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.