Heard In The Bagel Store
By Larry Gordon
This might be goodbye to Jet Blue. Frankly, that all depends on whether someone over there at their JFK offices picks up this story online and does something about it. We have always found the Jet Blue folks courteous and cooperative even though air travel and shlepping through just about any airport is somewhat tedious and burdensome these days.
Actually I am in favor of profiling people especially in airports and the few times I’ve been asked to step aside so that my bags could be more thoroughly searched I was very pleased to cooperate even though the experience was an additional traveling hassle.
But last week with all the talk of racial tensions in places like Missouri and New York, and alleged mistreatment by authorities in the news, I think my sense of being singled out and profiled as both being white and an Orthodox Jew left me feeling perhaps a little additionally sensitive. Of course you might think that this mechanism does not work in this direction but what can I say—I do not agree.
But usually those feelings are kept inside and to myself and I don’t even talk about them—lest write about them—as I suspect the entire thought process might be borderline crazy, though not in a clinical but rather in a colloquial sense.
So let me get to the point that serves as the catalyst for writing these words and laying these ideas out here on this screen and in this paper. A few days ago we were making our way seamlessly and smoothly to our flight back to New York from Fort Lauderdale when all of a sudden we—that is my wife, Esta and myself, were set aside for special attention by some Jet Blue personnel in a very unsavory and unpleasant fashion by what I can only guess was a languid and indolent Jet Blue 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 aircraft storage space on all airlines and they are also big enough to keep a lot of things in. For me that means my talis and tefilin, seforim, 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 Jet Blue prior to Thanksgiving without a peep from anyone on a rather crowded with not a seat to spare aircraft. But not so fast the other day in Fort Lauderdale as we were running a little late and anxious to be on our way back home 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 for a moment what in the world happened. It was just a few seconds prior that she was 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. As I said I had the identical type bag so now even though I was let 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 in where the Jet Blue 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 additionally 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 pat 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 says that yes, the Jet Blue size regulation was indeed revised about four months ago. In addition to the week prior we flew on Jet Blue to Chicago about three months ago without incident with the same bags. Additionally there is no indication online of any official change in carry on baggage size within the last few months as indicated by the Jet Blue supervisor on duty.
To make things just a little more difficult I say to Mr. Moxey that if I am going to be forced to check my carry on there are a few things I am going to 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. He said he could not help us with that as I anticipated so we just stood there looking at one another waiting for something to happen.
What I would like to have seen happen if we weren’t being picked out and picked on is to be politely told that they feel that 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 new smaller one. But no, that was not within the realm of possibility of happening 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 and certainly not with our bags on board while we were standing out here in the terminal.
We retreat from the position on the check in line after we refused to check in our carry-on bags. I’m 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 pocket book 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 lap top case, woman’s bag or diaper bag in addition 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 is 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 and that 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 fifteen minutes. As we were now 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 who knows maybe since it was almost 5pm his shift had ended.
I say to Esta, let’s just walk past those two that originally stopped us again. If they stop us 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 pass and without incident or notice move right on by.
We places our bags on the conveyer belt for the trip through the metal detector/X-Ray machine, walk through and we are on our way. Just as I passed through the detector is when I spot Mr. Moxey talking to one of the TSA people and I can just hear him say something about whether we were the passengers traveling to New York. She answers in the affirmative, that yes, we are heading to New York. We have already passed through security and regulations say he cannot 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 Jet Blue not just about 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, signaled out and targeted. She said that she was horrified and apologized and credited us $200 toward our next Jet Blue flight.
Actually, I explained to her, what I’m looking for is for the supervisor at the airport there be ideally dismissed from his position or at least disciplined in some fashion. She said she would pass that information along but that these actions or proceeding were something she could not share with the public.
I told her that I understood that but would be following up with her nevertheless. Obviously there are much bigger problems in the world. Now looking back at the episode it seems more comedic than anything else. Anyway once we escaped the clutches of our being profiled and the attempted assessment of an additional $100 baggage fee we boarded the A-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 this was not just the end of the flight but also the conclusion of one crazy story.