|by Jason Steele|
Kevin Smith is a Hollywood actor and producer. He also likes to loudly complain online when he perceives that he has been slighted in some way. Earlier this year, he was denied boarding on Southwest airlines when they decided he was no longer small enough to fit in a single seat. Whatever the merits of the complaint, it seems Southwest handled itself poorly both at the time of the incident as well as in the ensuing Internet flame war that followed.
Round 2: Kevin Smith Versus Virgin America
Now, Smith is involved in yet another airline imbroglio, this time with Virgin America. Apparently if you are not rich enough to afford a private jet and you feel you are too famous to board with everyone else, you can actually hire someone to act as a concierge to escort you through security and to the lounge. There, your escort will presumably know what time to escort you to your gate so that you can board last without missing your flight. In this case, Smith’s concierge brought him to the gate 10 minutes before departure. At that time, the boarding doors had already closed and the gate staff refused to allow him to board. According to Smith, they argued while the plane sat at the gate for another 15-20 minutes. You can read Smith’s account at his blog.
Why This Happens
First, this has happened to just about everyone who travels frequently, minus the whole concierge thing. If you are not a famous person with an Internet presence, you just don’t get to tell the whole world about it. In reality, the airlines all have a pretty clear policy that passengers who have not boarded by their published cut-off time, typically 15 or 20 minutes, may loose their seat. If you have ever flown standby, you know that you have to wait up until the cutoff time before your seat is released. Those who don’t arrive before the cutoff time will loose their seats to standby passengers. That is what I suspect happened to Smith. He can rant and rave all day long about the plane was there for so many minutes yet they wouldn’t open the door, yet it seems he hasn’t considered the possibility that his seat was already given to a standby passenger in accordance with the airline’s policies.
The other possibility is that the seat was empty but the gate agents had already “closed out” the flight. That is when they have completed the passenger manifest as required by law. Doing so also transmits the final weight and balance information to the computer, the airplane, and the pilots. Lets just say that once the flight has been “closed”, it is a time consuming task to re-open it for any changes. That is not an excuse for poor customer service, but it explains why a gate agent will almost never re-open the doors when a passenger arrives late, even if the aircraft will be sitting at the gate for another 10 or 15 minutes.
Whose Fault Is It
I believe that the responsibility for arriving on falls on the passenger, and in this case, the concierge that he paid to prevent this exact problem. Airlines deal with no-shows all the time, and every flight would be late if they had to wait until departure time before accepting standbys. It is also likely that they had upgraded a passenger to his first class seat by the time he arrived. If his seat was in fact empty when he arrives, I still think that the VA staff should have re-openned the flight in the name of good customer service, even if they really didn’t have to.
Furthermore, Smith rants on and on about his wife’s medications in her checked bags. Every traveler should know never to check medications! I have no idea how they ensure that you have room for your carry on luggage when you board last with your concierge, so that is probably why they checked everything, but they should always carry on any essential items. Frankly, I don’t see the point of the whole concierge exercise if you still have to wait at the carousel with everyone else, but perhaps a concierge on the other end does the luggage pickup and delivery as well.
Nevertheless, Virgin America displayed far greater crisis management than Southwest did when confronted with Smith’s issues. They have since apologized and even refunded the price of the ticket, which is far more than you or I will get next time we are denied boarding 10 minutes before our scheduled departure.