made such a public scene and probably been arrested. Kudos to him for remaining calm. I hope Jonathan had a long talk with her superiors and they are now in the process of terminating her employment.

  9. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDave‚Ñ¢ says:

    So is the OP an atheist Israeli? Because “Jew” ain’t no country I ever heard of.

    • winstonthorne says:



    • DarthCoven says:

      Many atheists who are of Jewish background still consider themselves to be Jews. To me being Jewish is just as much an ethnicity as it is a religion. Look up “Humanistic Judaism”. It is mostly about traditions, the history of our people, our community and families. I don’t need to believe in Yahweh to consider myself a Jew.

    • partofme says:

      One can be descended from the tribe of Judah (though, Levites and Benjamites can usually use the term, too) having never been in Israel just as someone can be African-American having only set foot on a single continent.

    • MrEvil says:

      It became an ethnicity during the Holocaust. The Nazis weren’t content with rounding up only those that didn’t eat pork and celebrated Hanukkah, they were rounding up people who had Jews in their family tree regardless of their faith.

    • KeithIrwin says:

      So, because “Jew” isn’t a country, that means he doesn’t have an ethnicity? So, in your world there’s no such thing as Cherokees, Navajo, Inuit, Seminoles, Gypsies, Laplanders, Basques, Kurds, Punjabis, Sinhalese, Ainu, Uyghurs, Hmong, Tutsis, Hutu, or Bantu? None of those ethnic groups have countries either, so does that mean that they don’t exist?

      • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDave‚Ñ¢ says:

        He has an Israeli passport, not a Jew passport.

        • OutPastPluto says:

          If he was born in the USSR, then he originally had a “jew” passport.

          They stamped your ethnicity on your passport.

          Jewish isn’t just a religious affiliation, it’s also an ethnicity and nationality quite distinct from being from the modern state of Israel.

          • Fumanchu says:

            I used to have this argument with a Jewish friend of my mine all the time. I would argue that by and large Jewish is a race as well as a religon due to the low numbers of Jews and that most Jews won’t marry non Jews which has created a realtivly small gene pool which when compared to the gene pools of current “races” is smaller than those races.

  10. kidincredible says:

    Was very confused by the headline. “American Airlines Staffer Refuses To Let Me Fly Twice In One Day” sounds like someone wasn’t able to make a second flight in one day because they’d flown previously.

    This was more of a “American Airlines Staffer Refuses To Let Me Fly, Later Refuses To Let Me Fly With A Second Passport”

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      i’d suggest “twice in one day, airline refuses to let me fly”

    • OutPastPluto says:

      A better headline would be more like “AA staffer refuses to let me fly. Doesn’t like my passports”.

      This seems to be an ongoing thing with them, a real pattern that makes you wonder if you will be next.

      Perhaps they’re disappointed that they didn’t win the golden poo this year and are gearing up for next year.

  11. gargunkle says:

    I’m confused. Who is Matt? Is Matt Jonathan?

  12. David Ciani says:

    I can understand why American was being a bit difficult: The issue is that once the passenger arrives at their destination and immigration officials decide that their passport/visa isn’t sufficient and deny entry it is the airline’s responsibility to remove the passenger from the country (not necessarily at their expense but its up to the Airline to recover from the passenger). Its pretty obvious why the airline would want to avoid this… but some times they take it to an extreem: just because the MRZ (machine readable zone) won’t scan right doesn’t make the passport invalid.

  13. Ashman says:

    My question is, how did he let his dog chew on an important document like a passport? Did he just leave it out on the table?

  14. benh999 says:

    This is very reasonable, even if the way the employee supposedly acted makes it seem less so. If the UK refused to admit him because of his damaged passport, guess who would be on the hook for getting him back to the US.

  15. u1itn0w2day says:

    I thought it was Walmart employees that were told to look for something suspicious.

  16. ajv915 says:

    American Airlines conditions of carriage. Read them, because when you bought the ticket you agreed to them.

    At *any* point AA may refuse to transport you for *any* reason. Yes, they must issue you a refund for this, but that is basically it. They don’t owe you for the vacation time you missed, or the hotel reservation you can’t make now.

  17. dotyoureyes says:

    If there’s any scenario that calls for an EECB, this is it. I just hope you remembered to get the employee’s name at the time.

    • shufflemoomin says:

      Why? Because the legal document required to let him fly is damaged and the airline rightfully refused him access to the flight? He’s the only one in the wrong here. If your document is damaged, get it replaced. Don’t just try to fly on it and then become a dick when they say no. What exactly would you propose he put in the EECB?

  18. maxamus2 says:

    Sounds like we foiled another terrorist. Go Team USA!! USA USA USA

  19. humphrmi says:

    Technically, legally, any American entering or leaving the United States must do so with their American passport. However that’s a State Department rule, and since State doesn’t “check people out” of the country when they leave (many countries do), it’s nigh on impossible to enforce.

    As others said, the only reason that airlines check passports on departure is to ensure that they don’t have to carry them back to the US if they’re refused entry elsewhere. The requirement to leave the US under a US passport for Americans would not apply in that case because they’re arriving (in another country), not technically “leaving” the US anymore.

    Sounds like a counter agent had some bees in her bonnet.

    • FacebookAppMaker says:

      If this was United Airlines, I might think it was the same woman from the United Breaks Guitars songs.

    • huadpe says:

      He was carrying his US passport (mangled as it was) and presumably would have presented it to a CBP officer if asked to (and technically CBP can ask anyone in an international departures terminal to do so). Thus, no violation.

      Also, you can use other documents besides a US passport, but the documents have to indicate that you’re a US citizen. E.g. a dual US/Canadian citizen can enter the US using a nexus card issued by the government of Canada, as long as the data on the card indicates the dual citizen nature of the holder.

  20. longfeltwant says:

    I was with the OP right up until he said he was an atheist. I think we can all agree that atheists are one circle below terrorists in hell. Right? Eh, right?

  21. wildbill says:

    Man, I smell money here. Get one of those sleezy late night lawyers and start shopping for Ferraris cause you got a sure fire case of discrimination.

    • shufflemoomin says:

      Horseshit. A passport is a legal document needed to fly and it must be UNDAMAGED. His wasn’t. Neither of them were undamaged and yet he continued to try to fly, despite being told the first time WHY he was being refused. He’s a moron and you’re on your way to the same team for even suggesting that he go to a lawyer. People like YOU are the reason why the rest of the world giggles at the USA constantly. Go to a lawyer despite the fact that he was CLEARLY in the wrong? Fool.

  22. Nessiah says:

    I am a jew with a beard. I am always randomly selected. the airline industry is glorious. It is extraordinary that there are glorified customer service reps “protecting me and everyone else from terrorists by not letting [people] on the plane”

  23. TacoDave says:

    Jonathan – The same airline treated me and my family like crap once, then refused to compensate me (even though we ended up driving one leg of the trip instead of flying due to their problems).

    I called syndicated radio host Clark Howard and spoke with him on the air about my troubles. He said he would have his staff look into things. Lo, and behold, I got a voucher in the mail soon after from American with an apology letter.

    Try it.

  24. shadowsystem says:

    actually your supposed to enter/exit the united states with a US passport if you’re a dual citizen , but when that’s violated , its usually just a fine/warning depending on the tsa/dhs agent , if anything at all , but still super lame. , if this ever happens to you on a early morning flight you should call 877-487-2778 (passport services) and see if one of thier agencies is in the major city your in to see if you can get it fixed same day and reschedule for a later flight.

  25. mikedt says:

    And my wife wonders why I don’t want to get anywhere near a commercial airline.

  26. JKxZ says:

    Any clue on the AA GM’s ethnic background? Maybe she was racially profiling the flyer?

  27. bdcw says:

    This is what happens when you give a bunch of WAITRESSES federal law enforcement powers.

  28. Klay says:

    If the OPs story is accurate, sounds like the AA GM is related to JetBlues Clayton Osbon…..

  29. garykung says:

    AA is correct this time.

    TSA has no control on border.

    CBP is the one. Beside UKBA can refuse entry for a damaged passport.

  30. fontman2008 says:

    America airlines WOW – YOU SUCK !!!

  31. HogwartsProfessor says:

    *sigh* I’m flying AA in August. I’m so looking forward to all the stories between now and then.

    It’s United again in May. No, I’m not taking a guitar.

  32. shufflemoomin says:

    The part that’s missing from this story is why both of his passports are damaged and he seemingly made no attempt to get replacements? A passport is an important document and if there’s even the slightest damage, get it replaced. You’re asking for trouble, EXACTLY like this if you don’t. Sure, he got through check-in on his third attempt, but who’s to say that isn’t the anomaly and the refused check-ins are correct? If my passport was damaged, I wouldn’t attempt to travel unless it happened within a very short time of travel, even then I’d prepare myself to be rejected. The AA check-in manager might have been wrong, but the traveller wasn’t in the clear either and as always, there’s almost certainly more to this story than claimed. Everyone in these stories claims to be the victim and never once threatened, raised their voice or abused the person in charge. You KNOW that’s almost never true yet everyone accepts it and leaps to their defence. Without evidence, you have no logical reason to believe this biased version of events and I’m almost certain he’s not the innocent victim he’s portraying here.

  33. RvLeshrac says:

    Fire. Her. Ass.

  34. thomwithanh says:

    Not defending this woman’s behavior… but there are a few countries that will send you back if your passport isnt pristine – in which case the airline would be liable. South Africa is coming to mind though, not the UK.

  35. Alliance to Restore the Republic of the United States of America says:

    This is what we call “power-tripping” in the biz.

    This lady probably has 28 cats in her studio apartment, a “glandular problem”, several failed internet relationships, no failed marriages and a giant hard-on when driving to work.

  36. misterjuju says:

    Is the name change from Jonathan to “Matt” just a typo, or is it implying that Jonathan’s THIRD passport really belongs to Matt, his alter-ego, or possibly “friend who looks enough like Jonathan to allow ‘Matt’ to breeze thru security?”
    If it’s the non-typo scenario: that is some subtle humor, you guys!

  37. misterjuju says:

    Is the name change from Jonathan to “Matt” just a typo, or is it implying that Jonathan’s THIRD passport really belongs to Matt, his alter-ego, or possibly “friend who looks enough like Jonathan to allow ‘Matt’ to breeze thru security?”
    If it’s the non-typo scenario: that is some subtle humor, you guys!

  38. bwcbwc says:

    I suppose the offending supervisor was off-shift by the time of the third attempt.

  39. edrebber says:

    “she turns bright red and starts screaming at both of us”

    This American Airlines Employee should be fired. She appears to be antisemitic.