Silent Bob Gets Loud About Missing A Flight

Actor and Director Kevin Smith (widely known for his portrayal of Silent Bob in a slew of movies) has had a rough year with airlines.

Earlier this year, back in February, Smith had a run in with Southwest Airlines, when the airline enforced its “Customer of Size Policy,” which it has had in place for many years.  Smith was apparently unhappy that Southwest Airlines invoked its policy and removed him from a flight, which is based on the safety of other passengers … and he made his displeasure widely known.

Fast forward to this past Monday at New York’s JFK International Airport, where Smith arrived at Terminal 4 Gate 25 for his Virgin America flight ten minutes prior to departure … despite the constant reminder every passenger gets to be at the gate no more than 15 minutes prior to departure … only to be told the aircraft door had been closed and he would not be able to board the flight. (FlightWisdom has pointed out that Virgin America asks passengers to be at the gate 20 minutes before the scheduled departure time)

Smith argued with the Virgin America gate agent that he was flying on a first class ticket and that his wife’s medication had been placed into the checked baggage … however this argument is problematic for two reasons.  The first reason is you should never check medications; they should always be carried on. The second reason is that checked baggage placed on a flight, with a passenger who does not make the flight, is typically removed from the aircraft for security reasons.

How did Smith, an experienced frequent flyer, end up at the gate only ten minutes prior to departure? He relied on the expertise of an airport concierge who has the job of getting high profile passengers to flights with the least fuss possible. These airport concierges usually have their VIP passengers board at the end of the boarding process … but this time it seems that they cut it a little to close.  A planning error on the part of an airport concierge is the problem of the concierge and the passenger, not the airline’s problem.

Smith’s reaction to missing the Virgin America flight and it departing without him was that he would not fly Virgin America again, or work with any other Virgin products … however … he was rebooked on the next flight out and got on it.

Virgin America did spin this to turn an upset high profile passenger into a less upset high profile passenger though … by the time Smith had landed however the airline had offered him a full refund and some free tickets.

The moral of this story? If you are a celebrity don’t count on an airline reopening its flights after the doors have been shut and armed to the aircraft … and pack your medication in your carry on bags.

Happy Flying!

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Comments

  1. The other moral of this story? Airlines only care about customer service when you have millions of twitter followers.

  2. It may help Jack, but there are a lot of people who have been helped by airline staff; and there is the hub of the matter (pun intended), it is the staff, not the airline that ultimately makes the judgement call.

    Otherwise become a more prolific twitterer and then you too can hope you might get more service, but probably not

  3. They shoulda treated him as they would any average Joe. “you’re late? too bad, you missed your flight!”

  4. Marc,

    I agree. Kevin Smith missed the cut off for the flight. As a courtesy Virgin America should have placed him on the next available flight … as most airlines will do … but I do not agree with the airline not only placed him on the next flight, but they also refunded his fare and offered him free tickets as an apology.

    That is not OK … this was 100% passenger error … not the airline’s problem.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  5. “the airline not only placed him on the next flight”

    What’s your source for this information? This conflicts with what I’ve heard about this story.

  6. I can’t believe people are rallying to this article like it’s anything but sensational journalism. http://silentbobspeaks.com/ has the original blog post detailing the events. Smith was traveling with his wife and good friend Jason Mewes. Not only did they flag the staff before the door was closed, which was promptly ignored. they had chacked in a full hour ahead of time, so there was no question about if Shmith was in the terminal. The staff at the gate ignored passengers flagging down the staff member closing, note door was not yet closed, the door and then bald faced lied about calling out the missing trio. If you question weather they were lying consider this, your entire job hinges on getting your clients to their destination in the nick of time and you have 3 decently high profile clients with you,2 of which have very distinct names (Mewes and Schwalbach), Wanna guess the odds that none of the three heard their very distinctive names, and the lady they hired to do that for them didn’t either? The staff messed up and failed to own it, and they deserve all the ire they have recieved because of it. Blaming Smith because he’s pissed that an airline screwed up again…. sensationalist journalism at its finest I guess. As for the meds. given the optino of having to root around in your bag for your meds, shove them in your carry-on, and then deal with issues that come up with securtiy, or leave them on the checked baggae that should arrive 2 HOURS before needed….. I’m pretty sure I’d have made that same decision.
    The saddest part about this article is that it’s working. Smith linked it from his twitter and now you’re getting all the traffic cause of it…

  7. Jared,

    On Kevin Smith’s site he states “We went through TSA with no issues, collected our things, and headed to gate B25. Boarding started at 11:15, and we arrived at the gate at 11:35 – a full ten minutes before scheduled departure. ”

    Virgin America’s policy, which is clearly stated in writing, is that passengers not at the gate 20 minutes before departure risk having their seat released to someone else. If Smiths seat was released at the 20 minute mark, a passenger boarded at the 18 minute mark and the door shut at the 10 minute mark, the passenger is at fault for not being at the gate 20 minutes prior.

    The only exceptions to this are usually are tight connections where an inbound flight from the same airline is to blame for the passenger being under that time limit … even in those cases it is at the airline’s discretion.

    On a side note, I don’t need Kevin Smith for traffic … I get substantial traffic and references in national media for my coverage of the TSA.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  8. Given Virgin’s immediate response and his tone in his posted updates, I think he’ll still be flying Virgin America and Atlantic.

  9. I can empathize with Mr. Smith despite all the buzz I imagine there may be going around about arriving early! He makes a good point about how the way gate agents handle a situation can make or break it.

    A few years ago I was a Chairman’s Preferred member on US, I got it via segments, thats 100 plus segments :). I would frequently fly on the same day between BOS and DCA, and often take US2048 the 9:00PM last flight back to BOS.

    On two occasions, they closed the door early, and left me stranded at DCA.

    Its been a while, but on one of these occasions apparently I checked in at the ticket counter 19 minutes before departure, and got to the gate about 10 minutes before the 9:00 P.M. departure which had already been closed. Like in Mr. Smith’s case, the gate agents and especially their supervisor were indifferent. I’ve worked as a travel agent, and I follow the airlines, and I understand things happen; eg they close out flights with missing pax. All I asked was for them to give me a hotel voucher, but they told me because I checked in 19 (rather than 20) minutes early, they were under no obligation to do anything. Presumably to try to save her company $75-$100 which is approximately the US cost for hotels contracted at DCA, eg distressed pax airline rates, the supervisor hung her hat on this notion that I checked in 1 minute too late and as a result that is why they closed the door about 10 minutes early. I’m sure US’s local or corporate bean counters encouraged their agents and supervisors, again to save $75, to treat customers (even CP’s) like this.

    I think in that last situation US customer relations gave me a voucher for the cost of my hotel plus some small token amount like $50, as they were able to see from flifo how early the “out time” was. The “out time” might have been even 11 minutes, 12 minutes early; I don’t recall it exactly now as again this might be going back 5 years. 🙂

    but the damage had been done! Again, I didn’t care that they weren’t going to recall the plane, all I wanted was a $75 hotel voucher.

    Subsequent to that situation, I started flying United, and became a Premier Executive 100K. It was more inconvenient in the Washington, DC area to fly out of IAD but I felt that United treated their 1K members both through official and unofficial practices better than US treated their Chairman’s Preferred.

    Fast forward 5 years, or however long its been, and I’m now mainly on Southwest to BWI. Have taken a few (5) new JetBlue BOS-DCA flights since their 11/01 DCA inaugural including the inaugural flight itself.

    Silly to hold a grudge forever, and I’ve taken US on several ocasions since that flight whenever it was. In fact, I’m flying them today, and returning on Southwest tomorrow. Service at US DCA seems to have improved at least a few points. But now I’m just barely a US Silver.

    Mr. Smith’s story reminded me of this, and again as he portrays it, he received lackluster and indifferent help at the Virgin America JFK gate. He says for example he has a photo with a time stamp showing the plane was still at the gate several minutes after he arrived…just checked he says he snapped a pix with the plane still at the gate 15 minutes after he arrived? If the plane was still at the gate 15 minutes later, I have to imagine VX could have made an operational decision to board his party. It also sounds like they were unpleasant in dealing with the luggage and reaccommodation issue at Mr. Smith’s gate. It doesn’t soun like they looked at an alternate carrier as an option for Mr. Smith, though I don’t know if there was an OA flight. It doesn’t sound like they were appologetic whether it was VX or Mr. Smith’s fault.

    I’ve seen this happen at UA LAX with a paid first customer, and they were very nice to the pax. Again, UA has operationalized procedures for paid F or Global Services or even 1K.
    Nobody except an industry watcher reads the contract of carriage. This 20 minute rule is a little much, I can see a 10 minute rule as a bit more reasonable, again think especially of markets like east and west coast shuttles.

    The bottom line is rules or no rules, its all about your user experience as we say in software or tech, or your gbrand eexperience or your service recovery.

    I can see how airlines have an operational issue now especially with web check in no shows, and I think a partial solution might be to have boarding pass scanners near the security checkpoint. Eg you could scan your boarding pass to have some sort of “at airport” status code appended in the system, especially if running a little late. This could help with processing standby lists say at 20 minutes before departure.

    None of the airlines do a good job educating the public how to un-check-in offload when one knows you are going to miss your flight! Again, a seemless offload process via mobile devices would streamline the web check in no show issue. Southwest has a not officially documented procedure where a pax can delete their boarding pass eg so that the check in count is more accurate; but I imagine only people on flyertalk.com or who work at WN know this.

    In dealing with missed flights, the airlines spend too much time nickel and diming. When they could have well built robust reaccommodation apps say on eg the iPhone platform allowing pax to choose same day standby or confirmed options. JetBlue has a particularly draconian official policy about losing all your ticket value if you don’t call to cancel. How can I call to cancel if I’m on a subway with no cell service, dead cell phone battery, long hold times, you name it.

    I do recall also at the airport hearing that at least in the past for United Global Services, UA gate agents have to get permission from local GS in order to offload a GS member at say 20 minutes in order to accommodate a revenue standby pax.

    I’m not sure VX has operationalized procedures like AA, BA, UA, DL, etc. to handle either high revenue pax presumably like Mr. Smith, very frequent flyers, etc. I don’t think they offer eg AA 5 star at VX JFK.

    They did recover nicely though, and made Mr. Smith happy, rule or no rule. A happy customer is one who is going to fly again, and provide additional revenue. Someone like Mr. Smith who is happy can also create good PR for a carrier, just like an unhappy pax can create bad PR.

    I don’t know, do you think in say 1990 this issue of 20 minute rule, 10 minute rule was less of an issue? I just don’t remember these kinds of issues as much say in 1990?

    And again, bottom line, is how it was handled at the gate. Also maybe you know more about this unnamed JFK concierge service? I would presume they have official or unofficial contacts with VX and the other JFK carriers? It appears as you say there was some disconnect in this situation between VX JFK, and the concierge company. Could it be perhaps that 99 other times the company has brought its pax to VX 10 mins before, but this 1 in a hundred, they closed the door 11 or 12 minutes early?

  10. Also occurs to me airlines could use text messages intigrated in their departure management systems when a flight may push early or if say a lot of standby pax and lots of not-boarded customers>

    Sample:
    “IMPORTANT VX000 JFK-SFO we show your checked in not boarded. Reply yes if plan to take the flight, no if not; we’ll help with reaccommodation.”

    “IMPORTANT your flight DL771 ATLJFK is oversold its especially important you get to gate today with in our xx min rule, reply Yes if you want volunteer your seat for a $400 voucher.”

  11. People like this really annoy me; all of the rest of us little people follow the rules and manage to make the flight.

    ON THE OTHER HAND, it was nice that he acknowledged the fact that Virgin America responded promptly and noticed their efforts.

    Jared as Fish said above, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the terminal or not. VX requires you to be at the gate 20 minutes prior to departure – doesn’t matter if you’re in the terminal, in the bathroom, whatever.

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