Friday, February 16, 2007
2-16-07 Kidnapped by Jet Blue
I wish I could have written this earlier, but it has taken me a full two days to recover from what I/we went through on Valentine's Day, 2007. I was excited to be able to fly to LA on Wednesday as I had a great evening planned for Valentine's Day ---as my girlfriend is in LA for the month. Gonna hit up our favorite sushi spot in LA -- Asuka and then go for dessert at our first place we went on a date to in Venice. And for those out there who know me really well, you know I fly more than I walk, so flying to me is not a big deal. Africa 4 times in one year, 17 ½ hours each way…did it, no problem.
So, on Wednesday morning I woke up at 4am to head to the airport for a 6:45 AM Jet Blue flight to Burbank. There was suppose to be like 6 inches of snow that night and when I woke up (after only 3 hours of sleep), I was shocked to see very little snow on the ground…some ice, but not too crazy…I get to the airport, feeling good – gonna go to LA with my homeboy for life, Roberto Stoney, have a great Valentine's Day with my girl then meet up with the Answer aka AI and then fly to Vegas on the privado plane with the best ballplayer in the world. No problems in check in --- no reported delays. All good. We board the plane and leave the gate by 7am. Again, as many of you who have traveled with me, as I fly more than I walk, I have to use the plane to get some rest. I fall asleep before they even offer me a pillow or close the door. I was out cold. But I keep hearing over the PA, the pilot talking about how we are being held and that the weather conditions are not allowing us to depart. And because of FAA regulations, we are not legally allowed to leave the airport, however other international carriers are leaving, because they have different regulations. And I am looking out the window and there is a little ice coming down and I know planes crash when there is ice, so I am not buggin' about waiting. The next thing I remember is I wake up at 10am. By this time, we had been sitting on the runway in a remote "de-icing" area for 3 hours. I'm thinking this is unusual, but it is really icy outside, so I understand why we are not departing. But, like many of the other passengers, we are wondering why we are not going back to gate. Now, for those who read newspapers or watch the news, you the know the end of this story. For those of you, who like our president, could care less about current events, you have no idea the ending, but I am sorry, I have to kill the ending, because it is not the ending that is important. 10 hours later --- yes, I said 10, diez en espanol, hours later we were taken off the plane by our saviors the Port Authority. So, back to 10am.
I look up and there is a Jewish man praying…doing his morning prayer. And I thought to myself, and in no disrespect to my Muslim brothers and sisters, but more a comment on the rest of us…I was thinking of getting out of seat and praying to the East in the middle of the aisle…we would back at the gate before they asked for my name. But, I didn't and continued to wait. The pilot would come on every now and again to try to calm us down and tell us that the weather is suppose to break and that we would be leaving shortly. The "de-icing" trucks would come out and de-ice the plane, making us all think that we were actually going to leave. But then, disaster struck. The air went out. The air vent was frozen and they could not bring in air into the airplane. At this point is when the kidnapping began. KIDNAPPING. I went to the cockpit (which door was wide open) and spoke with the pilot. I asked him, at what point does this become an emergency? He said it was not an emergency, unless someone on the plane got ill, and that they were doing everything possible to get us to a gate. They opened the back door to let in air, but remember it was 20 degrees, so soon it got cold on the back on the plane, so they shut the door. All around us were other Jet Blue planes, who were obviously in the same predicament we were in. But, I thought since we left at 6:45 in the morning, we would be one of the first planes to get a gate. The pilot kept saying that there were no gates. I asked the pilot, why don't they bring those buses over to us to get us off the plane…by this time is was going on 6 hours…he told me that they had called for them, but received no response (Note* It has come out in the recent days, that Jetblue did not notify the Port Authority until 3pm that there were passengers stuck for over 10 hours). I asked him what I open the door and jumped out…he said I would be arrested for an act of terrorism.
I looked around the plane, and I was stunned by the lack of outrage. I decided we must do something. I thought it would be a good idea for everyone from LA to sit on one side of the plane and everyone from NY on the other…because the LA motherf**kers are soft. SOFT…like SOFT ICE CREAM…SOFT. They were watching this happen and not saying a word. No one really liked my idea, so people kept sitting in their seats watching the damn TV. I began to think of what an amazing study of the human psyche this was. Here were 250 passengers being kidnapped and they were watching their TVs. That was the best thing Jet Blue had going for them, the TVs. They are numbing devices. But when the TV antenna was frozen over, the TVs went out too...now people started to get agitated. It was like they were taking things away slowly to see how long they could hold us before we broke and revolted. Behind me was a beautiful Indian couple with their two children who had traveled from India on Monday through Germany --- already traveled two days…all they wanted to do was get home. By hour 8, the TVs and air came back on, and people again were back to their comatose state. I could hear people say, "oh this is not Jet Blue's fault, this is the weather." And thought to myself --- F**K THAT. I did not buy it for one second. The weather was not that bad to be sitting on the runway for 8 hours. It must have been something Jet Blue was doing. Because around us all I could see were Jet Blue planes. Now, I flew Jet Blue the first month it was in operation, before anyone knew what Jet Blue was. I have been a frequent flyer on their airline and have always spoken very highly of them, but something on this day was very, very wrong. By hour 8 ½ the pilots told us the flight was cancelled and that they were not legally allowed to fly, as they had timed out. And that were "next" to get a gate. We had heard "next" more times than the WNBA players said "we got next" 5 years ago when the league started. Finally, the pilot admitted that we had been "tricked" and other airplanes were getting the gates before us. Someone made an announcement over the intercom for a "friend of bill" to go to the back of the plane. I thought immediately that was code word for federal agent and that finally someone was going nuts and they would have to get us off. But, it turns out there was someone who was in AA and needed someone to help him get through this. Respect to my man who was struggling. Late in hour 8, an announcement comes out, not to use the bathroom…it was 100% full. The pilot says unless you cannot hold it in, do not use the bathrooms. What the F**K? This was not human. I felt like I was on Survivor Jet Blue, next on CBS. And the poor kids…they were suffering…remember, Jet Blue only has snacks, so there was no food. A lot of people have asked what Jet Blue could have done, since it was really the weather's fault…the one thing they should have done was bring a truck with sandwiches and salads for the entire plane. 10 hours without a meal is criminal in my humble opinion.
Finally in hour 9, a glimmer of hope. We could see the plane next to us had cop cars and ambulances all around it. And BUSES! There was hope. We might be freed. Women and children and the elderly would go first, of course…but they should have let the LA people go first, because they were good for nothing. When the pilot said, the buses were coming to us "next" and that we would all get refunds and a free round trip ticket --- the LA people cheered. F. That. If someone invites to their house for dinner and spits in your food, do you go over to their house the next night for dinner? A free round trip ticket would not silence this kidnapping. At 4:45, after being held hostage for 10 1/2 hours, we were freed by the Port Authority and taken to safety. I asked the bus driver at what time he started working --- he told me 8am. I asked him at what time did he start to free passengers from planes, he told me 3pm. Jet Blue did not call for help until 3pm! 8 hours and 15 minutes into their kidnapping.
But, unfortunately for me and my fellow comrade Robbie Stonewall Jackson, our nightmare was not over. Having to really want to spend the night with my girlfriend, and also trying to close a deal with A.Iverson on this idea, we thought it was crucial to get to LA. Also, we had been speaking with Jet Blue all day on the phone as well and they told us that there were no flights until Monday to any of the three airports near LA…so it was even like we could have got there the next day if we wanted to.
So, when we got to the terminal, we tried to get on the next flight out, because we had heard that planes were finally leaving. Lucky (or really unlucky) for us, we did not check in any bags, so we could straight to the gate. The next and last plane to Burbank was leaving in 20 minutes. We got a ticket, but this time we bought $50 worth of food, just in case. Only about 7 or 8 of us from the first flight made this flight. We are called the "flight 351 7."
We got on the plane and everything looked very promising. We left the gate right away and were off to the "de-icing" center. Then, it all began again. The wait, hour after hour, after hour, after hour. 6 HOURS. But, this flight was not nearly as cordial as the first. Finally our New Yorkers had arrived. When they refused to give us water, after hour 1, citing an FAA policy that they were not allowed to serve anything before 4 hours on the ground…Robbie and I went into the water reserves I saw them stash when boarding and began to pass out the water ourselves. When they told us to stop, I told them to "not start with us…we had been through it already." When the gentleman behind me lost his composure and flipped out on the steward, they threatened to bring the plane back to the gate and arrest him. And all he wanted was water. I went back to the galley and had a conversation with the crew and told them that I had been on the first flight and had seen how and when the passengers will break down. I told them to give everyone on the plane water immediately or else they would have a riot. They quickly obliged. 30 minutes later, I told them to give everyone snacks and that is when I hit my first speed bump. ROBERT ALVAREZ, flight attendant from Jet Blue, told me that I was causing him to have a headache because I was asking for too many things and that he was feeling "unsafe" and wanted to get off the airplane. He was going to request that the plane be brought back to the gate, so he could get off. I told him I was sorry for him, but I had to do what I had to do to take care of the kids and elderly on the plane. He barked at me, but that was his problem, not mine. At this point, this was no longer about the weather; this was about the staff of Jet Blue. This second crew was just plain nasty. And heavens forbid there was a more severe emergency, i.e. a hijacking…Mr. Alavarez, would you still have a headache. As I survived the first episode of Survivor Jet Blue --- now we were in episode two and Mr. Alvarez, I almost opened that back door and through your ass out. I can only help, after we make our formal complaints to Jet Blue, your time is terminated and you will never, ever be responsible for anything more than wiping your own behind…because you failed miserably, miserably. In fact, the entire crew failed miserably, except for two of them, which I would like to commend. I did not get their names, but the black woman and the Latin man who was working the front --- they deserve some appreciation. Now remember, I had $50 worth of food. I was good. Gatorade, black and white cookies, chicken Caesar salad, sandwich…this was not about me. This was about those folks on the plane who did not know what was about to happen. Then someone on the plane yelled at me that I was on the news --- now I wasn't on the news, our first flight was on the news. It was coming to light this was a Jet Blue issue, not a weather issue. I took over --- my Leo instincts took over. I went up and down the aisle to make sure the passengers were ok. But, here comes the LA motherf**kers again, asking me to stop, because I might be disrupting our chances of taking off. Now, I did not know everyone's reason for flying to LA --- maybe their mother was on her death bed…so it was not my time to question their selfishness, because it might be for good reason. But with no disrespect, I was not going to allow what happened on the first flight to happen again.
We finally took off at 11:30 --- 6 hours after we boarded. But to cap it all off, during the flight, the couple in front got into a physical altercation and were yelling at each other the whole time about cocaine use, expensive rings, voicemails and text messages. I had to tell them to stop the bickering, because at this point, we all just needed a few hours of sleep.
To Jet Blue: You failed us. Our faith and trust in your company has forever been broken. You tried to run the table and take a big gamble to save money and you lost. But, more importantly, we lost. You took a gamble on the lives and health of young children and our elders. That is despicable. I have flown over 1.5 million miles in my young life of 28 years old. I will do everything in my power not to fly your airline again or allow even my worst enemies to fly your airline. It is not about the weather. It is about your horrible gamble to let over 8 planes to sit on the runway for over 9 hours instead of canceling the flights early on, knowing that they would never take off. For heaven's sake, our wheels were frozen into the ground --- we could not move. You have offered us free tickets, but we want a lot more than that. And it is not about money, it is about action. Never let this happen again and train your staff to really deal with a crisis. And use Mr. Alvarez as a text book example of what not to do.
I am humbled to know I was part of something that may create change. Yesterday, a DEMOCRAT, introduced a passengers bill of rights so this never happens again to anyone. Remember it was President Reagan who de-regulated the airline industry. It is time for change. Do not let the airline industry to beat this bill or else you may sit on a runway like we did…and next time it may not have such a pleasant ending.
To the "flight 351 7" --- I will miss you all. We experienced something that has made us stronger and better people. Your resilience is humbling…it brings tears to my eyes, truly. We made it out alive, to see the next day, cause only you 7 can understand, that there was a moment, when we thought we would not make it. To my English homie who was off to LA to spend Valentine's day with his Australian girl, I hope you all had a moment to love each other. You are a good dude.
To my girlfriend…I would sit on a plane for another 16 hours to see your beautiful face…but if it was a jet blue plane, I might burn the motherf**ker down next time.