Monday, August 01, 2011

Travel Security Administration (TSA) and Etihad Airlines Horror Story

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My friend’s parents were travelling from Cleveland to Chennai recently with American airlines/Etihad airways. They started their journey on 07/07/11 and it was an emergency trip due to the sudden demise of his grandmother (Their original plan of staying in the US for around 6 months cut short to 3 weeks).  After a 3 hour travel by road from Detroit to Cleveland airport, they boarded American Airline flight to New York. They got their baggage checked in through to Chennai, which was their final destination. They also got their boarding passes for the New York to Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi to Chennai legs of their travel.  As it is customary, their Etihad (EY 100 & 268) boarding passes were printed by American Airlines on American Airlines’ sleeves. The first flight from Cleveland was delayed by 70 minutes. They reached New York JFK airport at 20:50 hrs late but still 2 hours ahead of their next flight to Abu Dhabi. They rushed from Terminal 8 to Terminal 4 and reached the security check (B20-B31), which was just before the departure gate B27 by 21:30. EY 100 flight scheduled take off was at 22:50 and they still had 80 minutes left.
At this point his father showed the boarding cards to security guards and said he is flying Etihad flight EY 100. The security person denied entry to them and asked them to go the gates from where American Airline flights were taking off which was a floor below where they were. His father was really confused at this stage, because he could clearly see the departure gate B27 through the security check they were queuing at. So he showed the boarding card again pointing to the Etihad flight number in the boarding card (although the boarding sleeve said American on top since it was printed by the American Airlines counter) requesting entry. At this point the ignorant security guard had stopped talking and blankly pointed to the direction they should go. 
His parents returned back and went all around the place but thoroughly confused because it was clear to them that had to go through the security check where they came from. So they queued up once more at the same security check but were denied entry again. Finally they had no choice, went back to Etihad sales/customer service desk in JFK terminal 4. It was 22:00hrs by then and they still had 50 minutes left. At this point Etihad staff informed them that they cannot take the flight anymore as the flight was overbooked. It was the last chance for his parents to come in before his grandmother's funeral/cremation. Hearing this shocking news his father passed out. My friend was contacted by one of the officials and everyone in the family was distressed by this incident. Moreover his parents didn't reach India till Sunday 07/10/11 and missed to see his grandmother for the final time before she was cremated. Due to this careless error by the security staff they had to sleep near the airport gate and stay with in that area (in fear of going through the security check again) for the next 24 hours. 
The whole incident was caused due to careless behaviour of security staff at the security check before gate B27 (B20-B31) of Terminal 4 JFK airport. His father’s health deteriorated, his family was put under lot of distress and his parents missed to attend grandmother's funeral which was the original reason for the travel. The security guards had no right to deny entry to his parents at the security check. They have asked for full reason as to how and why this happened. The following questions need to be addressed by TSA staff and the airlines official. 
  •  Why would the official turn down repetitive requests from my friend’s father to be examined and passed through the security checks when he had valid boarding passes and was well before the flight take off?
  • Why would the security staff send them to a different gate / security check? After all when they eventually traveled the next day, they went through the same security check they were denied entry that day.
  • And finally why would Etihad airways issue additional tickets when his parents had already checked in and resell the same seats which were already allotted to his parents?
A complaint has been filed by my friend with TSA with the following action items
  •  Identify the security staff who worked on these gates and take action on them for their ignorance, racial inclination and biased nature
  • The security staff’s ignorance in not knowing that Etihad’s boarding cards could carry an American Airlines logo on top is a shame to TSA’s training
  •  The security staff’s immediate resorting to sign language was a display of rude behavior and prejudice
  •  Compensate his parents for the lost chance of having my friend’s mother participate in his grand-mother’s funeral, for the deterioration of his father’s health, mental distress of the entire family in his parents’ denial of boarding the Etihad’s flight and them spending more than 24 hours in front of the Etihad departure gate.
  •  Attempt to prevent incidents like these happen in the future
Let us see if TSA acts on this complaint.
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