JetBlue and the case of the full barf bag


If you’ve ever flown on JetBlue, you know that everyone pitches in to clean the plane after the flight.

And when I say “everyone” I mean it.

(True story: I once introduced myself to JetBlue’s chief operating officer, who was traveling to New York on my flight, as he was helping clean the aircraft after landing. I loved the way he was leading by example, and told him how much I admired it.)

But from time to time, the crew overlooks something, and Myrtha Désulmé experienced one such unfortunate case.

She recently flew from Kingston, Jamaica, to Fort Lauderdale. When she reached into her seat pocket to pull out the airsickness bag, she found an unpleasant surprise.

“It had vomit in it,” she says. “I actually put my hand in the bag to open it, and got the nasty surprise.”

Isn’t that what air sickness bags are for? Sure, but you would expect someone to notice the filled bag and dispose of it between flights.

Désulmé wasn’t having the best of luck with JetBlue. On her return flight, her tray table didn’t work and neither did her in-flight entertainment system. Her requests to fix the problem were ignored, she says.

She decided to send a brief, polite complaint to JetBlue — and airline that likes to hold itself to a higher standard when it comes to customer care.

Here’s its response:

We sincerely apologize when you reached into the pocket in front of your seat that there was vomit in the bag. We know how frustrating this must have been as we clean all papers and items between flights and obviously this was missed. We will notify our Inflight Management Team.

We know how important cleanliness is and it is unfortunate on your return flight of March 24th your tray table was dirty and your television was inoperable. We regret our Inflight Crewmember did not respond to your call.

When a TV is inoperable per our JetBlue Bill of Rights, we issue a $15 service credit. As a courtesy, we have placed a $115 credit in your Travel Bank Account. All credit is valid for one year and may be redeemed online toward a future JetBlue flight.

(Note: This is the actual letter. Grammar apparently is not this customer service rep’s thing.)

Désulmé wants to know if this is enough, and I’ve agreed to pass her question along to you, dear readers. I suspect she’d like me to also mediate this with JetBlue, if I can.

I’m not a fan of laundry-list complaints, but I’ve also been vomited on by another passenger, and it’s no fun. And while no one threw up on Désulmé, it is also true that the cabin should have been properly cleaned.

Is a $115 credit enough for these service lapses? Or should I ask JetBlue for more, if not an apology written in English.

Should I mediate Myrtha Désulmé's case?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

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 Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google Plus

  • Benjamin Barnett

    She got 100 bucks for having to wash her hands. I think it’s fine.

  • LFH0

    Unless Ms. Désulmé paid a premium for a service not provided, or she was actually damaged by the problem, then Jet Blue probably did more than they had to do. It was good to provide the compensation as a good will gesture. However, that compensation of funny money is only good if she were to fly Jet Blue again within a year (something occasional leisure travelers might not do), in which case the gesture is valueless. To me, the amount of the compensation seems to have been commensurate to the problems encountered, but it would have been better had it been paid in cash instead.

  • sdir

    So long as the flight crew took care of the bag immediately after discovery and they were apologetic, I think the credit is enough. Though perhaps a couple in-flight booze bottles would have been nice. :)

    Even so, I can’t get over that she TOUCHED it. I would’ve started barfing. Yay for a weak gag reflex.

  • polexia_rogue

    115 is more then enough. i have looked up what a full flight costs (the cheapest, not a refundable fare) and it is about 50%.

    the plane did not crash, it was not delayed- she got to her destination.

    as someone who cleans bathrooms for a living- vomit is not a big deal; wash your hands and get on with your life.

  • backprop

    I am baffled by the open-ended question that seems to come up regularly: “Did they give me enough compensation?” Enough for whom?

    There is no EU261-style rule about compensation for sticking your hand in an airsickness bag, so the question is nothing more than a fishing expedition.

    I’d really enjoy reading more from OPs who actually make the effort to say “I don’t believe this is enough because of X. I think Y is appropriate compensation. The airline/hotel/agency disagrees; can you help?”

    This is like the poster yesterday – he knew exactly how much less someone else paid for their cruise, but he had no concept of value for himself. He was only concerned that someone else paid less.

    So if the OPs question today is really: “Has someone else ever gotten more compensation than $115 in credit?” then I’d invite her to come forward with a figure that’s fair to her and go from there.

  • $16635417

    Well, at least we know it wasn’t a form letter response. (We hope so anyway!)

    Chris should publish the letters, as written, by some of the people complaining. Between you and I, I suspect theirs some errors that would make you’re old high school English teacher shake her head in disgust! Its just not a concern anymore.

  • BillCCC

    Just what is it that you are mediating? “Désulmé wants to know if this is enough”; is she unhappy with the amount or is she hoping that enough people will say she could get more in order to hold out for a better offer?

  • Christopher Elliott

    Good point. I’ve clarified in the story – I think she wants me to mediate this. JetBlue’s track record of helping when I or a member of my team ask is more or less the same as Spirit. But we never give up.

  • $16635417

    I just noticed the picture! I think I knew that girl in college!

  • John Baker

    She received $115 for having to wash her hand with no other harm… sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Since this was a service lapse, Jet Blue lived up to the COC and the OP wasn’t out of pocket any money, I think the travel credit is appropriate.

  • Richard Smith

    Totally unrelated question — has anyone else noted that the “You’re missing the best part” pop-up has become more aggressive lately? No matter how many times one signs up, this damned popup keeps appearing. Is there any way to suppress it?

  • Len Oxman

    Personally, I think that the flight attendant should be fired immediately. The pilot should be reprimanded, and JetBlue should lose be stripped of the gate in FLL so that an incident of this magnitude does not recur.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Yes, the pop up only appears once and then goes away. If you enable cookies, it won’t bother you any longer. Please let me know if that doesn’t work.

  • Stephen0118

    How much cash do you think she should get? I voted no to mediation, simply because, unless the OP failed to mention this, she didn’t get sick. It was an oversight for JetBlue, but all airlines, at one time, or another, have had these oversights.
    I’ve flown on several airlines (United, Virgin America, Delta) where the entertainment console didn’t work. I didn’t care as I had a window seat so I can admire the view. I didn’t want miles or a refund, or travel credit. I just let it go.

  • bpepy

    It’s “between you and me”, Mike!

  • bpepy

    And, “there are” (“there’s” is a contraction of there is, singular), AND, “your” not you’re, which means you are! I’m not a high school English teacher, either, but some grammar mistakes really bother me.

  • bpepy

    I agree about TOUCHING it–I’m really phobic about throwing up and I would have been more than just upset!!!

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I think there are times you should give up. Or not take cases to begin with. Like this one. Yes, it was gross. But they responded quickly, it wasn’t a form letter, and it was a fairly decent offer by industry standards. It’d send a bad message to push for more.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I’m trying to imagine a circumstance where I’d use the airsick bag and wouldn’t take it with me to restroom afterwards. You’d be headed to restroom immediately and possibly even be afraid you’d need the bag again on the way. I wonder if this was left on purpose as sort of a prank? Like somebody had a few too many and thought it’d be funny?

  • phenomenallass

    I’m pretty sure Mike was being facetious with his response.

  • phenomenallass

    Did she actually give JetBlue an idea of the compensation she was requesting, or was it just a laundry list letter with no suggestion of how to make it right? If she didn’t tell them what she expected to receive, she should let it go. If she did suggest compensation, it would be good to know what it was, so we have an idea of whether JetBlue scoffed at her, met her half-way, etc.

  • $16635417

    My wife’s pet peeve…she asked me to include that one. Good catch!!

  • $16635417

    You missed “Its” btw.

  • nyctraveler

    Yes, it’s annoying when the entertainment system doesn’t work. But JetBlue has a standard policy for such situations. As for the barf bag… ew, gross. That being said, assuming the FA disposed of the offending bag immediately, then she got more than a fair compensation. The flight was not delayed, and she arrived at her destination in one piece. Time to move on.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    It makes one wonder where Chris gets his stock footage from. :-)

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Her complaint about the tray table seems petty. Should the entire plane be cleaned with the crew checking every tray table and wiping it down?

    I can also see how a dirty airsickness bag was left in the back of the seat. It happens. If there isn’t a lot of vomit, then the cleaning crew may think it’s clean. Should the cleaning crew inspect every bag? Logically, after a passenger whose ill is finished with their bag, they hand it to the crew on the way out or during a cleaning.

    I recall one FA complaining about how they felt insulted or burdened by passengers handing them barf bags on the way out. In this case, it’s clear that this is better than the passenger just stuffing it back into the seat pocket as a surprise for the next passenger. Sometimes people simply don’t have time to get up and throw the bag away themselves (especially with all the new restrictions on cabin movement in the past few years.)

  • $16635417

    Maybe booze isn’t the right compensation in this case. She was reaching FOR the air sickness bag!

  • $16635417

    FA’s at airlines who have the duty to clean up after a flight WANT the air sickness bag disposed of immediately so they DON’T have to come across this in the seat pocket.

    I suspect you’re right, it’s possible the bag was not that full and was missed by the FAs or pilots cleaning up after landing in Kingston.

    Jetblue typically comes through with trash bags often during the flight. I’m sure there were opportunities for the previous passenger to dispose of it.

  • $16635417

    …and I certainly hope it’s stock footage and not one of his own!

  • ploughmud

    I find this a waste of time. This is life, people. Stuff happens. Do you really think every time something is not as it should be, you should be compensated. Is your home, car, dinner out, hotel room, weather perfect. NO. Oh it is cloudy on my vacation, i should be compensated. Oh, my dinner came and the beans are not as green and the steak not as med/rare as I think they should be, I should be compensated. The guy beat me to a parking space, he should compensate me.

    You burnt dinner, you are not so perfect. So to you all who think your perfect. Get real. So stuff got missed when they cleaned, so what. So some stuff was broken, so what. You got a ride, that is all you should be expecting. Too many people really expect more than they deserve. count your blessings. You got $115 and I think that was a generous gift.

  • nyctraveler

    Is there a reason you decided to post your diatribe as a reply to my comment?
    I did not say she should have received any more compensation than what she got. She’s lucky she got anything at all.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I think the $115 is fair. $100 for touching something gross and $15 for the TV.

  • naoma

    I am surprised she didn’t PUKE herself when she found the bag. You’d have heard me for
    a mile and I am a small person with a BIG VOICE.

  • Miami510

    It is unfortunate that a segment of our population is so litigious they view any untoward incident an opportunity to sue, or in this case request Christopher Elliott’s help in getting something from their commercial encounter. They confuse legal settlements for “pain and suffering,” with everyday disapointments.

    In this case, I think the letter of apology, together with the monetary credit is both kind, correct, and the perfect example of good public relations.

    If I were Christopher, I’d turn the question around and ask the traveler what she thought would be proper. I’d expect to hear a lifetime free pass on any and all flights….
    yeah… sure.

  • naoma

    Me too on that comment above.

  • emanon256

    I was thinking that too. I was on an international trip once where I saw a passenger put some of their food into the barf-bag, folded it up, and put it back in the seat pocket. I thought they were saving it for later (I personally would never eat out of a barf-bag). It seemed odd to me. What if someone did that and forgot it, the food spoiled, and the next person got the unpleasant surprise? Though this was Jet Blue, so most likely a drunk college student pulling a prank on the next passenger.

  • Annie M

    No to mediation. I have never put my hand in a bag of vomit but I have had my TV tray and tv not work and was compensated $10 at the time. I think $100 for the bag was more than fair. How greedy do people need to be? If I had put my hand in that bag, the flight attendant would have been lucky I didn’t vomit on them turning the bag over. Chris, she received enough compensation.

  • emanon256

    I voted no. I think the OP got a pretty darn good offer. Gross yes, but I see vomit in public places all the time. Ive accidentally stepped in it. Ive been vomited on by someone else on a roller coaster. It is no fun, but I don’t think someone owes me anything either.

  • Jeanne_in_NE


  • PolishKnightUSA

    I’m referring to this scenario: Just before taxiing for landing, the FA’s make their final collection and the seatbelt lights go on. Then the previous passenger got sick and barfed. This is logical: most people are going to get sick during landing (your stomach contents to up as the plane goes down while during takeoff, you feel as if you are pressed down into your seat. Some folks just don’t handle weightlessness very well…)

    Anyhow, I expect that most barf bags are used just after the FA has made their final garbage collection run. Embarrassed passengers typically are zoned out and in such a hurry to get out, that they forget or don’t want to bring up the fact that they have a barf bag to the attendant. Then what do they do with the bag? They can’t go back to use the bathroom (since the deplaning passengers are all pushing forward) and perhaps they don’t want to carry the bag out to the gate area.

    The best thing to do with trash, any trash really, might also be at first thought the most rude: Just leave it on your seat (hopefully in a container that won’t make a mess on the seat). At least then, it will be noticed and removed by the cleaning crew. My rule for deplaning is that I always clean out the seat pocket of anything that it’s mine (obviously) but also any trash and I put into a bag on the floor (visible.) It minimizes the work of the cleaning crew. If a tray table is dirty, leave it down.

  • $16635417

    …and let Spirit pick up the gate at FLL?

  • Blackadar

    That wasn’t vomit. It was the in-flight lunch.

  • MarkKelling

    It pops up for me daily on my home computer. But just once a day.

    Running Mac 10.8, Safari or Firefox. Cookies are enabled.

  • MarkKelling

    The fact that the bag was used and not disposed of is disgusting. The person leaving it there is most inconsiderate. It is unfortunate the cleaning crew missed it.

    But what came to my mind was the question of why was the OP opening the bag? It was not stated she was ill. Was she going to stuff some kind of garbage in the bag and leave it in the seat pocket as well? I have seen people use the barf bag for dirty diapers among other things and I have a complete lack of understanding of their logic when they do something like that.

  • MarkKelling

    My high school English teacher wasn’t old. Well, she wasn’t old when I was in high school 30 years ago, but neither was I. :-)

  • ShrimpBoy

    Hey that’s my wife in the picture!

  • TonyA_says

    How much do they charge for a barf bag?
    Maybe a used one is cheaper?

  • $16635417

    Fold it up and set it on the floor. It would certainly be noticed when the pilots and FAs clean the plane and then would not be a risk to spill on the seat.

  • $16635417

    It depends. Do you buy it at time of ticket purchase? Time of check in? At the gate? On the plane? Over the phone? Through a kiosk? Of course, you could always bring your own and save that fee.

  • omgstfualready

    Boy this is interesting. Thank you for an atypical write up. My first thought was I wish I weren’t reading this over lunch. Then, objectively I’m thinking it is perfectly acceptable. They acknowledged it was wrong, they realize they need to more than the minimum but they also know it was not intentional and mistakes, as disgusting as this was, do happen. Unless the OP had a specific $ in mind then we cannot truly judge on her behalf.

    I am generally not into hypotheticals however trying to put myself in her shoes, no,well, hands I guess is more appropriate, I would know logically it was an unintentional mistake yet nothing would make me feel better about that experience. It would not dissuade me from using that vendor, nor would any compensation make me more likely to use them either.

  • omgstfualready

    lol, I’m of the age that I cringe at being an ‘old’ friend. Though it is accurate I am desperately trying to replace that with ‘long time’ friend. My ego could use the break.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    I always try to set my go-away trash to the side if possible. Not on the floor where it will get stepped on, but make sure it gets noticed.

    In any case, the seat flap is the worst place I think we all agree.

    I remember an FA running a blog and complaining about the horrors of pigs who drop stuff on the floor. As yucky as it looks, the cleaning crew can at least SEE the mess and clean (or vacuum) it up. The seat pocket or worse, seat creases, is a surprise waiting to happen.

  • emanon256

    Until they charge you a seat back pocket stowage fee for bringing your own barf bag.

  • omgstfualready

    As an aside to the entertainment system, one of my overseas (nighttime) flights I purposely picked a longer flight so I could have a plane with the individual seat entertainment (USAirways maybe, too long ago to remember the vendor). I don’t sleep in public and wanted to have something to do without using my overhead light to bother people when I read. Well mine didn’t work. The attendants rebooted the system a few times and my seat was the only one not functioning. It was also a full flight and I was stuck, I certainly wasn’t going to ask anyone not using their system to switch seats. It never occurred to me to get compensated for it. I filed it under ‘stuff happens, oh well’. Apparently I’m in the minority on realizing life isn’t going to turn out perfect and my first world problems are not that big of a deal.

  • emanon256

    I mentioned seeing someone put left over food in one once, but come to think of it I’ve seen people put all sorts of trash in them too. Why is that? And they do just leave it there. I always bring dirty diapers to the galley trash. Unless of course its a plain with a changing table in the rest room, but United seemed to remove most of those after the merger.

  • $16635417

    …and it cause your carry on to exceed the maximum size allowed. (Unless it’s a backpack that I say fits under the seat in front of me, which then may or may not be subject to maximum size restrictions.)

  • Travelnut

    That’s not a problem to me either, since I bring quite enough to amuse myself; except if it’s an international flight. That’s happened to me twice and I only fly overseas once or twice a year.

  • Travelnut

    Travelnut’s personal rule for grammar correction: I don’t correct anyone’s online errors (it could be that damn autocorrect), unless the poster is criticizing someone else’s grammar and that poster is wrong. In that case, I feel I have the duty to step in. :) But I double-check my post to make sure it’s impeccable.

  • Travelnut

    Way harsh, Tai.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    I thought the same. I’ve had things happen during travel such as delayed flights, rerouting, IFE’s not working, dirty tray tables, etc. I just dealt with them. A missed barf bag (if it appears ok to an observer, it obviously did for the OP!) is a reasonable mistake.

    What’s funny for me is that the last thing I’d want to do is wash my hands in the air lav. That water is disgusting! :-)

    I’ve heard that some people have in-flight complaints down to a science and especially in Europe, they know how to use the complaint system to rack up money.

  • omgstfualready

    What if it is over 3 ounces? Does the TSA need to be notified?

  • jamesbeaz

    This is a major health hazard — if this woman wanted to push things, she could take Jet Blue to court and/or sue them. Jet Blue is crazy not to just refund the cost of the vomit flight.

  • vacaygirl

    She needs to get over it. Stuff happens. She wasn’t injured, she is blowing this out of proportion. Stop the madness Chris, just say no!

  • vacaygirl

    Oh please…she got what she bought. It wasn’t intentional, nor was it negligence as she wasn’t injured. People need to grow up.

  • gracekelley

    Who are these”cleaning crews” people speak of? Oh you mean the fa’s and pilot’s? LOL

    How hard is it to put garbage into the bags they walk through the cabin with several times and again before landing? How hard is it to hand a sick sack to be disposed of on disembarking?

    Someone mentioned she could sue! Sue who? The person that left it there or the airline? Good God America needs lawsuit reform STAT!!

  • gracekelley

    Lawsuit reform times a gazillion please!

  • Helio

    I’m just wondering about why she would put her hand inside the bag in the first place…

  • tonis

    Please don’t give the airlines any more ideas. I’m waiting for an add-on if I need to use the facilities; perhaps a $.01 charge per sheet of tissue. LOL!

  • AH

    between you and me is correct.
    theirs = belonging to them, there’s = there is – still wrong grammatically. there are would be better when speaking of multiple errors.
    you’re = you are, your = belonging to you.
    its= belonging to it, it’s= it is
    mikegun, if you’re going to complain about grammar, it might be nice if you didn’t use poor grammar yourself.

  • AH

    okay, so i didn’t read the full comments on this post.

  • $16635417

    OMG! Another one who didn’t pick up on it! Awesome!

  • EdB

    How could she not tell the bag had been used? I would think the bad would have felt a little squishy when she picked it up. I’m also wondering, as the story doesn’t say, if she grabbed the bag because she was going to be sick or to use it for other purposes and since she found it had been used, wanted to leverage it into something more?

  • EdB

    “On her return flight, her tray table didn’t work and neither did her in-flight entertainment system. Her requests to fix the problem were ignored, she says.”

    Did she actually think that members of the flight crew were mechanics and video technicians to be able to actually fix the problem in flight? She sounds like someone just searching for any reason to complain to get compensation.

  • caracal1788

    This seems perfectly reasonable, if not generous. Mistakes occur. They have acknowledged a mistake and provided compensation. Perhaps your client could indicate what she believes is the fair exchange rate for opening a used vomit bag.

  • Cybrsk8r

    I usually am more sympathetic to the customer, but I think Jet Blue did OK here

    From a practical standpoint, I can see where if someone barfed and then just put the bag back, the crew might miss it.

    I suggest loading the empty bags in the seat back pocket up-side down, that way, when they see a bag right-side up they’ll know to check it.

  • Mel65

    That was my first thought too! Who puts a hand INSIDE a bag to open it? Also, let’s be honest, if you pick up a BARF BAG and it feels like it has something (perhaps, oh say, BARF) in it, WHY WOULD YOU OPEN IT AT ALL? Was she hoping a previous passenger had hidden an iPod in the bag? If there were an Olympic event for eye rolling, reading some of these articles would put me in fine form for the gold!

  • AH

    if you noticed, i commented again above after i’d read a few more comments. (i did plan on being a high school english teacher at one point, so i do tend to notice those things!) lol

  • brianguy

    What about their grammar? I read the JetBlue response three times and counted two commas missing.