Columnist gets lost, blames airline

Probably the only reason that this story is even a story at all is that the protagonist already has a regular column in the New York Times.  Otherwise it would be a random rant written on the internet somewhere and disappear with no one giving it a second thought.  Come to think of it, that might have happened in this case as well but a buddy pointed it out to me and I cannot resist the opportunity to comment.  It is just too easy.

The main complaint is that jetBlue doesn’t have its gates labeled particularly well at Newark Airport.  That is actually a reasonable claim – there isn’t any signage over the security entrance to the A2 pier that indicates the jetBlue gates are there though there are plenty of signs for the other carrier on that pier, Continental.  So the guy arrives in the terminal 30 minutes prior to the flight’s scheduled departure and has no idea where he’s supposed to be going.  But still his missing the flight is somehow sortof the fault of the airline.

I arrived at the terminal with my teenage son and daughter about 30 minutes before flight time, then spent about 10 minutes searching for the right concourse and maybe 10 minutes waiting in the security line. We made it to the gate about 10 minutes before the departure, but passengers are required to be at the gate 15 minutes before. The plane was still there, but its door had just closed, and that was that.

He seems to get over that pretty quickly and moves on to trying to get on the next flight out – about 4 hours later.  He’s stymied by the fact that now his tickets have no real value.  He’s able to buy replacement tickets and use a trivial amount of the residual value from the rather discounted tickets he originally purchased, but he’s still on the hook for an extra $180/person and needs three tickets in total.  Ouch.  I do think that jetBlue could have offered a “flat tire rule” option and let him go standby on the next flight for free.  I don’t know that such an offer wasn’t made since he was actually trying to buy/confirm the seats right then based on the version of the story he tells.

So after the whole thing is all done he sends a letter to jetBlue asking for a refund or other compensation.  OF course, rather than dealing with the customer service side of the organization he simply goes straight to the top.  Suffice it to say that the letter sent to the CEO gets lost somewhere, despite it having been sent certified mail.  Since there was likely nothing actionable in the letter (guy rants, big deal) it isn’t clear that it was definitely lost versus just ignored but let’s play along with the lost theory.  At that point he decides to sue the carrier.  It isn’t entirely clear what he’s suing them for.  Perhaps is it for operating their flights on time and perhaps it is for requiring that one arrive for their ticketed flight, not just whenever they want to show up at the airport.  Either way the guy decides that he’s been wronged and files a lawsuit.  Eventually he gets a call from the airline’s legal department.  Here’s my favorite part of his idiocy.

The paralegal’s position, repeated again and again, was that my boarding pass had the gate number printed on it. I had printed the boarding passes at home, and each computer and printer configures online documents differently, so who knows.

Here’s a hint, Charles.  EVERY boarding pass printed at home has gate information of some sort on it.  EVERY single one.  Yours wasn’t some magical strange pass that was different than all those.  In some cases the airlines won’t know the specific gate and there will be a note to that effect on the pass.  Otherwise the gate info is there.  It is readily visible, regardless of the printer and computer you use.  jetBlue actually goes a bit overboard on this front in my opinion, issuing all the boarding passes as PDF documents.  This helps to ensure that the information is always printed in full every time.  So I am rather confident that the gate information was on your boarding pass.

Oh, and you were clearly at least partially at fault for arriving at the airport so late.

Don’t get me wrong – jetBlue wasn’t perfect by any stretch – but you’re a lot more at fault than they are.  But you’ve got a column in the New York Times, so I guess you’re going to try to show them how stupid they were for not accommodating you.  Maybe it worked to some extent, but you still come off as an idiot from my perspective.

And I’m glad to see that most of the other folks commenting on the NYTimes site seem to agree with me.  Maybe there is hope for the future of the traveling public yet.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


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