Not-so-silent Kevin Smith has had had another airline dummy spit on his blog – this time with Virgin America. Remember when he was kicked off a SouthWest aircraft back in Febuary for what he claimed was his rather wide carriage?
On this occasion, he arrived at the VX gate 10 minutes prior to departure to LAX from JFK (despite the fact that their terms of service require that a passenger “must be at the boarding gate at least fifteen (15) minutes prior to scheduled departure time”). He was in the company with his wife Jennifer Schwalbach, their friend Jason Mewes, and a paid (expert?) concierge who has the job of acting as a liaison between airline and customer.
This 15-minute requirement is often flexible, but at an airport such as New York’s JFK, there’s often little room for crew discretion when you’re trying to maintain a slot at the risk of what can be significant delay. He was denied carriage on the aircraft.
Smith wrote Virgin America an open letter on his blog when he eventually got on a flight.
Despite Smith’s ‘calm’ reasoning with Manny, and I quote, “… the unfriendly face of Virgin America”, he was declined boarding. To cut a long and somewhat routine story short, he was re-scheduled back onto a later departure; he used the aircraft’s free in-flight Wi-Fi to lodge a complaint to VX, and he had his problems resolved prior to landing at LAX (free tickets, refunds etc).
Despite Virgin’s exceptional and expedient support, Smith still claims that he’ll never fly Virgin America again – stating that he’ll likely (and without good logical reason) ban himself from other Virgin airlines as well (all the Virgin carriers essentially share nothing other than their brand).
Boarding started at 11:15, and we arrived at the gate at 11:35 – a full ten minutes before scheduled departure.
Airlines often have their own definition of ‘departure’. It often means the actual time the aircraft is due to liftoff – meaning that, at busy airports, it’s often difficult to alter or interrupt the loading procedure one the door is shut. At this point, it’s likely that the crew called for a push-back, and their clearance is imminent. Boarding additional passengers potentially means missing a pushback at the cost of significant delays to passengers that were boarded on time.
The fact that “the jetway was still attached to the plane”, as Smith claims, doesn’t mean anything to the flight crew who conduct themselves based on the last door being shut.
I’ve dealt with petty, per-hour tyrants who abuse their authority and assume nobody further up the corporate ladder is ever gonna hear about how they represented their employers in the worst possible light.
Petty, per-hour tyrants? Make what you will of this comment. It’s the one comment in his blog that made me feel that Smith has a bloated sense of entitlement due to his, and I quote Kevin once again, “… [his] Jay-and-Silent-Bob-lined bank account.”
The truth is that the gate staff were probably more concerned about delaying the flight. There’s little that the gate staff can do at this point in time – particularly after the crew have called for a clearance… and especially during the middle of the day at JFK. In reality, it’s unfair to expect the “per-hour” gate staff to venture from their published guidelines for fear of exactly what Smith stated – recognition from further up corporate ladder that somebody that vacated from normal policy and caused costly delays.
Smith claims that after he identified he was fighting a losing battle, he asked for his bags to be collected – partly because they contained his wife’s medication that she is required to take every 8 hours. The medication was loaded with check-in baggage because they didn’t foresee missing the flight. Again, every airline has their own policy, and removing baggage from an aircraft means hunting down a needle in the cargo hold that will invariably cause significant delays. It could be argued that Virgin America had a duty-of-care to retrieve Smith’s baggage, but that’s not the point. Still, wouldn’t it be prudent to carry medicated as carry-on when there’s the risk of delays at LAX… or indeed lost baggage?
…when you fly first, you board first, sit down… and then EVERYONE files past you. And when you’re the Too Fat To Fly guy on a plane? Well, everyone stares. Then the whispering starts. A hundred people look right at you – when you’re not on a stage. It kinda blows.
There’s a clear solution to Kevin’s problems if he’s seriously concerned about being the fat guy on the plane everyone looks at. Lose weight. Skip the meal between breakfast and brunch, and replace the hourly snack with a stick of celery.
Why did he enlist the services of a concierge service? Well, according to Smith, it’s to avoid passengers looking at the ‘fat guy’ as they walk on the plane. The concierge service will ensure you board last (how boarding last with a plane-load of forward-facing passengers will avoid recognition is a little bit of a mystery to me). Do people really stare at the fat guy in first class? I guess that’s purely subjective. For a guy that was thrown off an airliner because of what he claims was at least partly due to his ‘ample’ girth, he’s likely going to have serious self-conscious issues.
It bothers me that so many frequent flyers feel they ‘know’ our industry enough to comment on the specifics with a false sense of authority. I listened to a cringe-worthy podcast lately littered with the same diatribe and commentary from a non-flying enthusiast.
Was criticism justified when Virgin responded so quickly to his celebrity demands? Does his somewhat routine experience deserve the criticism he directed at Virgin America?
Kevin’s quickly running out of airlines… and Virgin America is a great airline. If anything, shouldn’t he be angered that his paid concierge service got him to the gate well after VA had completed boarding? One really can’t criticize an airline based on the poor conduct of a third-party agency. If his escort, Dorothy, had any sense about her, she would have been in constant contact with the gate staff to ensure she was suitably prepared to provide Kevin Smith with the service he paid for. Virgin America were doing their job. Dorothy clearly didn’t do hers.