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.