Kevin Smith Flies Again…Or Rather Fails to Fly Again

By | December 7, 2010
2 23 10 Bearman Cartoon Kevin Smith Southwest
Image by Bearman2007 via Flickr

We here at Flight Wisdom are not big fans of Kevin Smith. This has nothing to do with his movies. Last year, Kevin Smith went on the offensive against Southwest Airlines over its long-standing customer of size issues, and we were not pleased with many of his comments. Now he’s on against Virgin America and the ten minute rule.

In a post on Monday, entitledVirgin Shuts its Legs, I shut my wallet,” Smith recounts how Virgin America ‘mistreated’ him by denying him boarding ten minutes before the flight departed. Here is a summary of the facts as described by Smith himself.

  • Smith and his party arrived an hour ahead of boarding time.
  • They settled into the lounge.
  • Smith hired a concierge service to assist him through the airport
  • Smith and party arrived at gate ten minutes before departure and were denied boarding
  • The airport agent advised they had paged them, which Smith disputes
  • Smith’s wife packed her necessary medication in her checked luggage. Smith maintains this is all he cared about.
  • Smith admitted the airline sent him lovely, apologetic email, full refund for flight, free tix offer – all before I’ve landed. “I appreciate the gesture/effort,” he stated
  • The reason he claims he didn’t board immediately was: “When you fly first, you board first, sit down… and then EVERYONE files past you. And when you’re the Too Fat To Fly guy on a plane? Well, everyone stares. Then the whispering starts. A hundred people look right at you – when you’re not on a stage. It kinda blows.
  • So he hired a concierge with 27 years experience to assist him. “Their job is to get you to the plane on time, but not when boarding begins; that way, you don’t have to play the Elephant Man for passengers passing you en route to their seats. Essentially, you board last. The entire service is designed to get you to the plane door shortly before the door closes.

These are the facts as Smith presented them, without any analysis. You can check his own post for his description of them. Now, let’s go over the most important piece of information…Virgin America’s own policy faq, seen here.

At Virgin America, the process of check in and boarding is like clockwork, but what can vary depending on the season is the security lines at the airport. To this end, for domestic flights, we recommend you being at the airport 90 minutes prior to departure, especially if checking a bag as our cutoff to accept your checked bag is 45 minutes from departure. If traveling internationally from the US, we recommend arriving 2 hours prior to departure, and the baggage cutoff is 60 minutes. To make the process even smoother, check in online so that you can print your boarding pass and drop your bag at the ticket counter with ease.

Once you clear security, check the airport monitors to find out where your flight is (incase it’s changed from when you printed your boarding pass). We begin boarding 30-45 minutes prior to departure, and we will release your seat if you haven’t boarded by 20 minutes prior to departure.”

So, with all due respect to Smith, and Dorothy with her 27 years of airline experience, he was late. Virgin America may have refunded his money, but they were not wrong. He did not arrive at the agreed-upon time, clearly disclosed, and those they gave his seat away. A concierge paid for their services should know, or at least, look up the requirements of the airline in question. There is no exception for first-class passengers in violating established rules.

Smith stated that he waited in the pre-boarding lounge, which, at Kennedy Airport, is the Virgin Atlantic lounge, which is outside of security. By doing so until that close to departure time, he risked not getting through security in time to make his flight.

The so-called ten minute rule, which at Virgin America is twenty, is an established airline policy(even on Southwest Airlines) which dates back to the beginnings of commercial flying. It allows an airline to give your seat away if you do not present yourself at the gate a certain number of minutes before flight. After this, once the flight is closed, and the final manifest is generated, even if the plane is sitting five feet away, airline personnel cannot reopen the flight. In the noise of an airport, pages are often missed, and many pages are often done in the gate area only, as passengers are supposed to be within that area at the time of boarding.

That said, frequent travelers should know that you never pack essential medications in your checked luggage. What if that luggage was lost? As a matter of common sense, you should always have at least a day’s worth of pills on your person.

We are fond of Virgin America. They offer a good product, from what we’ve seen on our single Virgin America flight. We even think we met and spoke to one of the gate agents Smith tangled with.

But we must criticize Virgin America for its failure to stick to its guns. If the story unfolded as Kevin Smith said it did, then they followed procedure, yet caved in to the tirades of an obnoxious public personality who, despite protestations to the contrary, uses the soapbox of his fame to unfairly malign companies who don’t worship at the altar of his celebrity.