Earlier this month Actor and Director Kevin Smith, known for his portrayal of the character ‘Silent Bob‘ in a string of movies, had what can be described as an ‘incident’ with Virgin America. You can read about this ‘incident’ here – Silent Bob Gets Loud About Missing A Flight
While Mr. Smith’s entire issue with missing his Virgin America flight could have been avoided, his two primary mistakes can be a lesson to others on how to have a better travel experience and avoid the same problems Mr. Smith and his party encountered.
The first lesson is this: Be at your gate when your airline tells you to be at the gate. This can be 30 minutes, 20 minutes, and 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time. It is your responsibility as a passenger to be at the gate on time … its not the airline’s job to track you down.
In Kevin Smith’s blog post “Virgin shuts its legs, I shut my wallet,” he wrote, “ It was 11:36. We told him we had first class tickets. The lone attendant said that didn’t matter. It was still over five minutes ’til the scheduled departure”
The reason airlines tell passengers to be at the gate 30, 20, 15 minutes before scheduled departure, or they risk having their seat reassigned to another traveler, is that ‘departure time’ is just that ‘departure time.’ Airlines run on a schedule and when flights are delayed it creates a domino effect for not only the departing flight and subsequent flights the aircraft is scheduled for, but also for flights that need to taxi into the gate the plane is taking up. Departure means the aircraft cabin doors are securely closed and armed, the flight deck has finished its paperwork, and the jetway is ready to pull back.
Airlines frequently close planes up before their departure time if all passengers are accounted for … and if you’re at the gate 5 minutes before the scheduled departure when an airline says be there 20 minutes early or risk losing your seat … then the person who has been reassigned your seat is on board, counted as present and the plane is closed up.
You may see planes sitting at the gate a few minutes after the door has been closed. This can be for a number of reasons, especially in an airport that has an “alley” (such as New York’s JFK Terminal 4, where Kevin Smith had his incident). Another plane blocking the alley can prevent other aircraft from pushing back, although once that cabin door is closed and secured, no one is else boarding the flight.
Despite Kevin Smith’s issue in understanding why he needed to be at the gate 20 minutes before the departure time, as stated by Virgin America … his wife’s medication was also placed under the aircraft, despite her needing to take the medication at a scheduled time.
In Mr. Smith’s blog post he wrote: “She needed to take it eight hours from her last dosage. Rather than put it in her carry-on, she put it in her bag that went under the plane. Since we were gonna be home in six hours, what did it matter?”
Delays happen … and they happen all the time. I have read this passage on Mr. Smith’s blog post, about why he was upset with missing a flight on Virgin America a few times, and each time I am left thinking “who thought this was a good idea?”
Mr. Smith and his party arrived at JFK Terminal 4 over an hour before their scheduled 11:45am flight and they were scheduled to board a flight that is blocked with a flying time of 6-hours 15-minutes … so now where at a minimum of 7-hours 15-minutes. If everything goes smoothly, bags would arrive on the baggage carousel 30 minutes after arrival, meaning Mr. Smith’s wife wouldn’t be reunited with her medication at 7-hours 45-minutes.
Flights are often delayed, specifically Mr. Smith’s flight, Virgin America Flight 409, JFK-LAX, has an average delay on 15% of its flights, with an average delay of 27 minutes. Given that JFK Airport is known for delays due to congestion and LAX Terminal 3 is a terminal often known for slow baggage delivery … chances are Mr. Smith’s wife would have not been able to take her medication within an 8-hour window if everything went perfectly.
So what can we learn from this? Never check your medication, especially medication that needs to be taken every few hours.
Its not often we can learn valuable travel lessons from celebrities … but Mr. Smith’s public errors that caused him to miss a flight (and blame it on the airline) can be a valuable lesson for inexperienced travelers.