It’s one thing to dread flying nowadays because of the flaming hoops one must jump through to get through TSA’s security checkpoints without a body cavity search, or dumping half the contents of your carry on in the trash for being .05 too many ounces of liquid, but even then you’re still treated like you’re a fellow human being.
E. Tashlin, however, didn’t even get that courtesy from a Jet Blue security officer on Monday, as he waited to board a connecting flight at JFK, on his long journey home after a business meeting in San Francisco. I’ll let his own words, posted on his Facebook and in Reddit’s r/offmychest community, tell the story…
“On Monday as I was traveling home from a work conference in San Francisco, I was initially denied entry to my connection in JFK due to the symptoms of my Tourette Syndrome. Furthermore, the airline official I dealt with was the most insulting and rude person I’ve interacted with around my condition since I was young.
My flight from SF got me into the airport around 8:30pm local time, and my connection to Portland Maine was not due to board until 10:15pm. I’m alwayspretty ticcy when traveling, and as I sat in the departure lounge working on my computer I was occasionally barking, not unlike a small dog. In the span of two hours I’d say it happened maybe four or five times. At no point did anyone, passenger, airline, or airport staff say anything to me about it.
When I went to board the plane however, the gate agent took my boarding pass and refused me entry, calling for someone from corporate (not sure exactly what that means) and ordering me to wait.
This is when things get incredibly unpleasant.
To be honest, it didn’t even occur to me at this point that the delay could be TS related. I’d swapped my seat assignment for the flight from SFO to JFK so I could sit with a friend and I figured somehow that had screwed up the second leg of the trip.
However, when Gil (didn’t catch last name or ID number because honestly he scared me) approached me the very first thing he said was:
“Have you been fed today?”
I’d been traveling for hours and was so slow on the uptake that I still didn’t get this was a barking thing. As he continued in the same vein it became clear though.
When my brain caught up I said “Excuse me, you don’t have to be rude, I can explain” at which point he cut me off and became extremely angry informing me that he was my only chance of getting on the plane and he would talk to me however he liked. I stated repeatedly that I had a neurological condition and that the barking wasn’t within my control, but that just seemed to make him more angry/irritated.
Finally he said that if I couldn’t stop there was no chance I was getting on the aircraft. I truthfully replied that there was absolutely no way I could guarantee that I wouldn’t bark (TS being made worse by stress, I could virtually guarantee that I would, but I didn’t say that), and that as I didn’t have any checked bags, I could make alternative travel plans relatively easily.
This finally seemed to have an effect. I think he really expected me to fight to get on board the plane, and I just wasn’t interested in doing so. I truthfully don’t know which of us was in the legal right, but I’m pretty sure it was him. I imagine the airline can refuse service to whomever they like, particularly if they feel there’s a safety issue.
At this point he asked me if I took medication, which seemed like a non sequitur. I started to explain that medication isn’t fully effective for many people with TS but he cut me off and ordered me to just answer the question. Truthfully I told him that I did. I take 0.1mg of clonidine every night before bed to control the tics while I sleep. I don’t take it when traveling since it makes me very fatigued and sometimes nauseous if I have to be awake.
At this point Gil left to go down the jetway and I called home to discuss the best way to get me home if I the flight left without me, along with where I would stay until those plans could be put into motion, since I’m pretty sure I wasn’t going to be allowed to stay in the JetBlue departure lounge at JFK.
He was gone quite a while and when he came back he informed me that he was allowing me to board the aircraft since it was only a 45min hop back to Portland. I was shaking so bad when I got on board that I couldn’t sort out getting my carry on into an overhead (it didn’t quite fit and I didn’t trust myself to open the bag and remove a couple of items so it would). I ended up gate-checking it in fact.
I did bark a few times on the flight, but I listened to my audiobook, played solitaire, and tried so hard to keep my jaw locked shut that I even declined a drink or cookie when the flight attendants offered them.
Getting off in Portland I thanked the flight crew for letting me on the plane despite their reservations, but the flight attendant assured me that they never had an issue with me flying with them and that when they’d heard about the concerns of the JFK staff, and that I had a medical condition, they told them to let me board. Perhaps I misunderstood Gil’s statement about where the concern lay, or perhaps someone in the whole sequence was lying.
I know this sounds like no big deal, I mean I even got on the damned plane. But Gil was so incredibly demeaning in how he talked to me, and having significant Tourette Syndrome for twenty years I have a high bar for being treated poorly because of my condition. Also, it was all so unexpected. I mean hell, if you’re not going to let me board your plane, why the hell let me sit in the departure lounge for two bloody hours without saying a word. It’s a pretty significant drive back to Portland and if I had continued to be denied boarding, those two hours would have made a real difference in my getting home.
Anyway, that’s what happened and I thought you should know.
UPDATE 2 – After the call described below (sorry about the formatting, I can’t seem to get rid of it) JetBlue sent me an email that among other things defends the “professionalism” of Gil. You can check that out here
EDIT: Here’s an update –
I just got off the phone with a customer support representative from Jetblue’s Salt Lake City offices.
Imagine how you think that call might have gone… got it in your head? Well, you’re probably right. Here are the highlights:
• This isn’t how JetBlue treats people
I pointed out that it in fact WAS how JetBlue had treated me
• I should have called ahead and warned them that I had TS
I described how other airlines and airports had handled things without resorting to using degrading or abusive language or seizing my boarding pass at the gate
• Gil is a gruff guy
• JetBlue apologizes that I felt I was treated poorly
I told them I wanted an apology from Gil, I was told that was not going to happen
• JetBlue understands that I was not spoken to appropriately
I made the repeated point that NO airline or airport has EVER treated me in this fashion, elaborating on how other airlines have handled concerns around my symptoms through the radical concept of asking questions
• I have to understand that the airline has to investigate whenever there is a concern for passenger safety
I reminded the representative that I was sitting calmly working on an email on my laptop, and that other airlines have “investigated” in the past without addressing me as a dog, using other demeaning language, or preventing me from boarding my flight
• I pointed out that the ADA protected my right to board an aircraft despite my disability
The JetBlue representative pointed out that I hadn’t pre-disclosed the TS
I reminded them that Gil continued refusing me entry onto the plane even after I had done so, saying I could only board if I could “agree” not to tic during the flight
• I made it clear that the way I was spoken to and addressed was unprecedented in my 20yr history as someone with prominent vocal tics
The representative said that more training needed to be done
• I stated that this wasn’t a Tourette issue, but one of treating people decently
They told me that that is the focus of their extensive training programs
I said that the training didn’t seem to have taken
• I told them that I hadn’t flown JetBlue for many many years, so this is really my first impression of them
They recognized that that was unfortunate
• I said that at this point I’m shaken enough that I don’t know if I’m up for getting on ANY airline, least of all theirs
They said they hoped I would reconsider them as my carrier in the future”
E. posted a further update after receiving an email response from Jet Blue’s Customer Support:
“I updated my original post with my takeaway from our phone call, but then I got their email and became so furious I couldn’t get back to work until I vented.
Mostly I’m taken with how they excuse me being referred to as a dog, being asked if I’d been fed, and told that Gil would speak to me however he liked as their security officer’s “approach” and reminded me that he’s a professional
Here is the whole bloody thing:
Dear Mr. Tashlin,
Thank you for taking time to contact JetBlue regarding your disappointment in the service provided before your recent flight and for talking with me for a while this evening. We sincerely regret the circumstances that prompted you to write to us and welcome this opportunity to address your concerns.
We regret that you felt uncomfortable or not valued as our customer at the gate before your flight. At JetBlue, we strive to provide excellence in all our customer service. However, based on the information provided, we must maintain that we did not fail to meet the standards established by the Department of Transportation because our crewmembers were not aware of your Tourette Syndrome prior to your arrival at the airport.
We understand that your Tourette Syndrome caused you to make some barking sounds as you waited in the gate area. Please be assured that JetBlue will not refuse to provide transportation to a qualified individual with a disability solely because the person’s disability results in appearance or involuntary behavior that may be perceived as offensive, disorderly or threatening. Unfortunately, we found no notes in your reservation about any stated disability or special travel considerations related to this condition. Without this information, it was necessary to ensure your safety and that of the other customers before you were boarded. In accordance with our Contract of Carriage, any customer may be refused boarding if their behavior is perceived as a risk to the safety or comfort of customer or crewmembers on the flight.
We realize it was uncomfortable and embarrassing for you as you were interviewed by Gil. As a security officer, he works professionally and with expedience to get to the facts and take any appropriate action. We apologize that his approach seemed rude and insulting to you. As we discussed, your letter has been forwarded to our JetBlue Security Management for review. We can only assure you that your experience is not typical of the standards we try to maintain.
We are glad that you were cleared to fly and that the Inflight crew welcomed you onboard. We hope we have been able to address your concerns. If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. Alternatively, you may contact the U.S. Department of Transportation regarding your concerns and seek enforcement under 14 CFR Part 382.
We want you to know how much JetBlue appreciates your support, and know that without you and many other valued customers, we would not be the airline we are today. You can be certain every effort will be made to ensure our standard of service meets your expectations in the future.
Shauna Corporate Customer Support JetBlue Airways
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