Oh no! JetBlue breaks guitars, too?

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By Christopher Elliott

Add the word “breaks guitars” after any company, and everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about.

“Breaks guitars” is synonymous with terrible service, bureaucracy and corporate arrogance. And you’d expect an airline to be particularly sensitive to it.

For those of you who missed the whole United Breaks Guitars episode, here’s a recap: Back in 2009, United Airlines destroyed country musician David Carroll’s checked guitar and then basically ignored his damage claim. Are airlines getting too tough with customers’ items?

It resulted in a viral video that still haunts United to this day.

JetBlue’s broken note

All of which brings us to Jonathan Pardo’s claim. Last year, he was flying from Boston to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on JetBlue. But when he arrived at the gate, an attendant told him he couldn’t board with his instrument.

“I told him that I have brought my guitar on as a carry-on in the past, on numerous flights, and it fits fine in the overhead compartment, but he insisted it be gate-checked,” he said. “He assured me that it would be placed in a safe area at the ground crew’s discretion and there would not be a problem.”

But there was a problem.

He explains:

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands, including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

When I arrived, I opened the guitar case to find extensive damage. We contacted JetBlue and were told that the claim needed to be made in person within four hours of arrival.

Due to a hurricane and tropical storm watch, we were not able to make the 50-mile round trip to Fort Lauderdale at nearly one in the morning.

Before going to the airport, I contacted JetBlue and verified that the guitar could indeed be carried on. The guitar should have been accepted onboard and if not, proper storage should have been used once in care of JetBlue personnel.

The guitar cannot be repaired and has a replacement cost of approximately $500.

Passenger’s guitar damaged and claims denied

The response from JetBlue? A form letter, essentially denying his claim. (Here’s our guide to resolving your consumer problem.)

After completing a final review of the claim, we have determined the total of your settlement to be a $250 JetBlue electronic voucher.

According to our Contract of Carriage, JetBlue Airways assumes no responsibility for certain items such as: glass, ceramics, mirrors, medication, money, jewelry, cameras, perfumes, video, audio and electronic equipment (including computers, software or music), wigs, optical equipment, dental and orthodontic devices or equipment and collectible, perishable, fragile or irreplaceable items among others.

These items, contained either in checked or unchecked baggage, are accepted only at the customer’s own risk. Please reference the complete Contract of Carriage online at www.jetblue.com under Legal/ Contract of Carriage.

Realizing that you have valued your claim at an amount greater than our settlement, we recommend that you may want to contact other resources, such as your homeowner’s insurance or credit card travel insurance, for any additional compensation that might be available to you.

As you’re aware, in the case of a reported mishandled baggage, our Baggage Service Offices, Central Baggage, and Customer Commitment team work closely with customers to determine what, if any, compensation is needed. We request customers report any mishandled baggage directly to the office of their destination airport within four hours of arrival to ensure integrity of records and actions. In the event that a customer attempts to file a claim after leaving the airport, however, our team will handle those instances on a case by case basis.

Nice form letter. But that doesn’t really work for Pardo, and it doesn’t work for me, either.

Pardo asked his uncle, an attorney, to call JetBlue on his behalf. He did, and received essentially the same response.

So my advocacy team and I contacted JetBlue. A representative responded right away and promised to look into it, but added the following warning:

While I appreciate your interest in this particular customer’s case, we do prefer a direct relationship with our customers, and will not share any personal or customer information with outside parties.

I’m confident that proper lines of communication between the customer and our team have been established and the customer’s note you forwarded has been received by our Central Baggage Office along with the request for followup. Any additional followup the team feels necessary will be addressed directly with the customer.

In other words, I should mind my own business.

And that’s fine with me, as long as JetBlue does something. But after more than a month went by without Pardo hearing from the airline. I contacted JetBlue again. Nothing.

Here’s how I see this: If a passenger willingly surrenders a bag to an airline, then he or she is agreeing to its contract of carriage — which, as JetBlue points out, says it isn’t liable for damage to musical instruments.

But if someone is forced to check a guitar in a soft case, then there is no contract of carriage. The contract, if there is any, was the oral contract between the crewmember and Pardo, in which he’d been assured that his guitar would be safe.

Pardo and I have waited patiently for months to give JetBlue the chance to do the right thing. But it blew both of us off.

I guess JetBlue really does break guitars.

Should JetBlue have denied Jonathan Pardo's claim?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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