Kevin Smith's Latest Airline Complaint Stings Virgin America

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Film director Kevin SmithIn February, film director Kevin Smith made headlines when he was kicked off a Southwest Airlines (LUV) flight because he was allegedly too large to fit comfortably in his seat. Furious at his treatment, Smith responded by quickly telling the story on his blog, his podcast, Twitter and other social media outlets. For travelers concerned about narrowing seats and prejudice against overweight passengers, the incident became a catalyst for activism. For airlines, it became a cautionary tale.

On Monday morning, the second act of the story took place at New York's JFK airport, where Smith, his wife and friend Jason Mewes were denied access to a Virgin America flight despite arriving at the gate 10 minutes before scheduled departure.

As Smith wrote on his blog: "We pleaded with Manny (the unfriendly face of Virgin America JFK working the gate), pointing out the remaining time (there were still 8 minutes before scheduled departure), and pointing out that the jetway was still attached to the plane. Flying as much as I do (usually up at the front of the plane), I know that the jetway only gets pulled back ONCE THE PLANE DOOR IS SECURELY CLOSED." Even though the jetway was still attached, Virgin refused to let the trio on their plane.

Crucial Mistake

According to Smith, Manny was soon joined by Erwin, his superior, who also refused to grant the group access to the plane. Later, the director pointed out that his wife had packed her medication in her luggage and would need it within eight hours, but claims that the two Virgin attendants refused to take the bags off or otherwise help the travelers: "Erwin said that wasn't possible. So did Manny. They didn't even TRY to call someone about getting the bags off. 'They can't do that,' was all I got. Dorothy, the concierge, said in her 27 years working with all the airlines, she'd never seen anything like it."

Anybody who has traveled in the last decade could probably point out Smith's mistake: Instead of setting up camp at the gate for a half hour before arrival, the director chose to stay in a VIP lounge until the last minute. Then again, he hired a concierge, Dorothy, to ensure that he would get to the gate in time, and conducted his luggage check-in and ticketing long before his flight in order to save time at the gate.

Perhaps the harshest hit was the fact that this was Virgin, an airline renowned for its service. In an embarrassing bit of irony, founder Sir Richard Branson touted the company's personal touch on Morning Joe last week, noting that Virgin is focused on producing a best-in-class customer experience. In fact, Smith himself acknowledged the quality of the airline, stating: "You guys are actually a top-notch operation, about whom I literally said to my wife a mere five days ago while we were en route to the east coast 'Virgin does it right, man. Such a great airline.'"

Unpleasant, Combative Experience

But Virgin isn't immune to trends in the airline industry. Even though its customer service is widely regarded as one of the best around, the airline business that has become notorious for mistreatment of passengers. With invasive scans and pat-downs (OK, not exactly the airlines' fault) joining charges for meals, the end of free blankets, extra charges for luggage and a host of other indignities, flying has become an unpleasant, combative experience for most people on both sides of the ticketing counter.

In this regard, Virgin faces an institutional attitude that won't be defeated with free Wi-Fi and excellent in-flight food and entertainment.

Writing directly to Virgin, Smith puts it succinctly: "I don't fault you for the petty, lazy, unhelpful behavior of your JFK terminal 4/gate B25 desk crew. But...it all starts at that check-in desk; and what started there today was the end of our business relationship."


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thetravelmaven

What a ridiculous story! I'm a travel agency owner, a travel writer, and a travel talk radio show host...and I think that Virgin America is absolutely fantastic!!!Mr. Smith(and who is he anyway?????) was LATE, and was shut out at the gate, like every other person who can't manage to get to the airport in a timely manner. I'm there an hour in advance(or more!)...and he should have been, too. Most of the VIP's that I know who don't want to follow the rules of this(or any other) airline, fly on privately owned planes. Good for you Virgin America!!! You stuck to your rules, and illustrated an important adage for travelers in a world that gets a little more anxiety provoking everyday. Check-in online 24 hours before, and get to the gate AT LEAST 30 minutes before flight time. That's when boarding begins. Do that, and get on. Everyone wins that way. My Virgin flight from LAX to IAD on Wednesday left on the dot. Let's all learn to respect schedules, no matter how important we think we are!

December 11 2010 at 8:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
thetravelmaven

What a ridiculous story! I'm a travel agency owner, a travel writer, and a travel talk radio show host...and I think that Virgin America is absolutely fantastic!!!Mr. Smith(and who is he anyway?????) was LATE, and was shut out at the gate, like every other person who can't manage to get to the airport in a timely manner. I'm there an hour in advance(or more!)...and he should have been, too. Most of the VIP's that I know who don't want to follow the rules of this(or any other) airline, fly on privately owned planes. Good for you Virgin America!!! You stuck to your rules, and illustrated an important adage for travelers in a world that gets a little more anxiety provoking everyday. Check-in online 24 hours before, and get to the gate AT LEAST 30 minutes before flight time. That's when boarding begins. Do that, and get on. Everyone wins that way. My Virgin flight from LAX to IAD on Wednesday left on the dot. Let's all learn to respect schedules, no matter how important we think we are!

December 11 2010 at 8:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
shawbbi

I volunteer at DFW airport as oje of the Ambassadors. In my ten years I have worked in all five terminals and with most of the airlines who use DFW. Without exception, if you are not on board ten minutes before your posted departure time the flight is "closed out" and you have missed your flight. I have seen a few exceptions but the passengers are running to the gate and the agent has elected to allow them to board. Of course their checked luggage did not make the flight even if they did. I have also been asked by passengers about the "ten minutes before departure" practice. My explanation is that it allows all passengers to get situated, their bags stowed, and everything else that needs attention to be cared for so the flight can LEAVE ON TIME.

December 11 2010 at 11:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
scottee

does everyone know that our power and money hungry elected officials in Washington only deregulated the airfares and everything else in the airline industry is regulated? how to do run a safe airline when you have to sell your product (seat) at a loss??? and comply with all the government regulations??? just wondering????

December 07 2010 at 8:53 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
trvlrsmart

Maybe Mr. Smith should stick to ground transportation since he clearly doesn't get air travel and the federal regulations that bind it. I feel no sympathy for him. Arriving "nearly ten minutes" before departure means you're late. Bottom line. Left the medicine in the checked baggage? Really? Even the most adolescent of travelers know air travel can be fraught with unexpected events; they therefore plan accordingly. It's not the airline's fault Mr. Smith put something as important as medication under the plane where he and his wife would have no access to it. Nor is it the airline's fault Mr. Smith chose to wait too long to board the flight. Didn't hear the announcements? Again, really? Here's some news for you: all flight information--including boarding time--is printed on both the itinerary and boarding cards. How is it most people don't need reminding they have a flight to catch at a scheduled time, but you, Mr. Smith, need someone to hold your hand? But hey, he scored a full refund AND free tickets, not to mention some press. Maybe he really does know what he's doing after all.

December 06 2010 at 10:30 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
kmvmocksox

When our flight from DFW to LAX arrived last wek, I thought the Fight Attendant, or Steward, said it all. In a slightly altered Thank You, she said, "Thank you for putting up with all the hassles of your travel day and flying American. We appreciate your business. I apologize if any of those hassles were caused by American, and, I join you in wondering if all the other hassles you endured today will remain a part of the everday flying experience in the future."

December 06 2010 at 6:45 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Christopher

Mr. Watson, the security issue is misrepresented with your comment "not exactly the airlines' fault". It's not the airlines' doing at all, any more than it is your or mine. Please put the responsibility where it belongs. Secondly, how can you say that flying has become 'an unpleasant, combative experience for MOST people on both sides of the ticketing counter.' It's uneventful at best for the vast majority of the flying public. Oh, and Virgin did the right thing for the 99% of passengers that had already boarded when His Majesty showed up.

December 06 2010 at 6:40 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
newpeach

I work for a competing airline. We might have done the same thing. People want ON TIME. If everyone chose to be out and about and all rush the gate 8 minutes before departure NOBODY would get an on time flight. You cant leave on time if people wont get on and be ready to go on time. Generally at 10 min before your subject to cancellation. Thats NOT any new rules its been around for YEARS. Had they opened the door the trio would have taken their sweet time, had to fiddle phart with all their carryons, hanging coats, and end of delaying everyone else. If the wife truly did put medication in a checked bag boy is she a dumb bunny. My hunch that was just a line to make them cave in. Statistics are published with on time figures that all airlines are taking really seriously. Managers paycheck figures depend on on time figures. Employees get small tidbits added to their checks if on time meets a certain goal. If a plane goes late theres blame to be taken and reports to be made. If the plane is ready to go noone is waiting around for hardly anybody nowdays. Maybe a large group off a connecting flight, but thats just a big maybe. Certainly not for three folks, ditzing around the airport that arrived plenty early but just chose to show up so late. NO WAY.

December 06 2010 at 6:37 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
pkatcher

another pompus ass...I use the lounges also and show up BFORE last call maybe, whats missing here is an arrogant drunk abusing the gate agent and they fought back the only wa ythe ycan deniy boarding..good for you virgin WE ALL HAVE TO WORK IN THE SYSTEM TO MAKE PLANES LEAVE ONTIME.. he probalby had is blackberry to prove there was time left!

December 06 2010 at 6:32 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
gmnd1

Show up 30 minutes before like the rest of us. To quote Ricky Bobby "If you're not first you're last."

December 06 2010 at 5:22 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply