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Any Recourse for a JetBlue Gate Agent’s Abuse of Power?
A JetBlue gate agent tried to kick me off the plane for saying little more than, “Given a choice, I would not fly JetBlue again. May I have your name?”
How many times a month do airline employees remove passengers for “security reasons”? Do they have to report the incidents to the FAA? Do they have to file any paperwork or preserve any records? Does anyone actually check to see if the airline personnel are acting in good faith or engaging in personal vendettas against passengers they fear will complain about their professionalism? Or worse, practicing blatant discrimination.
Here’s what happened to me.
On Sunday, March 13, 2016, I ran the Tobacco Road Marathon in Cary, North Carolina, part of my quest to run a marathon in all thirteen original colonies. Connecticut, New York, and North Carolina down, ten to go. I returned to New York on JetBlue Flight B6 1186, which was scheduled to depart Raleigh RDU at 8:26 PM.
A little before 8:00 pm, three JetBlue employees began the boarding process: one was a male supervisor whose name I later learned is Juan. The second was a White Female. The third was an African American female.
The African American female was polished and professional. She started by inviting various groups to pre-board. A few minutes later, the White Female picked up the microphone and announced: “New York Yankees fans will not be allowed to fly with us tonight! Ha, ha, ha.” Less than a minute later, Juan picked up the microphone and countered: “No, no, Red Sox fans won’t be allowed to fly tonight!! Ha, ha, ha.” And on it went. The tedious exchange elicited little reaction from the waiting passengers, positive or otherwise.
My ticket was for seat 3B. First rows 15 to 25 were called. Then rows 10 to 25. Then rows 5 to 25. It was quite normal. We’re next, I thought, but instead, Juan called for a women’s softball team from Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, CT to board. I don’t know why the team members didn’t board with other passengers, but several of the players and chaperons were seated in rows 1 to 5. So basically, only row 3 was not allowed to board. It was frustrating, especially given how often overhead bins fill up. Still, I waited patiently.
While the softball players were still boarding, the White Female announced: “Seating all rows,” but Juan did not hear the announcement or ignored his colleague.
When I handed Juan my boarding pass, he returned it, saying: “I have to finish boarding the team. Wait.” I retreated without saying anything. TO CONFIRM, I DID NOT SAY ANYTHING.
When we were finally allowed to board, I said to Juan in an extremely businesslike voice: “I don’t think the boarding process was fair. Given a choice, I would not fly JetBlue again. And I fly a lot.” THAT’S ALL I SAID.
He replied: “I had to board the team.” I did not respond.
At the plane door, I was greeted by the White Female: “Welcome aboard.”
My terse response: “Given a choice, I would not fly JetBlue again. And I fly a lot.” THAT’S ALL I SAID TO HER. She looked slightly sympathetic and replied: “I’m sorry to hear that,” or something equally prosaic. I assumed that was the end of it.
I sat in seat 3B and started reading a magazine. A few minutes later, Juan stormed onto the plane and demanded that I follow him: “I need to talk to you outside.” My seatmate Craig (whom I’d never met before) had witnessed my unremarkable interactions with the gate agents earlier. He was as surprised by Juan’s demand as I.
I followed Juan to the door of the plane where the White Female was waiting.
“Are we going to have a problem?” Juan asked.
“What? No, of course not,” I answered, somewhat shocked.
“I had to board the whole (softball) team at once,” he insisted again.
“Okay,” I said.
“Do you understand that?” he demanded.
“Look, it’s not a big deal,” I told Juan, “but the only people you wouldn’t let board were me and the three other people in row three.” Two of the three people in my row were black and the other was Asian or Hispanic, but I didn’t mention that (I’m white). The softball team players were mostly attractive young women with blonde hair and blue eyes. Juan intimated that he had a special responsibility to protect the softball team members from me. I have two daughters close in age to members of the softball team – his concern was unfounded and insulting, but I ignored it.
It was a normal conversation. I didn’t raise my voice, and neither did Juan, though he was agitated. He seemed to want me to retract my criticism of the boarding process. Eventually, I asked: “May I have your name?” Suddenly, his demeanor changed.
“(My name is) Juan,” he snarled. “Alright, get your luggage and get off the plane.”
I was stunned. Did Juan honestly think I was at threat to the other passengers? Of course not. Having just run 26.2 miles, I could barely walk – literally. Juan wanted to label me a security threat so that any letter I wrote to JetBlue criticizing his performance and attitude could be dismissed. It was an unconscionable abuse of his authority.
Ignoring Juan’s demand that I leave, I apologized repeatedly. “It’s too late to apologize” he declared about a dozen times.
I asked the White Female, who shook her head and replied, “he (Juan) is the supervisor,” suggesting that she had no authority.
“Are there any other flights tonight?” I asked. Juan responded that there were not.
“I promise I won’t write a letter to JetBlue using your name,” I assured Juan several times (and I won’t). Only then did he relent. I returned to my seat, and the plane flew to New York.
Which begs the question: if Juan genuinely believed I was a threat, why did he let me fly?
More to the point, I’m convinced Juan and his colleagues have removed innocent passengers from flights before. The question is, how many times and for what reasons. Juan’s blatant malfeasance was not only reprehensible but also arbitrary and potentially discriminatory.
It was a humiliating experience, but do I have any recourse? It appears that JetBlue defends its personnel no matter how outrageous their behavior, claiming “safety concerns.”
Does the FAA even consider the idea that airlines are acting improperly? Honestly, I feel like finding a lawyer I’m so disgusted. I have the contact information of a number of my fellow passengers who can corroborate my account.
And by the way, given a choice, I would not fly JetBlue again. And I fly a lot.
[USER=1706]@NY-Tripper[/USER] Your recourse is probably to file a polite, concise, complaint with Jet Blue. I’m not sure what the FAA would do in this situation but if it makes you feel better you could write them as well. In general, I understand you had a frustrating experience but in the future complaining to never fly an airline again over what amounts to miscommunication and a few minutes delay is unlikely to do much. Better to take up your complaints after the flight with the company.