Canadian-born curler Erin McInrue Savage understands her sport isn’t the most popular of athletic endeavors in the United States. But she doesn’t think she should have to make the case that curling is a sport at all.
Yet that’s what Savage, a researcher on aging, said she was forced to do this month when an American Airlines employee at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport allegedly balked at allowing her to check her curling broom as sporting equipment.
“[The agent] said curling isn’t a sport,” McInrue Savage, 34, said Saturday, a day after documenting her exchange in a post that went viral on Facebook. “I told her it’s in the Olympics.”
McInrue Savage said the interaction began after the agent initially refused to allow her to check her equipment bag for $25, the standard fee for an excess sports equipment bag that her curling teammates were charged on the way out. (McInrue Savage, who resides in Oakland, Calif., said she flew to Phoenix on a different airline.)
“[The agent] said it wasn’t an ‘elite’ sport like golf,” McInrue Savage recalled, noting that even after giving the customer service agent a history lesson about curling’s origins, as well as offering to demonstrate how the brooms worked by unpacking them, the agent only relented slightly.
McInrue Savage said the agent tried to charge her the oversize sports equipment fee of $150, citing rules about standard sports equipment luggage size that limit items to 62 linear inches and 50 pounds. Curling brooms, which cost around $150, are typically 48 inches long and eight inches wide and often weigh less than a pound.
McInrue Savage said the bag in which she kept her brooms and some other equipment was longer than 62 inches, but she was able to get it under the limit by removing the extra equipment and duct taping the edges of the bag. McInrue Savage said after about an eight-minute exchange, the agent finally agreed to allow her to pay the $25 standard sports baggage fee, but not without resistance. McInrue Savage said the agent ended their exchange by telling her, “I hope you never fly American Airlines again.”
American Airlines is disputing McInrue Savage’s account. The post, which identified the agent by name, also included a picture of the agent’s badge, which led Facebook to delete the post because it violated its “anti-bullying” policy. By then, however, the post had already been shared hundreds of times, even gaining the attention of USA Curling, which fields the U.S. Olympic team. The organization confirmed on Tuesday it had reached out to American Airlines about the issue, but declined further comment.
American Airlines is strongly denying both the details and the manner in which McInrue Savage suggested the interaction occurred.
“We all agree that curling is a sport, and our colleague in Phoenix never stated that curling was ‘not a sport,’ ” American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said in a statement on Tuesday. “Our colleague is a former gymnast and coach, and has great respect for all athletes.”
“Based on the information provided in the Facebook post by the passenger, and the statement from our team member: we applied the correct policy regarding sports items,” Feinstein continued. “The passenger presented herself with a bag that was over the standard bag size of 62 linear inches but containing sports equipment, her curling broom. Our agent explained to the passenger the policy on oversize bags and that she would be willing to assist the passenger by applying the sports equipment rate of $150 vs. the normal oversize charge of $200.
“Our team member worked directly with Ms. McInrue Savage at the ticket counter to rearrange the items in the bag, in order to shorten the bag, which would only result in a $25 charge.”
Feinstein said the agent denied ever telling McInrue Savage never to fly American again, and that the airline has tried to reach out to her.
On Tuesday, McInrue Savage, who curls with the San Francisco Bay Area Curling Club, stuck by her original account, however. She reposted her Facebook message, this time blurring out the agent’s badge number, and she plans to continue spreading her story.
She remains unsure why her customer service experience deteriorated so badly on Oct. 8, but she does have an idea about how American Airlines might avoid this in the future.
“It would be great if American made a specific policy,” she said, referring to curling equipment.
American’s website has specific guidelines for everything from javelins to hang gliders, but it does not mention curling equipment. The airline is not alone in ignoring the Olympic sport online, however. Delta, Jet Blue, Spirit and even United, which sponsors Team USA, also fail to mention curling specifically when giving their sporting equipment guidelines.
McInrue Savage, who said she has checked her curling broom on dozens of flights, said she’s never had a problem before with any other airline. Nor has she heard of any other curler having an issue.
“Maybe [the American Airlines agent] was just having a bad day,” she said. “I understand [customer service] can be frustrating, but this didn’t feel like any sort of way you want to be treated.”