“There were angels all around me on that JetBlue flight”

Christopher Parypa / Shutterstock.com
Christopher Parypa / Shutterstock.com
Early boarding privileges are typically reserved for frequent fliers and passengers with obvious disabilities. But on a recent JetBlue Airways flight from Boston to Los Angeles, gate agents granted special access to a passenger whose need wasn’t that apparent, and perhaps even in violation of their own airline’s policy.

Elaine Regienus-Gravbelle, who was recovering from a double mastectomy and two other minor surgeries, was on her way to way home to Redondo Beach, Calif. She asked a ticket agent if she could get on the plane first.

“Certainly,” he said without bothering to assess her medical condition or inquire about her status. “Take a seat near the gate and when we begin boarding I will signal you.”

Regienus-Gravbelle sat down next to a young man who was also on his way to LA. They struck up a conversation. Eventually, she asked him for a favor: Would he be kind enough to hoist her carry-on bag into the overhead compartment? Her recent operation made it painful to lift the luggage.

He, too, agreed to help.

When it came time to board, the young passenger grabbed her bag and followed her.

“The JetBlue employee looked at the young man and then at me, and said,’Your aide?'”

She nodded.

The gate agent stepped aside without questioning her, once again in apparent violation of JetBlue’s published procedures, and allowed both Regienus-Gravbelle and her friend to board the aircraft.

“Later when it came time to depart, several other passengers helped me out of my seat and carried my items out to the baggage area,” he says.

“Needless to say, there were angels all around me on that JetBlue flight that day and I will be forever grateful for all their kindness and generosity,” she says.

I’m happy to recognize the JetBlue gate agents and passengers on Regienus-Gravbelle’s flight. In an age of “me first” elites who line up to get on the plane first, and flight attendants who refuse to help passengers with their bags because their union told them they didn’t hafta, it’s heartwarming to hear about the “angels” on JetBlue flight 473 on Feb. 19, who came to the assistance of a passenger in need.

If you’ve experienced excellent customer service recently, please let me know about it. We’re recognizing companies who go above and beyond the call of duty in a new weekly feature.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Theodore Rosenberg

    It is generally improper tp ak details about disanilities. MANT disabilities are invisable. I have travled ith my daughter who had leg problems, and my wife whp had lung probles, and never was asked why we neede3d wheekchairs. ditto my mother who had back problems last time she traveled. NONE of these conditions were visible except my daughters, if you looked carefully at her leg, you can see the skin grafts. I guess you could take my wife’s O2 sayuration rate (we DO travel with an oxymeter), but iI dom’t think anyone would even KNOW t try that, and then there are people with MD and Parkinson’s, and…

  • StarKiller

    I have to wonder what kind of experience she had with TSA

  • DavidYoung2

    Oh, Lord, really? The TSA-Loonies just can’t resist, can they?

  • $16635417

    Why would this be in violation of JetBlue’s policy?

  • Raven_Altosk

    And then there was the DL agent I saw in ATL last week who ignored the pleas from a woman with an obviously special needs boy (maybe 8?) who asked to board early so she could settle him down in his seat.

    “You board in your zone,” ma’am, is all that the creep said as the kid was having a meltdown in the terminal.

  • Cupra

    Kudos JetBlue and everyone else.

  • http://gspirits.com/ Zod

    It’s a wonder that someone didn’t get fired for such kindness…Usually this kind of thing doesn’t go unpunnished!

  • KaraJones

    This was nice to read. : )

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Sorry, I’m not leaving my lane on this story. Come back on Wednesday for more TSA fun!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002500361891 Mark Dixon

    A great story. Congrats to jet blue and the people around her that helped.

  • Lindabator

    I was returning home from a travel seminar once when my glasses fell and broke – I need help finding them in the morning, so the thought of waiting till everyone else boarded was a comedy of errors – I told the gate agent the situation, and sure enough, she called me to board before anyone else, and once I got on the plane, they already knew the situation and helped me with my bag as well. Delta, to boot! Was VERY impressed!

  • backprop

    OK, I’ll be the bad guy here. I truly sympathize with this lady. But what does her recovery have to do with getting on the plane early? Certainly the kindness afforded by passengers who lift bags for others is appreciated and would be nice to see more often. But what does line jumping do?

    If a random businessperson asked to get onto the plane first and the GA replied yes “without bothering to assess his/her medical condition or inquire about his/her status,” then would that be counted as kindness as well?

  • jpp42

    I suppose by line jumping there is more room in the aisle, making it easier to sit down and get situated which could be difficult if you have limited movement due to the medical condition.

  • Jane

    JetBlue has assigned seating. What does letting her board first HURT?

  • KaraJones

    OK, Backprop…Imagine yourself having just had major surgery on your chest. You are female so you’re probably smaller than the men around you who are busy shoving things overhead and pulling off their coats…so your chest is at their elbow level …and one of them inadvertently SLAMS AN ELBOW INTO YOUR CHEST.
    THAT is why it’s better for her to get on the plane early and get settled into her seat before everyone else gets on.
    I’m a female with breasts and it’s happened to me. I can’t even imagine how painful that would be for someone who just had a double mastectomy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rachale.wilson.9 Rachale Wilson

    Anyone can preboard without disclosing why they request it. Also Jetblue is non-union. And they employee 99% angels. :-)

  • backprop

    It doesn’t. I just wondered why it helps. Thanks for your insight.

  • backprop

    Great explanation! Thanks for actually giving reasons without getting defensive!

  • Val Edwards

    I’ll get defensive for her, what a hardass jerk “Bad Guy” is

  • Kelli

    I think everyone on the plane is going to the same place? If the lady needs to board first to avoid getting bumped into, run over etc..let her. Every other able bodied person, get in line and shut up! Learn some manners and be glad you have the opportunity to actually fly on a plane, some people never get the chance.

  • oldft

    Actually, I have found that much-better-than-average treatment is the “norm” on Jet Blue…

  • phxross

    I have tons of spine & orthopedic problems making flying hard (though problem isn’t visible). But, as a former business traveler I have a hard time asking for help. However, lately when flying alonelook around and usually can tell who will be most open to helping me. My fear has been people thinking “you don’t look like you are in pain/in need” but I decided to forget that, ask for help, and when I take meds that’ll knock me out I say to those in my row “I have to take meds to fly because of my spine, please don’t hesitate to wake me up whenever needed”.

  • James Penrose

    I’ve never been asked about a disability when I request to have my wife pre-board, even if she is not right there where they can see her cane and serious limp.

    Never been challenged when I board with her to help her into her seat and handle getting her bag into the overhead.

    Never seen anyone refuse to help someone struggling with a bag into the overhead either. (Although I came close once when watching an 80 pound cheerleader trying to stuff a suitcase that weighed more than she did and which obviously should have been checked into the overhead. I’ve always felt that if you’re healthy but you can’t hoist it, check it.)

    Nice article but nothing really newsworthy in this. Most people are still decent and most gate staff will help if asked nicely.

    I *am* glad to see most airlines have cracked down on allowing the entire Trapp family and their dog to pre-board when there is one infant needing the extra time. I once saw fifteen people go on as a group that way with one infant amongst the herd. Needless to say, half the overhead bins were full when the rest of us got on as this family traveled like the Clampetts, I’m surprised there wasn’t a cage full of chickens among their plunder. Even if the kid is Damien reincarnated, it doesn’t take that many people to strap the little darling into the seat.

  • pauletteb

    Nice to hear a good story for a change. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I’m not leaving my lane. I like this story. Just because.

  • http://litbrit.blogspot.com/ Deborah Newell Tornello

    I’d like to call attention to this comment, even though it is tangential to the post itself. Chris, along with various moderators, has been quite clear that name-calling (in comments at this blog) are impermissible. Yet in this comment, DavidYoung2 calls another reader a “TSA loony” (where loony is short for “lunatic”, meaning insane). Try as I may, using the definitions laid out by Chris and repeatedly enforced–via reprimands and outright banning–by the moderators, I cannot view this comment as anything other than a personal attack.

    And yet there it is, not a reprimand or tsk-tsk in sight. The insult stands.

    StarKiller was making a legitimate point–that one can only wonder what the woman’s TSA experience was like, given that the airport experiences of other breast cancer survivors could hardly be described as having “angels all around”. This is a documented fact.

    Elaine Regienus-Gravbelle was fortunate to have a positive experience with airline personnel who were obviously sensitive, helpful, and respectful. SK’s point–which goes directly to the topic at hand–is that breast cancer survivors’ descriptions of their experiences with the TSA tend to be far less glowing than this report of praise for the airline employees. SK wondered aloud what her particular TSA experience was like.

    For this, she was called a loony, aka mad, crazy, insane.

    As a fellow TSA critic, I’d like a tiny bit more clarity here, Chris. Is it OK for a TSA fan/supporter/apologist to call TSA critics loony, mad, crazy, or insane, but not OK for TSA critics to refer to TSA fans/supporters/apologists as oblivious, easily-cowed, and devoid of empathy?

    Because it sure looks that way right now. Lopsided enforcement, I think it’s called.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    The comment in question was posted while I was traveling, but it was discussed among the moderators. I think it was felt that I had already issued a general warning about the tone earlier in the comments and that while this was an attack, it was not a personal attack on one commenter. I’ll revisit the transcript (yep, we have one) and see if any other action needs to be taken by the group.

  • TonyA_says

    I understand that your policy prohibits PERSONAL attacks.
    That said, DavidYoung2 did not attack any specific person.
    He is just voicing his opinion. There is nothing wrong to think that some people are TSA-Loonies. In fact, I happen to think David was correct in his tone. The story you posted was so pure and refreshing. A rare act of kindness. Why pollute it with TSA trash talk? There’s always Wednesdays.

  • TonyA_says

    On behalf of sons whose mothers are currently undergoing cancer treatment, I thank you.

  • TonyA_says

    Would be nice if a certain day of the week can be dedicated to kind stories.
    I missed this great story on the day it came out. Glad I caught it from the What’s Everyone Talking About sidebar.

  • http://litbrit.blogspot.com/ Deborah Newell Tornello

    So, to be clear. Chris, it will be fine–and it will not result in reprimands, deleting, and banning–if and when a TSA critic refers to TSA fans/supporters/apologists in the aggregate as oblivious, easily-cowed, and/or devoid of empathy, or indeed using any descriptors said TSA critic finds appropriate at the time and as are available in English and other languages, barring words generally deemed to be obscene? Just not “attacks” directed at a single commenter or individual, yes?

    I’m not trying to be nitpicking or argumentative–just attempting to very clearly establish that which is and is not acceptable in comments, and in so doing, point out the insidious goose-but-not-gander nature of the moderation I’ve been witnessing for a while here.

    And TonyA, you appear to have missed the relevance of TSA’s abuses toward cancer survivors to the above story, an unusual tale about sensitivity toward a cancer survivor, as you called it “TSA trash talk” that you wish to see relegated to Wednesdays. Your idea, one supposes, of a virtual version of George Bush’s fenced-in “Free Speech (sic) zones” that were, back in the day, customarily established some three blocks (or more) away from his appearances in whatever city.

    Further, TonyA, your semi-anonymous labeling of my comment as “TSA trash talk” is the epitome of a personal attack, one with which I, a well-read and well-spoken writer and mother of three who does not engage in “trash talk”, must vigorously take issue; one which I’m confident will earn you an appropriate reprimand.

  • bodega3

    Oh brother. I often wonder if anyone really reads long winded posts or prefer short and to the point ones? Maybe we need a poll :-)

  • KaraJones

    Wow, Deborah. You need to calm down. The phrase “trash talk” was neither derogatory nor directed at you. We ALL (us smart ones here) hate the TSA. Since this isn’t a strictly anti-TSA blog, Chris has relegated Wednesdays as the day of the week when he posts a story about the TSA (which he doesn’t like either) and we all get to say how much we dislike them…also called “Trash Talk”. Otherwise, with the amount of venom that we all have for the TSA, the TSA arguments would take over the whole blog every day – and this is Chris’ travel-consumer advocate blog – it’s not a 7-day TSA blog.

    And I agree with Tony’s comment because in the context that the guy said “TSA-Loonies”, the guy was referring to how some people go over-the-top when it comes to the TSA discussions (as well as some others, but particularly with TSA…where big fights always start.). And in all likelihood (like 99%), if the discussion had come up about the post-surgical woman’s situation but it was within the context of a TSA discussion, people would have lost their minds. Nobody made reference to YOU.
    You are going out your way to twist other people’s comments into attacks on YOU. Frankly, no one here knows who you are – this is a blog comment section, so no one here actually wakes up in the morning thinking about how they are going to insult YOU on someone else’s blog…as a matter of fact, I’ve been typing this response for so long now that I’ve actually forgotten what your screen name is.

  • KaraJones

    Tony, I hope your Mom gets through it comfortably and well. (((((Hugs))))) to her.

  • TonyA_says

    Thanks Kara. It’s 8 weeks of Erbitux (weekly) and daily radiation.
    She’s too old for surgery. Definitely a life changing event.

  • TonyA_says

    Please, give me a break, my 85+ year old mom is currently in and out of the hospital for cancer. Do not lecture me on the relevance of TSA and Cancer. I just hope my Mom survives the Cancer itself.

  • jikinn

    It’s great to hear about this kind of customer service! I do sympathize with flight attendants not wanting to lift people’s luggage into the overhead bins. I’m sure the FA job requires them to be in good physical condition, but I don’t think we should think badly about them if they don’t want to lift luggage over their heads over and over. I’m female and have an iffy lower back, but I don’t think it’s anyone else’s responsibility to hoist my bag into the overhead bin. If I needed help, honestly, I might struggle for a minute because I don’t want to ask for help. But then I would probably ask someone nearby (FA or passenger) if s/he could help me. I try to avoid this by carrying on bags I can lift over my head. I don’t like having to pay to check the heavier bag, but I really do need to check it. I recently flew Southwest for the first time, and I’m going to try to use them for all of my future flights because you don’t need to pay for the first checked bag.

  • Grant

    Nicely said, Kara. Thank you.

  • Susan Richart

    This was indeed a personal attack because the poster was replying to another poster’s comment.

  • http://litbrit.blogspot.com/ Deborah Newell Tornello

    I am calm, dear. Just interested in fairness and clarity.

    As for my “screen name” that you claim to have forgotten, it’s right above this reply. It’s my real name. Unlike most of the commenters here, I have the courage to use it and to stand behind what I write.

  • Travelnut

    Hmmm. This right here might fit the description of a personal attack.

  • Daisiemae

    When did it become acceptable to apply a derogatory name to a group of people? We don’t accept derogatory names applied to all black people. We don’t accept derogatory names applied to all women. We don’t accept derogatory names applied to all gay people. We don’t accept derogatory names applied to disabled people.

    Stereotyping a group of people and dismissing them with derogatory names is demeaning and damaging and it definitely does not uphold your stated purpose of maintaining civility on your blog. Why do the moderators have to “discuss” whether to reprimand a derogatory name applied to any group of people, including the group of people who oppose TSA?

    I’d also like to know how much longer the moderators have to discuss whether to reprimand bodega3 for her vicious attack on me personally last week in the March 13 blog:

    >>I don’t understand the hate you have for everyone who hasn’t and doesn’t agree with you.

    That ugly accusation was hurled at me personally, not at some group of people. I demanded that bodega3 produce one quotation where I ever stated or implied that I hate anybody. She could not produce any such evidence because none exists. In more than a week, no moderator has yet reprimanded bodega3. Are they still discussing it? How much longer will they discuss it before they made a decision whether personal insults against anti-TSA bloggers are acceptable?

    In the last 3 weeks, your moderators have issued 10 reprimands to anti-TSA bloggers. They did not take any time at all to discuss those reprimands. Many of the reprimands were clearly ridiculous and certainly not attacks on anybody, either individuals or groups.

    The one and only reprimand ever issued to a pro-TSA blogger on this website (and that only after I pointed out the similarity of the language to those who had received reprimands) was issued by GrantRitchie to DavidYoung2 for his comment about “TSA-loonies” being a “bunch of jack wagons” in the March 6 blog. So it was offensive on March 6, but it’s not offensive now?

    Chris, I’m trying real hard to be respectful, but it’s getting increasingly hard. I admire your stated desire to maintain civility. I agree that insults and nasty comments are non-productive and a big waste of time and energy. In fact, if you look back to last week’s blog, MarkieA stated “I’ve gone back and read Daisymae’s comments so far and I can’t find one instance of her launching a personal attack.” (And yet, with not one personal attack launched, I have received a reprimand and three deletions. Go figure.)

    If you want us to respect your rules and your moderators, there has to be at least some semblance of fairness and even-handedness in the enforcement of the rules. Otherwise, your rules are being used as the weapons of an attack. I can’t believe that is really what you intended.

  • Daisiemae

    Have you changed your mind since the March 6 blog that “TSA-loonies” is an insult that should be reprimanded? Are you now taking back the reprimand that you gave on March 6? If so, that takes away the one and only reprimand that has ever been given to a pro-TSA blogger on this site.

    With 10 reprimands issued to anti-TSA bloggers over the last three weeks and zero to pro-TSA bloggers, do you still maintain your position that there is no bias from the moderators on this site?

  • Grant

    Thank you.

  • bayareascott

    Chris, you are typically so professional that when you choose not to be it is disappointing. At the bottom of a very nice human story, you choose to use a one-liner to disparage both flight attendants and unions. That is really unfortunate.

    I am not a flight attendant, but I see flight attendants all the time assisting customers with their bags. However, this is NOT their job. I know many flight attendants who have suffered injuries from dealing with people’s ridiculously overloaded bags. This is the reason many do not assist customers. Also there is the entitlement of many travelers that workers are there to do their bidding. I have seen passengers demand to have flight attendants stow their bags for them. It is truly pathetic. They are service workers, not servants. If you cannot handle your own bags, then you should check them…period. People who are truly in need of special care get assistance.

    Unions are one of the few organizations that fight for the rights of workers. Most of us are workers. Companies are not lining up to lobby for legislation to help workers. Unions have been declining and the middle class is declining. The declines correspond almost exactly over the last 40 years. It is not a coincidence. Corporations are taking over and if we do not band together to defend our rights, it is only going to continue getting worse.

  • JenniferFinger

    This is a nice story.

  • andrelot

    I think, as with many things, the problem lies on where to devise a reasonable policy.

    If no policy is in place, a passenger told to “stow it yourself, please” can start blowing it off on Twitter and, God forbids, if (s)he is from any minority start playing the race/religion/accent/uniqueness card.

    If a hardcore “no luggage help” policy is in place, you end up with people who need helping being denied so.

    If FAs are left to decide themselves, it only takes one of them saying “no, I can’t” to a plea for help from, say, an apparently healthy young male who happen to have a severe muscular problem on his shoulders and can’t lift his arms without much pain, then you have lawsuits awaiting to be filled.

  • bayareascott

    There are no lawsuits when providing assistance for bags are not required. If you cannot lift a bag over your head, then put it under your seat or check it. It is not like there aren’t options.