This might be goodbye to JetBlue. We have always found the JetBlue folks courteous and cooperative even though air travel and schlepping through just about any airport is somewhat tedious and burdensome these days.
Actually, I am in favor of profiling people, especially in airports. The few times I’ve been asked to step aside so that my bags could be more thoroughly searched, I was pleased to cooperate even though the experience was an additional hassle.
But last week, with all the talk of racial tensions in places like Missouri and New York, and alleged mistreatment by authorities being in the news, I think my sense of being singled out and profiled as white and an Orthodox Jew left me feeling perhaps a little more sensitive. You might think that the practice does not work in that direction, but I disagree. Usually I keep those feelings to myself and I don’t talk about them, let alone write about them.
But let me get to the point. A few days ago, we–my wife Esta and I–were making our way seamlessly to our flight back to New York from Fort Lauderdale. All of a sudden, we were set aside for special attention by some JetBlue personnel in an unsavory fashion by what I can only guess was an indolent ground crew with nothing else to do.
By way of introduction, let me say that both of us have been using the same carry-on bags for at least the last decade. They are regulation-size and we have never had a problem with them. They fit perfectly in the overhead storage space on all airlines and they are also big enough to hold a lot of things. For me, that means my tallis and tefillin, sefarim, books, my spare iPad, and so on. For my wife, well, I don’t really know what she keeps in there, but it’s just a lot of whatever it is.
We flew down to Florida on JetBlue prior to Thanksgiving without a peep from anyone on a not-a-seat-to-spare aircraft. But not so the other day in Fort Lauderdale as we were running a little late and anxious to return to the cold weather in New York.
We checked our suitcases at the outside station of the terminal, then just had to scoot though security and to the gate to await departure. My boarding pass had a pre-checked TSA status so I was able to immediately get on the short security line to send my carry-on bag and computer case through the X-ray machinery. I turned around to tell my wife something when I realized that she wasn’t there.
I backed away from the security line and scanned the terminal, wondering what in the world had happened. Just a few seconds prior she had been right behind me.
Then I caught a glimpse of her in the distance talking to two security personnel. I moved on over to discover that they were giving her a difficult time about the size of her carry-on bag. Even though I had been allowed through, now we were both being targeted for allegedly exceeding the regulations on carry-on luggage.
Arguing that we just flew down a week ago without incident did not help the situation. We were escorted over to baggage check where the JetBlue personnel insisted that we check in our additional bags at a $50-per-bag charge. We asked to speak to a supervisor and that is when the unhelpful and antagonistic Jaime Moxey was produced.
He stood with us at the check-in counter, telling us that we had a choice to either check in the carry-on bags and pay the $100 for the two or just not be allowed on the flight. We were not asked to produce our boarding passes, and our regular suitcases were already checked in, so this plane was not going anywhere without us until this was settled.
Mr. Moxey said that the JetBlue size regulation had been revised about four months ago. In addition to our most recent flight, we had flown on JetBlue to Chicago about three months ago with the same bags without incident. There is no indication online of any official change in carry-on baggage size.
To make things just a little more difficult, I said to Mr. Moxey that if I was going to be forced to check my carry-on, there were a few things I would need to take out of the carry-on to take with me on the flight. I said that I would need some kind of a bag to place those things in. As I anticipated, he said he could not help us with that, so we just stood there looking at one another waiting for something to happen.
What I would like to have seen happen–rather than being picked out and picked on–was to be told politely that they feel our carry-on bags are a smidgen beyond some kind of new regulation and that before our next flight it might be advisable to purchase a smaller one. But no, that was not within the realm of possibility considering the hostility being displayed by Mr. Moxey.
So here is what happened next. Absolutely nothing. We didn’t check in our bags, and with our checked-in luggage already on board I knew that this flight was not going to leave without us.
We retreated from the position on the check-in line after we refused to check in our carry-on bags. I was a little upset but also quietly thanking everyone involved for giving me such an entertaining story, an idea and subject to write about without too much thought involved. But how was this going to end?
As we stood there surveying the scene, we noticed people walking by JetBlue personnel with bags just as large and, in some instances, two pieces of carry-on luggage that separate, making one look like a woman’s pocketbook or an overly large computer or diaper bag. The regulations, by the way, say that in addition to a carry-on, one may carry a laptop case, woman’s bag, or diaper bag–with no baby required to justify the added piece. Who knows? Maybe you are meeting the child that might need a change at a stopover in Ohio.
Mr. Moxey was not letting us go. Once again, we quietly and as calmly as possible explained to him that we flew down to Fort Lauderdale with the same carry-on luggage a week ago; what had changed since then? Now he turned into a combination interrogator and prosecutor. “How do I know that you didn’t buy this bag once you arrived down here?”
I look at him incredulously. “Look at this bag; does this look new to you?” There is no response as he feels he has made his case.
The entire episode probably lasted 15 minutes. As we were standing there, the supervisor, Jaime Moxey, walked away. Perhaps he had to attend to other oversized-bag offenders or, more likely, it was time for his break or the end of his shift.
I said to Esta, “Let’s just walk past those two that originally stopped us. If they stop us again, we will have no choice but to check the bag and pay the $100, which I’m sure we can get back later from JetBlue once we tell them what went on down here.” So we assemble ourselves and, along with scores of other passengers, head toward the rather quick-moving line past the same two women. We show them our boarding passes and without incident or notice move right on by.
We placed our bags on the conveyer belt for the trip through the metal detector/X-ray machine, walked through, and we were on our way. Just as I passed through the detector, I spotted Mr. Moxey talking to one of the TSA people, and I could hear him say something about whether we were the passengers traveling to New York. She answered in the affirmative, that, yes, we are heading to New York. We had already passed through security, so he could not call us back. After that last glimpse of him talking to one of the agents, we didn’t look back and this targeting-profile fiasco was now over.
Back in New York the next morning, I contacted JetBlue not just with the complaint, but asking for comment for the purpose of this story. A few hours later, a public-relations person called me to discuss what had taken place at the Fort Lauderdale airport. I told her that we felt profiled, singled out, and targeted. She said that she was horrified, and she apologized and credited us $200 toward our next JetBlue flight.
Actually, I explained to her, what I’m looking for is for the supervisor at the airport there be dismissed from his position or at least disciplined in some fashion. She said she would pass that information along but that she could not share these proceedings with the public. I told her that I understood but would be following up with her nevertheless.
Obviously, there are much bigger problems in the world. Looking back at the episode, it seems more comedic than anything else. Once we escaped the clutches of being profiled and the attempted assessment of an additional $100 baggage fee, we boarded the Aâ€‘320 jet and placed our carry-on bags comfortably in the overhead storage spaces without any problems.
A bit over two hours later we were landing at JFK in New York. As the wheels of the plane touched down on the runway, I was thinking that it was not just the end of the flight but also the conclusion of one crazy story.
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