Attention: Customer Relations
4000 East Sky Harbor Boulevard
Phoenix, AZ 85034
To whom it may concern:
I had a reserved seat on Friday, July 21 on US Airways Shuttle flight 2042 from Washington, DC to Boston, scheduled to depart at 4:45pm.
My flight’s departure was delayed until 5:50pm so that the plane originally allocated to that flight could instead be used for a prior, delayed shuttle flight.
When the announcement of my flight’s delay was made, I immediately went to the gate agent and explained my special circumstances. “As an observant Jew, I am unable to travel by plane or car once the Sabbath starts at sundown tonight. I know that everyone here wants to get home, and I would not ask for any special treatment if I felt that I was doing so unfairly, but I must tell you that if my plane doesn’t take off by 5:30pm, I will be stranded here until tomorrow night, whereas the other passengers who are not observant Jews could simply take a later flight. Is there anything you can do to help me get on an earlier flight?” She flat-out refused to provide me with any assistance, stating that there was nothing she could do.
Then, when the flight which bumped mine was boarding at 4:30pm, I watched her call a list of people from the stand-by list, none of whom originally had seats on that plane. I know that gate agents have the authority to change the order of passengers on the stand-by list due to special circumstances, so I know that the gate agent could have put me on that list and gotten me onto that plane if she had been sincerely interested in helping me solve my problem.
Against my better judgment, I then boarded the 5:50pm flight, rationalizing that since it was departing the airport on time, I would just barely have enough time upon arrival in Boston to make it home before the start of the Sabbath.
Once on board, I saw that for some reason, the flight crew did not seem in any particular hurry to get everyone seated so the plane could depart. In fact, we didn’t pull away from the gate until over a half hour after the scheduled departure time. Then, instead of getting in line for take-off, we instead parked on the tarmac, at which point the pilot made an announcement that he was not allowed to take off due to weather conditions and would have another update for us at 7:00pm. In fact, we sat on the tarmac for almost three hours and did not take off until well after 9:00pm!
The gate agents clearly knew (or should have known) when boarding that plane that it was not going to take off on time. They could have announced that fact to the terminal and allowed each passenger to make an informed decision about whether s/he wished to sit on the tarmac for hours or instead relinquish his/her seat to another passenger hoping to make it home to Boston. At the very least, the gate agent with whom I had previously discussed my predicament could have taken the trouble to let me, personally, now that if I got on that plane, there was no way I was going to make it home before sundown.
I sat on the plane, trying to choose between demanding that the plane return to the gate so that I could disembark; flying to Boston and sleeping in the airport until after the Sabbath; or flying to Boston and taking a cab home even though both riding in a car and spending money are prohibited on the Sabbath.
While debating in my mind the best course of action, I overheard a flight attendant inform another passenger that the we were staying on the tarmac because if the pilot returned to the gate, they would probably cancel the flight. It hardly seemed fair that if I demanded to be let off the plane, all of my fellow passengers might not make it home that night. Furthermore, given that I wear a traditional Jewish head-covering, it would be obvious to some passengers that a Jew had caused them to be stranded in Washington, and I felt it inappropriate to do something which would reflect poorly upon my religion.
I therefore ended up quietly staying on the plane, and I took a cab home when we arrived in Boston after 11:00pm.
I was forced into a situation where I was compelled to violate my religious beliefs, a situation which could have been easily avoided if your gate agents had actually tried to solve my problem or had communicated honestly with your passengers.
I have a long-standing personal rule never to fly on Friday. I broke this rule in this case because my employer urgently needed me to travel and because I thought that flight delays were unlikely during the summer. In retrospect, it is clear that I should have followed my rule, and I will do so with renewed vigor in the future. Because of your gate agents’ behavior, I now have a new rule to follow as well: never fly on US Airways if I can possibly avoid it.
Jonathan I. Kamens