JetBlue Refuses to Let Hindu Man Board Flight During Ramadan, Concerned About His "Disposition"
Excruciatingly long lines, invasive pat-downs, awkward luggage inspections, delays, cancelations--and, oh yeah, racial profiling--are all pretty much accepted as par for the course.
Mukerjee was scheduled to fly out of JFK to meet his family in Los Angeles earlier this summer. The whole ordeal started, he writes, when he declined to go through the airport's millimeter wave detectors. According to Mukerjee, he was ultimately detained for about four hours and questioned by the TSA, NYPD, FBI, and Homeland Security.
Incredibly, though, in the end it was the airline itself, JetBlue, that would not allow him to board the flight he had a ticket for, or any other flight to Los Angeles that day. From the questions he was asked, Mukerjee (who, again, is Hindu, not Muslim) got the impression he was being profiled because he was flying during the Muslim holiday Ramadan.
Here is Mukerjee's exchange with JetBlue, in his own words:
As they patted me down for the fourth time, a female TSA agent asked me for my baggage claim ticket. I handed it to her, and she told me that a woman from JetBlue corporate security needed to ask me some questions as well. I was a bit surprised, but agreed. After the pat-down, the JetBlue representative walked in and cooly introduced herself by name.
She explained, "We have some questions for you to determine whether or not you're permitted to fly today. Have you flown on JetBlue before?"
"Maybe about ten times," I guessed.
"Ten what? Per month?"
"No, ten times total."
She paused, then asked, "Will you have any trouble following the instructions of the crew and flight attendants on board the flight?"
"No." I had no idea why this would even be in doubt.
"We have some female flight attendants. Would you be able to follow their instructions?"
I was almost insulted by the question, but I answered calmly, "Yes, I can do that."
"Okay," she continued, "and will you need any special treatment during your flight? Do you need a special place to pray on board the aircraft?"
Only here did it hit me.
"No," I said with a light-hearted chuckle, trying to conceal any sign of how offensive her questions were. "Thank you for asking, but I don't need any special treatment."
She left the room, again, leaving me alone for another ten minutes or so. When she finally returned, she told me that I had passed the TSA's inspection. "However, based on the responses you've given to questions, we're not going to permit you to fly today."
I was shocked. "What do you mean?" were the only words I could get out.
"If you'd like, we'll rebook you for the flight tomorrow, but you can't take the flight this afternoon, and we're not permitting you to rebook for any flight today."
I barely noticed the irony of the situation--that the TSA and NYPD were clearing me for takeoff, but JetBlue had decided to ground me.
Read his full blog post.
Mukerjee says JetBlue did eventually refund his ticket, but he had to rebook with another airline to get on a flight the same day. The whole awful experience cost him an extra $700.
Since his blogpost went up Thursday afternoon, JetBlue has fielded a barrage of questions on Twitter about its handling of the events.
We've reached out to the airline for further clarification about its policies, and will update with their response. (Update: JetBlue has not responded to multiple requests for comment.)
On Twitter, the company admitted that Mukerjee was prevented from boarding the flight, and said a judgment call was made based on his "disposition at the time." JetBlue also said it stands by its decision.
@twothreemany We don't control security screening. You'd need to refer to the government agencies involved for comment.— JetBlue Airways (@JetBlue) August 22, 2013
@twothreemany For our part, we regret the embarrassment and inconvenience this caused our customer but stand by our crewmember's decision.— JetBlue Airways (@JetBlue) August 22, 2013
@chimeracoder and we regret the inconvenience that caused you. We understand you were offered to travel the following day, or a full refund.— JetBlue Airways (@JetBlue) August 22, 2013