Thursday, May 22, 2008

jetblue hits the toilet

i don't often get so many comments to articles i write, and i have with this one so thought i'd put it in my blog for posterity's sake:

JetBlue's Jet Blues - Buddy Pass Passenger Takes His Seat on the Toilet
The incident of a passenger who was allegedly forced to sit on a toilet for several hours on a cross-country JetBlue flight is an interesting one. It has had a lot of media play as the affected passenger has decided to sue the airline. What doesn't seem to get as much play is the fact that the passenger was traveling on a buddy pass - essentially, a standby pass.

Most airlines have pass privileges for employees, and some sort of allotment of passes for non-airline personnel. An airline employee is able to give a pass then to a friend or family member to fly at a very reduced rate, on a standby basis. These standby passes are not always easy to use as seats are only allotted after every revenue passenger is put on the flight, and then the vast majority of airlines start doling out the remaining seats on a seniority basis. The order is usually employee/partner/spouse, dependents, parents, and then buddy pass travel.

So it seems in this incident an employee agreed to take a jump seat so that someone with a much lower priority made it on the flight. It appears too, that if the employee hadn't taken the jump seat, the passenger suing JetBlue would not have made it on the flight at all.

So who is to blame? There are a lot of parties involved.

Should the employee who took the jump seat have been allowed to rescind that offer during the flight because the jump seat wasn't comfortable? Probably not, what isn't as clear is if any laws were broken, or whether it violated JetBlue policy for staff travel.

Is the crew of the flight to blame? I would say the jury is out. In the airline industry in general, the captain often has the last word in scenarios that involve their flights, particularly once it is taken off the bridge and is now in active status. Their plane is is their jurisdiction. This doesn't always mean they'll make the "right" decision, but they have to consider safety standards and make a choice. In this situation, it would be interesting to know whether the captain was clearly aware that said passenger would be relegated to the lavatory for a good portion of the flight.

Should the employee who gave the buddy pass be blamed? It is hard to know whether the employee clearly made the rules of standby travel known to the passenger who used a pass, but certainly an incident of sitting on a toilet for part of a flight was not a possibility that an airline employee would think was even possible.

Should the airline be blamed? If the toilet seating option is one that is not clearly banned by the airline regarding employee standby travel, then perhaps they will need to clarify contingent travel rules for their employees, and their respective buddies.

Should the passenger share in the blame? It's difficult to know exactly what happened. Whether a jump seat might have been offered, or whether a seat was secured for the essential take-off and landing periods.

I do think that suing for a huge amount of money is a bit off base when traveling on a buddy pass. I am not condoning the treatment of the passenger, but honestly when I travel on an employee pass I usually feel grateful to get a seat. I know that until the door of that aircraft closes, we've pushed from the gate, and are airborne, that my seat could be taken away for a revenue passenger, or someone with a higher staff travel priority than me.

Those on buddy passes don't often understand this part of pass travel - that your seat is not guaranteed, that you simply are not always afforded the same treatment of a paying passenger. Granted, it being a seat on the toilet is shocking, and the safety issue of it is what needs to be the focus.

I suppose I would feel the multimillion dollar suit would be justified if this was a regular, revenue passenger, but having used employee travel passes for well over a dozen years, I don't know if that kind of monetary compensation is warranted.

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