‘We demand an apology’: cellist removed from American Airlines flight after buying extra seat for instrument

6 August 2018, 14:12 | Updated: 6 August 2018, 15:23

Cellist removed from an American Airlines flight
Cellist removed from an American Airlines flight. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

A music student due to travel back to Chicago on an American Airlines flight last week was told to leave the plane, after being told “the aircraft was too small for the cello”.

DePaul music student Jingjing Hu was removed from a flight from Miami to Chicago, despite buying an extra ticket for her instrument.

American Airlines told Hu to leave the plane because her cello, worth nearly $30,000, was too big for the seat.

In a Facebook post that has been shared more than 2,000 times, Hu’s husband Kay Tang posted about his wife’s experience:

“So my wife Jingjing Hu […] is scheduled to fly back to Chicago on American Airlines flight 2457 from Miami today. She is traveling with her cello in a hard case as a cabin baggage. I purchased two round trip tickets for her and her cello on [April 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 [absolutely] allowed and she won’t have any problem.

“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’.

“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’. […] 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… [sic]

“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.”

Jingjing Hu's cello
Jingjing Hu's cello. Picture: Jingjing Hu

After Hu was removed, she found the next American Airlines flight to Chicago was the same size as the previous one, leaving her unable to board again.

American Airlines shortly booked her on a larger plane, scheduled to leave the following day.

Tang updated his post, saying: “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.”

Federal regulations allow musicians to carry large instruments like cellos in the cabin, when the passenger buys an extra seat.

American Airlines complies with these regulations, saying on its website that it allows instruments in the cabin as long as they don’t weigh more than 165 pounds and if certain requirements are met, including purchase of a ticket for an additional seat.

Hu’s cello and case weigh around 10 pounds, but she claims she was removed from the plane by law enforcement.

American Airlines said in a statement there was a ‘miscommunication’ about whether the cello met the requirements to fit onboard the aircraft.

“We rebooked our passenger on a flight the next morning on a larger aircraft, a Boeing 767. We provided her a hotel and meal accommodations for the inconvenience. We apologise for the misunderstanding and customer relations has reached out to her,” the statement read.