That totally blows, but unfortunately that charge may be legitimate. If you look at aa.com on their baggage page under "Specialty Items
" they do list a $80 charge for bicycles:
|Bicycles 1 non-motorized touring or racing bike. Handlebars must be fixed sideways and pedals removed. Or pedals and handlebars must be enclosed in plastic foam or similar material. $80
Exception: If bicycle and container are less than 62 dimensional inches and under 50 lbs., the bike is free in place of one 62 inch bag in the free allowance. 70 lbs
115 inches - Acceptance conditional on aircraft size and load conditions
- Exception: If a bike is less than 62 dimensional inches and 50 lbs., the above conditions do not apply
- If this item is in excess of the number of pieces allowed in the free baggage allowance, excess baggage charges apply in addition to the $80 special items fee.
However as I highlighted above, if the bike when boxed was less than the 62 inches (sum of H+W+D of box)) and because it was under 50 pounds, it should have been free - if your mom had checked no more than one other bag.
Whether the charge was justified by weight or size or number of bags, it is inexcusable of AA to have repeatedly given assurances that it would be free. At a minimum, they should have made sure they told you about the conditions of the "free" bike allowance.
Did she take the bike and pay the fee? If so, she should probably write a letter to AA demanding a refund, and if she doesn't get it, try disputing that amount of the charge from the credit card company used to pay the charge or for the ticket. If she didn't pay and take the bike, then unfortunately there's probably less leverage because the cost of a ruined/changed/lessened vacation can't be easily quantified. Did she rent a bike at her destination? Then she should demand the cost of that rental be reimbursed.
You might want to post about this over on the AA board
at flyertalk.com to ask advice about the best way to proceed.
It is astonishing how airline Ticket Agents and Gate Agents seem to make up their own rules and interpretations whenever they feel like it, or don't even know their airline's policies and can't be bothered to look them up.
For future travel, I'd recommend you always check the baggage information on the airline's website, and if there are free allowances, print out that page and be ready to wave it in the agent's face at the airport if necessary. I always have it with my when I'm traveling with ski gear.
Oh one more thing. Don't fly AA. They've always been "Something Awful On The Ground" IMHO. Tiny dirty old MD80 planes, ground agents who make up stuff like "no rollaboards for you", and generally a nasty attitude. Considering how much they promote themselves as something special, as America's premium airline, as the only airline that has never filed for bankruptcy, yadda-yadda, they really have a crummy attitude. Maybe if they had gone through a bankruptcy and had passengers and corporate accounts deserting them in droves, they would have learned better how to appreciate and value their paying customers.