How JetBlue Putting Someone on a Flight 90 Minutes Later Cost the Airline $2500

I was approached by someone recently about a fascinating interaction with JetBlue, and I thought this was worth sharing here. I suppose the moral of the story is that if you think you’ve been wronged and the airline isn’t owning up to their side of things, you could consider small claims court. It’s their fault if they can’t bother to show up. But be warned: this doesn’t sound like a typical outcome.

Our story begins last October when a man who we’ll call Rigoberto (no reason, I just like the name) was scheduled to fly early in the morning from New York’s JFK to Los Angeles. He was on an A321 and had purchased an Even More Space seat in row 6, the exit row right behind Mint.

According to Rigoberto, he boarded the aircraft and found the bins above his seat already full even though nobody else was in those seats. He was mad about it, having paid for the ability to board early, and the flight attendant told him to just put his bags in a bin behind his seats. He did, and he says he grumbled “selfish passengers” toward those further back who had filled up the bin space.

The flight attendant must have thought he was directing his anger at her and asked what he said. She must not have believed him, because shortly after this, someone came onboard and asked him to step off the plane to have a chat. Rigoberto explained everything, and he was allowed back on.

Next, another flight attendant came by to ask the standard questions for those sitting in an exit row. But first this flight attendant asked each person if they knew they were on flight xxx to LAX. Instead of just saying yes, Rigoberto didn’t like this flight attendant’s tone and asked what that had to do with sitting in an exit row. You can see where this is going. With two flight attendants concerned about his behavior, Rigoberto was kicked off. And I doubt many readers here would be surprised or bothered at that outcome. But things weren’t all bad for Rigoberto. They put him on a flight ninety minutes later in the same exact seat.

Where This Gets Interesting

Now, I’m reading this story up to this point, and I’m not particularly interested. I don’t know the JetBlue flight attendants’ side of the story, and I imagine that this guy is understating his role in things. I don’t care to judge who is right or who is wrong here, but in general, if someone gets thrown off a flight, I tend to believe the crew. But the circumstances of what happened aren’t why I’m writing this post. It’s what happened after that’s so interesting.

Rigoberto was mad, and he sent a complaint letter to JetBlue asking for compensation. JetBlue responded and stood by its crewmembers, but it still offered him $75 for future travel. That actually seems somewhat generous that they offered him anything, especially since he still got there within 2 hours of original schedule, but he disagreed. So, he wrote back saying so. JetBlue still stuck by its crewmembers, as it should have.

Rigoberto then decided to take matters into his own hands. He decided to file suit in small claims court asking for $2499 plus court costs. Why $2499? He reasoned that as the approximate cost of a roundtrip in Mint from LA to New York — which would seem to be highly-inflated since he wasn’t even in Mint — but the judge didn’t object. After properly serving JetBlue, Rigoberto emailed them and said he’d withdraw the suit if they agreed to give him either 150,000 TrueBlue points or a roundtrip ticket in Mint. That, obviously, didn’t happen.

The date came and Rigoberto was ready. JetBlue, however, didn’t show up at all. What happened? I’ll let you read for yourself.

Because JetBlue didn’t show up, Rigoberto was awarded the $2499 plus $105 in court costs. According to Rigoberto (I didn’t check on the law), JetBlue could have explained why it didn’t show up and asked for a new trial date within 30 days of that verdict, but it didn’t do that either. So the judgment was final.

JetBlue ignored that as well, at least in the immediate aftermath. But after Rigoberto sent them a demand letter, a check came to him for the full amount. This was all settled within two months of the incident. Talk about swift justice (or non-justice, depending upon your point of view).

Maybe the flight attendant didn’t want to testify, so JetBlue just decided not to fight. Or maybe JetBlue simply didn’t think it was worth bothering to send someone to court in California, but in the end, Rigoberto walked away with a whole bunch of money for a sub-2 hour delay.

What is JetBlue’s side of the story? Well, the airline wouldn’t comment on this specific case, as you’d expect. But I asked for a broader statement about this practice in general and was told the following by a spokesperson:

This was a unique case. We focus on avoiding disputes altogether by offering a great customer experience and making things right when they go wrong. But in situations that do result in legal action, our typical approach is to actively defend our position in court.

That’s a good response, and it should serve as warning that a frivolous lawsuit is usually going to be defended. But for those who think they’ve been truly wronged by any airline, this might be an avenue worth exploring.

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51 Responses to How JetBlue Putting Someone on a Flight 90 Minutes Later Cost the Airline $2500

  1. broadcreek48 says:

    The tone of the article like the tone of Rigoberto and the tone of the flight attendants are subtle indicators of the complexity of the human mind.

  2. ganttc says:

    Oh great….now we will have another batch of people that do this type thing to get away with something.

    Most companies know that the cost to litigate outweighs just bending over. It’s a sad state of affairs.

    • Jim says:

      Not at all. Small claims court is very cheap and easy. Sending someone to show up in court would have cost the airline far less than $2500.

  3. WingedWesley says:

    I understand your support of the airline and the crew. However, as any traveler knows, there are always flight attendants in the cabin(s) during boarding. I don’t understand why one of the crew didn’t see early boarding passengers stuffing the overhead, and then trotting off to another part of the plane. Especially when the overheads are located at premium price seats.

    While it’s true we only know one side of the story, I think the entire mess could have been avoided if an FA had stopped the bin incursion when it happened.

    • CB says:

      I wonder if, instead of passenger bags, those bags were crew bag–2 pilots plus 4 FA bags. Those have to go somewhere on the plane, and usually, they end up at overwing, so that crew can keep an eye on them.

    • Nick says:

      Most airlines don’t have a policy that your bag has to be right by your seat. It’s all considered to be open and free space. I’d like to know if he had to put his bag all the way above row 7 or 8?

    • Captain Obivious says:

      Because it’s shared space. Too bad, so sad for our toddler/litigator. He paid for legroom and early boarding. Not for a private jet… that’s more than $159. I’ll back the FAs and the crew every time. They professionally deal with hundreds and hundreds of snowflakes like this every day. People who want something for nothing.

      • Oliver says:

        Captain Oblivious – there are plenty of poorly behaving FAs in the sky. Just like in any other profession. Fortunately the percentage of bad apples is small.

        There is obviously no way of knowing if the FAs in this case were bad apples. I do wonder why Jetblue didn’t just refund Rigoberto’s ticket and send him home if he was such a bad passenger. Instead they put him on the next flight. Seems like the gate agent didn’t quite want to pick sides?

  4. Tim Dunn says:

    The court did not hesitate to award damages for a fairly small service failure which is concerning to any sector of the service industry. Service is heavily about customer perception and, if anything, B6′ flight attendants chose a confrontational approach (increasingly normal in American culture) and then headquarters staff chose to ignore the issue when the customer complained and tried to “negotiate” with the company.

    The cost of challenging the case certainly wasn’t worth the cost of sending a lawyer to California or for B6 to contract with a local attorney.

    I suspect situations like this aren’t as rare as some might think; most people don’t go to the trouble of filing a court case after a service failure – regardless of the circumstances. Maybe it was all a game to the customer but you gotta think the stress he put himself through cost him a lot of intangibles such as peace, sleep and maybe a day or two of life down the pike. All because of failed expectations about overhead bin space.

    He might not have really won after all.

    • Captain Obivious says:

      If someone can’t handle the stress of waiting an extra 45 seconds to get their bag from 3 rows back then they shouldn’t be flying in an airplane. This is not a ‘stressful situation’ nor A service failure by the crew. This is an adult having a tantrum. And I applaud the JetBlue crew for giving him a time out.

    • Oliver says:

      IANAL, but I thought small claims courts in Cadon’t allow representation by a lawyer.

      • Oliver says:

        Cadon’t -> CA don’t

        And looks like I was remembering correctly:

        (link below)

        “A corporation or other legal entity (that is not a natural person) can be represented by a regular employee, an officer, or a director; a partnership can be represented by a partner or regular employee of the partnership. The representative may not be an attorney or person whose only job is to represent the party in small claims court.”

  5. Jason H says:

    Why would JetBlue need to send a lawyer? It’s small claims court so Rigoberto wouldn’t have one anyway.

    If JetBlue sent any local mid-level airport or other manager to the court, they almost certainly could have significantly reduced their penalty (to something like an economy ticket or even the change fee), if not won the case outright.

    • Tim Dunn says:

      The question is not whether someone could have represented B6 in court but whether B6 could reasonably expect someone out of their law department to start that as part of their job. B6 either intentionally ignored the summons and all other court actions based on their assessment that the court award was not worth their while or they legitimately just failed to address it – which seems unlikely.

      There are some people that will go as far as this guy but not many. Maybe a few more with this article as an incentive.

  6. Richard says:

    Very Bizarre. The only logical explanation for my mind is that someone in the Jetblue legal office forgot about it and then didn’t own up about the mistake for too long.

  7. Jeremy says:

    Not a surprising result here. The costs of defending would come close to or exceed the suit’s total value (flying out lawyer and FA, compensating them, producing documents, hotel stay, etc.). This is probably my new favorite article on this site as someone in law school hoping to work for an airline.

    • Captain Obivious. says:

      Send an intern. I just saved the airline $400 and hour plus expenses.

    • Oliver says:

      Well, sorry, future airline lawyer, but it seems you won’t get sent to CA to fight in small claims court :)

      https://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/small_claims/basic_info.shtml

      “A corporation or other legal entity (that is not a natural person) can be represented by a regular employee, an officer, or a director; a partnership can be represented by a partner or regular employee of the partnership. The representative may not be an attorney or person whose only job is to represent the party in small claims court.”

      • Jeremy says:

        Some quick research indicates that CA is part of a very small minority of states that don’t allow attorneys in small claims courts. Seems like a ridiculous rule to me, may even infringe some due process rights for the corporation.

        But back to this situation, I can’t see a $5B corporation like JetBlue picking out a random employee in CA to go represent their interests in court. Perhaps they decided to let default judgement be entered rather than place the responsibility for defending a suit against the company on an employee who isn’t trained or paid to be doing that kind of work.

  8. JoEllen says:

    Just another case of rewarding a passenger for bad behavior. A Jet Blue representative should have just shown up in court with proof of compensation that they had given him prior and they would not have lost another $2500. As well, FA’s need to be “trained” how to handle moody, bad mood or grumbling passengers instead of whipping into “victim”, judge, jury and executioner right on the spot. Can’t they just deal with it by apologizing to him (even if they really didn’t feel like it) and offering a drink or travel voucher or finding a way to adjust bags to the right bins ?? Befriend the guy, soften your tone, offer a token of good will. Staying calm, commiserating and a mild answer does wonders.

    • Anthony says:

      So reward this guy for being an a**hole by giving him free drinks and inviting him back on a future flight at a discount rate? Get his misery off the plane, away from your passengers and Crew.

  9. A says:

    Ok, I feel for Rigoberto. It’s super annoying when I’m in a low # row and the bins are full but the people are all seated in the back. What’s the mentality of that? Too difficult to drag your roll-aboard through an extra 10+ rows. Not knowing how he acted I’m not going to defend him but I do think FA’s should kindly request pax put bags in the bins above their seats at very least until the space above your row is taken.

    As for the small claims thing, I worry that this has set a bad precedent. People will claim discrimination for anything these days. If you don’t believe me just ask the HR department of any large corp. Frivolous litigation will only cost the airlines more $$$ which will raise ticket prices. Unfortunately the judge didn’t see it that way which is too bad in my opinion. At most Rigoberto was due compensation for his lost time. Assume his value is high ($500/hr) it’s still far less than the damages awarded.

    • Captain Obivious says:

      It’s shared space. Not the property of the rows near the bin. That’s why early boarding is a premium.

  10. Roy Biggins says:

    What I gathered from this story? Rigoberto gets rewarded for being a petty bitch.

  11. Matt D says:

    Although as noted, an attorney is usually not needed for Small Claims. But in cases where one is present, a good proxy sniff test for the validity of the case is:

    Did the attorney take the case on retainer or on contingency?

    Say what you want about lawyers and ethics. The one thing most of them are not is: stupid. And they won’t waste their time.

    If he required an upfront retainer, then yes. Odds are the case is frivolous bullshit. Hence asking for payment upfront. If he took the case on contingency, I would take the claim much, much more seriously. In that case, the acting lawyer has reason to believe the case has legs and merit.

    Exceptions exist to both, so this is more of a general guideline and not gospel rule.

    • CB says:

      Maybe Rigoberto is an attorney, so he had no need to retain one?

    • Jim says:

      Whether an attorney takes a case on contingency or retainer has more to do with the potential damages and pockets of the defendant.

      If you have a personal injury claim against a major corporation that is even marginally legitimate, you will probably find an attorney to take it on contingency, because the potential payout could be huge.

      If you have a solid case that your neighbor robbed you, you aren’t going to get a lawyer to take it on contingency, because damages are very limited in such cases.

  12. George says:

    Actually I’m surprised B6 didn’t show up and fight this-mainly for the reason some have given-frivolous lawsuits. Also don’t underestimate what a company will do when money is involved. An example is what happened to me back in the 90’s. I had a travel expense report bounced back to me for claiming the wrong amount for my rental car. Forgot to put down some fee on the report. So I redo the report-the admin types it up, and my boss reviews it again. I figure that cost the company about $50.00 or so total of my time, admin’s time, and the boss’ time. The amount in error-$00.30-that’s right-30 cents-but by you know who, the report was now correct. I won’t name the company-but it was and still is a major Aerospace firm.

  13. Pilotaaron1 says:

    So I definitely am not supporting Rigoberto on this as I think rewarding bad behavior only gives them an excuse to do more. That being said, I have a major pet peeve about people putting their bag in the front overhead and then going to the back. But I also fly WN and check most of the time anyways.

  14. JayB says:

    You would think that these days airlines can handle anything, to their advantage but it seems, not so, at least at first blush. Just accept the fact that customers, people, humans, with their animals to help them, are impossible, but don’t urge them on with all that stuff–new fares, new categories of fares, new boarding, new carry-on rules, new seating plans, new this, new that, untried and will never work unless you lead them like a bunch of cows! And, they’ll sue anyway.

    If you read Cranky’s trip reports, you see the little things that drive him, and probably a lot of us, nuts. But, airlines seem to like this. Maybe publicity, even bad publicity is better than none at all. But, maybe JetBlue figured out that at that stage, no appearance in the court was the best defense here.

    This isn’t rocket science. it’s simple, lot’s of little things, driven by too many people, with too much time on their hands. Keep travel simple and you’ll avoid 99% of these types of problems. But, no, charge for this, not for that, make these people do this, them not, and on and on. We’ve lost the gifts of simplicity and common sense. “I don’t care what or how the competition does it, we ain’t! It’s too hard to follow. It makes no sense. We are the Common Sense Airline (CSA). Welcome On-Board!” [Disclosure: Obviously, I don’t and have never run an airline!]

  15. Rigoberto says:

    Maybe the flight attendants need to wear body cameras like police do. So BOTH sides can learn a thing or too? Flight attendants can see when they aren’t being as kind as they need to and entitled pax can see how they look being an a$@ hole.

  16. Scottstlfll says:

    Innocent until proven guilty. B6’s reaction and then innaction was of their own choosing. Rigoberto had his day in court and most likely would have lost his argument but the hubris of big corporations cost them. If corporations are now “people” per Citizens United, they best understand it cuts both ways. Rigoberto you are a consumer’s unlikely friend.

    • Captain Obivious says:

      No he isn’t, he is the enemy of low fares. Do you think this award money comes from nowhere? No it comes from the collective fairs of every other passenger that flies on an airliner. You and I, and that passenger in 7C, are paying for this toddler to get a free first class ticket across the country. Actually, looking at the fares on said airline, we just paid for a first class ticket for him twice across the country and back. He is not a hero, or some sort of consumer justice warrior, he is a toddler who was rewarded for a tantrum. If someone can’t handle the so-called stresses of flight, then greyhound is down the street. I have read the constitution backwards and forwards and nowhere does it say that people have a right to cheap flights and subservient behavior from flight crews as they fly across the country.

      • Mark Skinner says:

        You assume he was in the wrong. Cranky was at great pains to state we don’t know who was wrong here.

        He had his day in court, Jetblue had the opportunity to put their side of the story, but didn’t.

        You’d think that IF they had a strong case, they might have sent someone to court. And please don’t tell me they had nobody in the whole state they couldn’t have wired a written statement to recite. Low level lawyer in head office, and even a low level employee in CA with an emailed statement could have shut this down, even if they were wrong.

        The point is, that they could have defended cheaply. They didn’t. So, why are people assuming they were in the right?

    • Realist says:

      I’ve got news for you Scott, corporations have always been treated the same as people in the eyes of the law, at least in some states. I know this not just from my HS B-Law class, but also because that was made clear when I incorporated my business in 1995. Citizen’s United just reaffirmed it. Don’t believe everything you hear on the “news”.

  17. Oliver says:

    Is Rigoberto now on Jetblue’s Do not Fly list?

  18. Duck says:

    Wow. I feel for Rigoberto. Imagine going through life that keyed up.

  19. RS says:

    Why did you block out the names of the parties? He filed in open court and in this country all such proceedings are open to the public. He is entitled to no presumptions of privacy.

    • CF says:

      RS – He sent the document to me with his name blocked out, so I didn’t feel the need to hunt it down further.

  20. Alan says:

    In many cases with airlines, this is a no-brainer to win. As long as the issue is plausible, and you submit reams of documentation, the airline will usually lose.

    Case in point. My wife and I were on international trip with Northwest and its partner KLM.

  21. Miss Informed says:

    Did Rigoberto actually receive the compensation he was awarded? I’d be surprised if he did, especially since he was placed on a replacement flight such a short time later. If I were a Jetblue attorney I would have laughed off this case as just another nuisance suit. I think asking for a LOT more money (but still within reasonable limits — say $10,000, assuming that amount would be allowed in small claims court in that state) might have gotten Jetblue’s attention. Loss of one customer’s future business doesn’t mean a lot.

  22. Jim says:

    Amazing how many people are passing judgment after hearing only one side of the story.

    There are two possible explanations. Either JetBlue is so incompetent and disorganized that they can’t get an employee to show up in court at the correct time, or they realized they didn’t have a strong case and would lose anyway.

    I doubt it is the former.

  23. Tim Dunn says:

    Those who are quick to argue that the result has been to reward bad behavior need to consider that the court does not care about behavior. It cares about monetary losses.
    JBLU had the opportunity to argue that the claim presented was not accurate but they didn’t show up.

    Airlines as well all service companies provide a service which has value. The failure to deliver that product that in this case involved taking a passenger off of a plane and rebooking him on another flight cost the passenger money.

    The agents of the company (the flight attendants) took it upon themselves to escalate a situation and ask for a failure of product delivery based on their assessment.

    The airline offered a settlement which the passenger refused after going through the prescribed process.

    The court became involved when the passenger challenged the value of the interrupted travel. The court award has nothing to do with behavior or overhead space but about the airline’s decision to remove the passenger from the plane and punish him my making him wait for the next flight.

    The clear lesson is that airlines need to think very hard about having their employees pull people off of their planes because of perceived threats – which in this case the customer said did not exist and the airline could never prove – and rebooking them on a later flight with the passenger told to believe “well I’m glad you let me on this time.”

  24. Bobber says:

    One of America’s gifts to the world – litigation.

  25. Greg says:

    I’m not sure if it’s still true, but years ago I knew someone employed by United whose entire job was to be the witness presenting company records (etc) in depositions and courtrooms around the country.

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