Family stranded at Salt Lake City Airport for nearly a week… on buddy passes!

In what can only be described as the biggest non-story of the week, a family of four was stranded in Salt Lake City for nearly a week while trying to get home on JetBlue buddy passes. Buddy passes are given to airline employees to give to friends/family, so they can fly for next to nothing… on a standby basis.

I know plenty of folks in the airline industry that avoid giving their friends and family buddy passes because they’ve gotta have reasonable expectations going in. Flights are packed year round with capacity cuts, and especially this time of year.

Yet this family of four was stuck in Salt Lake City Airport for six nights, sleeping on metal benches and eating out of vending machines, since they couldn’t afford to pay for a flight or pay for a hotel. Eventually a “good Samaritan” purchased them tickets, and United even paid for a hotel for them.

First of all let me say that I feel bad for the family’s financial situation. That being said, as far as the story goes I feel a lot worse for JetBlue, as they’re getting bad publicity over what’s essentially a very generous benefit for employees. The system worked the way it was supposed to. It’s not like they’re going to kick off a paying passenger to accommodate those on space available buddy passes.

The blame for this lies entirely with either the family traveling or their friend that gave them the passes (or more than likely both!). The friend should have looked up how full the flights were and warned them about the possibility of being stuck there for days, while the family traveling should have probably used that as a deterrent for traveling. While their financial situation is sad, at the end of the day we all have to make responsible decisions based on our means. And it sounds like they didn’t.

Anyway, this is just a complete non-story. Which makes me wonder why I’m bothering to share it here. On to more important news — has everyone seen Miley Cyrus’ new hair and heard that the Jonas Brothers are getting back together?

Filed Under: JetBlue, Media
  1. So I guess the key to getting excellent customer service from United is to patronize other airlines!

  2. I could not agree more. How irresponsible from these parents to travel like this with kids and no money! It makes me wonder… what would they eat if they were home? One has to spend money on food no matter where they are.

  3. I worked for AA for many years. You never give these during summer, specially to families as they could be separated or stranded. Europe was a no-no too.

    But the main reason: you could lose your flight benefit or your job if they misbehave or start an altercation. And people can lose their temper easily in such situation

  4. I agree that it was the irresponsible of the parents to fly without money and of the friend who didn’t check whether there was enough availability. However, it is beyond me why JetBlue didn’t at least offer a food voucher for those kids to eat a descent meal. They deserve the bad rep in my opinion.

  5. Talk about non-story…how about this blog post. Story has been out there for days. Late to the party, Lucky.

  6. Jeez Lucky. I agree entirely with you that JetBlue has no responsibility, but these people are close to destitute. This is a web site where we all love to see first class food porn and see your interesting exploits in huge first class seats on your way to stay in big suites in fantastic places.

    There’s something the feels pretty wrong about dumping a family that is obviously well below the poverty line and had a really rough week — even if it is their fault in part or even whole.

    This does not look to be a family that dreams of things like caviar and Berchtesgaden, or driving in chauffer driven limos to first class terminals where they throw away more food in the buffet than they eat in a week. This is a family that wanted to visit some relatives — that is what they aspire to one mile at a time, simply trying to get from point A to B. Did their desire to use a free ticket perhaps cloud their judgment and put them in a bad spot? Sure. Feeling anything but compassion for them, though, is troubling.

    JetBlu will survive, even if they are unfairly getting bad publicity. I’m really not too worried about them. This post is just really hitting me the wrong way.

  7. @ Larry — I’m sorry if it comes across that way, it’s certainly not my intention. And like I said when I started the post, I *do* feel awful for them.

    But at the same time I look at it in terms of the end result. In the end their visit to see family caused the kids to have to sleep in an airport for six nights (and the parents, though I assume the trip was their decision), and that’s irresponsible.

    If they weren’t aware of how tough it would be to get on the flights (which I suspect may very well be the case) I fully blame the employee for not providing a warning about the possibility of being stranded for days and disclosing how full the flights are. Do we agree on that?

    But if the employee did disclose this to the parents and said “you may be stranded in Phoenix for a week,” weren’t the parents acting irresponsibly for putting their kids in that situation?

    Again, I feel AWFUL for the family, but everyone is responsible for making their own responsible decisions in life.

  8. Interesting points, Lucky. I think it’s very unlikely that a parent who understood that this situation was a risk would put their kids in that position. Sure, there are bad dads, but my hunch is they didn’t understand. Maybe they did. We don’t know. If they did, it’s yet another bad parents story that my local news seems to run.

    If I had to guess, the likelihood would be that these folks understood they were flying standby, really wanted to go and maybe let that desire cloud their judgment a bit, but are not savvy travelers and didn’t really understand what it all meant.

    I think my point is that it doesn’t feel right to have it posted HERE with this particular angle. To me, it’s a very sad story about the American underclass and reaffirmation how lucky I am to worry about whether by transferring my miles to IB I only have to pay $400 instead of $1000 to get my family to Spain where they will stay in a beautiful hotel. And that’s all I see when I hear the story. I don’t care whether JetBlu should take some heat.

    Just my $.02. Back to your regularly schedule programming . . .

  9. @ Larry — All valid points, and in a way I didn’t feel entirely comfortable posting about it since I generally focus on “first world problems” on the blog. I do think it’s a valuable lesson for those considering buddy passes in the future, though.

  10. I agree that it was irresponsible of the parents to fly without money and of the friend who didn’t check whether there was enough availability. However, it is beyond me why JetBlue didn’t at least offer a food voucher for those kids to eat a descent meal. They deserve the bad rep in my opinion.

  11. “I do think it’s a valuable lesson for those considering buddy passes in the future, though.”

    Very very true, and worth posting, I think. Good point.

    Especially a station like SLC that probably only has one or two JetBlue flights a day.

  12. Do we know for sure that they were giving the pass by a friend? When I worked for an airline, we used to trade buddy passes for free hotel nights for Christmas giveaways. Kind of like “hey, here is something you can have a raffle for your employees with and we can trade for something”. This family may have unknowingly gotten something they didn’t really understand. In this day and age, people scrap together every last penny to take a trip like this, not allowing any leeway for hiccups that might happen. It is a tragedy to see kids having to sleep in an airport simply b/c their parents might have been ignorant. Honestly, if I had been on one of those flights and this situation has been presented to me, I would have gladly given up my seat for nothing to help them out. I’m guessing there would be plenty others out there that would do the same.

  13. Do you really think the family knew the dangers of a buddy pass? I travel constantly, am barely aware of family/friend passes but had no idea they were restricted to standby only. How do you possibly assume the family had any clue? Jetblue should have made it right the second night they were stranded in the airport.

  14. @ purplnurpl — They should have known because they got the buddy pass from a friend (who I assume is an employee) and it’s the friend’s job to educate them on the risks of using a buddy pass.

  15. I agree, but for a non-travel savvy family, the jargon assault is unreasonable to expect them to understand anything about traveling. Terms like ticket, e-ticket, reservation, PNR, VDB, IVDB, standby, boarding pass, voucher, etc, etc, etc, etc are completely foreign to many folks.

    It would have been a drop in the bucket for Jetblue to make it right.

  16. They can cry me a river, the family flew on free tickets from an airline employee and go crying to the media that they aren’t accommodated on their chosen flights? Seriously? Travel is a privilege, not a right especially in the case of non-rev benefits. While it is unfortunate they are stranded and can’t afford airport hotels or meals they should considered that possibility before deciding to take the trip. Why not return home and stay with their relatives until seats are available?

  17. @ purplnurpl it is the responsibility of the employee providing the passes to set expectations and behavior standards for the pass riders. Clearly that didn’t occur here.

  18. @ purplnurpl — But there’s no jargon they needed to know. All that’s important is that they understand they only get on if there are empty seats and they’re at the bottom of the totem pole for getting aboard. That’s not rocket science.

    So to make things right do you think they should have just given them meal vouchers or actually bumped off paying passengers in favor of them?

  19. I don’t know about JetBlue, but back in May I flew on buddy passes for Alaska. My pilot friend that gave them to me explained how they work, I researched it online before the trip, and upon check-in the Alaska counter agent explained the situation and what I could expect. Maybe doing research before you go is too much to ask, but the parents made some poor decisions.

  20. I used to work for AA, and we were told that you never fuss or create any type of scene; never draw attention to yourself as a non-rev traveller. It’s hard enough to travel non-rev by yourself, let alone getting 4 people travelling together on the same flight. The employee that provided the passes should be disciplined for bringing such negative attention to the airline. JetBlue was under no obligation to provide anything to the non-rev travellers, even though it was a family with kids. Flying cheap or free as a non-rev is a valuable benefit that the employee in question doesn’t value.

  21. Agreed, it is a non-story. Passes of this nature are a BENEFIT. Users have a responsibility to understand how passes work and that they may-well get left behind. Using then for a group – family of four with kids is just plane (sic) stupid, especiallt with today’s load factors and on a LCC. Just nuts! I used a few buddy passes about 30 years ago, courtesy of a relative in the biz. I understood the rules – and got left behind a few times; no harm done. In fairness, when I did get onto a flight, I usually turned left to first class and was treated exceptionally well. WOuld I h ave done it with a family of four? Hell No!

  22. I feel sorry for the 2 kids. For having such idiot parents.


    “it is beyond me why JetBlue didn’t at least offer a food voucher for those kids to eat a descent meal.”

    Because JetBlue doesn’t owe them squat. Sorry if that sounds mean, but as others have said, these people too a free ride and then expected to be compensated for it when things went badly? Talk about a sense of entitlement.

  23. The parents are fools. I saw another interview with them and they are entirely to blame for this situation. They admit that they were warned that this was a possibility but figured that they would “take their chances”. They also were offered accommodation and food at a motel near the airport during the days that they chose to sleep on the bench but the father chose not to accept them because “I thought we would lose our place on the standby list if we left the airport”.

    So basically, despite warnings of the risks, they chose to assume the risks anyway. Despite being offered food and shelter, they chose to decline those and subject the kids to hardship instead. And then they expect sympathy?

    JetBlue should blacklist them and fire the employee involved for all the negative publicity they have generated. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if the publicity was quietly pushed to the media by a competitor anyway.

  24. My big question is it took them three days to get to SLC. They spent some number of days in SLC visiting relatives. They spent six days trying to get home. Could they not afford the ticket because no one works??

  25. The Jonas Brothers had split up? Who knew? 🙂 No way I’d fly anywhere on a buddy pass in the summer. Just too much risk it will take you a week longer than planned to get home.

  26. While it certainly was kind and generous of the Good Sue-maritan to buy the family tickets home, I don’t get why they couldn’t have gotten home using an alternate form of transport (rental car, train, bus etc). I don’t understand how a person, let alone a family, can go on vacation with no money in their pocket!

    The family should have just stayed home and spared us their drama.

  27. Lucky,
    I saw this story last week and just shook my head. As an airline employee we have a pamphlet of information & guidelines to print out for anyone traveling on our passes. It explains the terminology that airport employees might use during their travels and is explicit in stating that buddy passes are the lowest in priority: all other paying passengers are assigned seats first. It describes expected conduct and attire as well. The pass travelers are instructed to contact the employee whose pass they are traveling on with all questions and full flight issues. The pamphlet my airline provides also has a a convenient place for the employee to write down any information needed for the traveler.

    With that said- I only can speak for what my airline does regarding non-revenue/employee travel.

    I also think this story highlights an important truth in working for an airline: Yes we get free/discounted travel- but only if there’s an empty seat. As a commuter (I work on a city other than where I live) I can empathize. But I certainly do not sympathize with these parents at all…we as Americans MUST get it together an stop living beyond our means and prioritize our spending. We hav to embrace delayed gratification in saving up for what we want. Work hard-play hard. We also need to set that example for our children by no blaming others when our choices lead us down a desolate path.

  28. Airlines are businesses. Airlines offer commercial transportation. Airlines are not charities. Period.

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