JetBlue Passengers Watched Ordeal on TVs

Letting customers watch TV at their seats has been a JetBlue calling card since the airline took flight in 1999.


LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Letting customers watch TV at their seats has been a JetBlue calling card since the airline took flight in 1999.

But the frill made for a bizarre experience as passengers aboard an airliner with a crippled nose wheel watched news reports about their own flight even as they prepared for an emergency landing.

Some of those aboard Flight 292, which landed safely Wednesday at Los Angeles International Airport, said later that they appreciated seeing news reports on what was happening. Others were horrified.

''It was absolutely terrifying, actually. Seeing the events broadcast made it completely surreal and detached me from the event,'' said Zachary Mastoon, a musician heading home on the Burbank-to-New York flight. ''It became this television show I was inextricably linked to. It was no longer my situation, it was broadcast for everyone to see. It only exacerbated the situation and my fear.''

Mastoon said the JetBlue employees kept passengers informed but that he heard worst-case scenarios from TV news reports. Realizing the risks, he started taking swigs from another passenger's vodka tonic.

''They were telling us there could be a crash landing, the landing gear could be torn off, and that there could be a fire. The gravity of the situation was much worse than any of us assumed,'' Mastoon said.

Some passengers, though, said they appreciated knowing as much as possible about their situation.

''I think on balance people were not upset,'' said Howard Averill, chief financial officer for NBC-Universal Television, who was traveling to a meeting in New York.

Even so, he said, some passengers would pull off their headphones after disturbing bits of news ''with just that look of, I think I've heard enough.''

Another television executive on board, New York-based Todd Schwartz, said the captain and the crew were straightforward in explaining the situation to passengers, but TV offered more facts.

''You need to have the captain focusing on the task at hand and not just informing us,'' he said.

He said the TVs were turned off five or 10 minutes before the landing, which was fine with him because passengers needed to pay attention to crew instructions. He said passengers couldn't watch, anyway, because they were supposed to keep their heads down during the landing.

The airline said Thursday it had no plans to get rid of in-flight television during emergencies.

''It's far more valuable to customers who choose to watch, and customers who choose not to watch can turn their unit off,'' company spokeswoman Jenny Dervin said.

JetBlue, which provides 36 channels, is joined by Delta's Song and Frontier airlines in offering in-flight TV.

Airlines meticulously avoid in-flight movies about air disasters and edit out scenes that could panic travelers. A scene in the 1988 film ''Rain Man'' for example, in which Dustin Hoffman's character lists a series of air disasters, was cut by every airline except Qantas - whose safety record got a thumbs-up in the film.

But by trying to offer its customers more viewing choices, airlines also provide a connection with news reports on the ground, even potentially unsettling ones.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, JetBlue passengers flying into New York watched reports of planes crashing into the World Trade Center - then looked out their windows to see it burning.

In the late 1970s, American Airlines advertised the fact that passengers could watch their takeoffs and landings on closed-circuit television, a benefit that may have backfired. No one knows what passengers aboard Flight 191 saw on May 25, 1979, when an engine fell off moments before the plane crashed at Chicago O'Hare Airport, killing 273 people.

On Thursday, meanwhile, a JetBlue airliner departing from Tampa, Fla., landed safely at John F. Kennedy International Airport after its pilot reported a problem with the wing flaps as the plane prepared to descend, company officials said. No injuries were reported. It was unclear if the flaps actually were locked or if it was a false alarm.

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