Aditya Mukerjee was flying to Los Angeles from New York City’s JFK Airport earlier in August for a week-long pilgrimage with his family, an annual ritual.
Mukerjee, a Hindu, works in venture capital at Quotidian Ventures.
He experienced a series of surprises at the airport.
He ended up being questioned by four government agencies–the TSA, NYPD, FBI, Homeland Security–and when he finally passed through a range of questioning, his airline JetBlue wouldn’t let him on board.
Mukerjee recounts in a blog post:
“As they patted me down for the fourth time, a female TSA agent asked me for my baggage claim ticket. I handed it to her, and she told me that a woman from JetBlue corporate security needed to ask me some questions as well. I was a bit surprised, but agreed. After the pat-down, the JetBlue representative walked in and cooly introduced herself by name.”
She explained, “We have some questions for you to determine whether or not you’re permitted to fly today. Have you flown on JetBlue before?”
“Maybe about ten times,” I guessed.
“Ten what? Per month?”
“No, ten times total.”
She paused, then asked,
“Will you have any trouble following the instructions of the crew and flight attendants on board the flight?”
“No.” I had no idea why this would even be in doubt.
“We have some female flight attendants. Would you be able to follow their instructions?”
I was almost insulted by the question, but I answered calmly, “Yes, I can do that.”
“Okay,” she continued, “and will you need any special treatment during your flight? Do you need a special place to pray on board the aircraft?”
Only here did it hit me.
“No,” I said with a light-hearted chuckle, trying to conceal any sign of how offensive her questions were. “Thank you for asking, but I don’t need any special treatment.”
She left the room, again, leaving me alone for another ten minutes or so. When she finally returned, she told me that I had passed the TSA’s inspection. “However, based on the responses you’ve given to questions, we’re not going to permit you to fly today.”
I was shocked. “What do you mean?” were the only words I could get out.
“If you’d like, we’ll rebook you for the flight tomorrow, but you can’t take the flight this afternoon, and we’re not permitting you to rebook for any flight today.”
He says he wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything for the whole ordeal, which apparently started when explosive sensors were set off by a cleaning agent he had used on his home right before leaving to catch the flight. He was questioned for almost four hours.
He ended up getting to Los Angeles anyways, but it cost him $700 more for booking on the same day with another airline.
He also says he thinks his apartment was searched because several belongings were obviously moved and a picture on the wall was gone.
“No matter how I’ve tried to rationalize this in the last week and a half, nothing can block out the memory of the chilling sensation I felt that first morning, lying on my air mattress, trying to forget the image of large, uniformed men invading the sanctuary of my home in my absence, wondering when they had done it, wondering why they had done it,” he wrote. “In all my life, I have only felt that same chilling terror once before – on one cold night in September twelve years ago, when I huddled in bed and tried to forget the terrible events in the news that day, wondering why they they had happened, wondering whether everything would be okay ever again.”
JetBlue said on Twitter that they standby the decision.
“For our part, we regret the embarrassment and inconvenience this caused our customer but stand by our crewmember’s decision,” it said. “The crewmember made their decision based on all available information and customer disposition at the time.”
“The person who told me I couldn’t fly was a JetBlue employee, not a TSA or FBI agent,” tweeted Mukerjee at JetBlue.
“And we regret the inconvenience that caused you,” the company responded. “We understand you were offered to travel the following day, or a full refund.”