Court Sides With JetBlue Employee Who Reported Passenger For Saying The Word “Bomb”

If you’re in a bad mood at the airport and feel tempted to haphazardly include the word “bomb” in any sentence, you probably want to refrain from doing so. A federal appeals court recently sided with JetBlue employees who reported a passenger for making an offhand gripe that was misinterpreted as a bomb threat, and which got her arrested by the FBI.

The matter goes back to 2008, when the passenger was scheduled to fly from JFK International in New York City to Austin. Though she arrived at the airport hours ahead of departure, the woman did not make it to the gate until after the crew had closed the plane’s door.

When told she wouldn’t be able to board, the traveler was not pleased, especially since her checked baggage was making the trip to Austin without her.

“Isn’t it a security risk to let a bag go on a plane without a passenger, what if there was a bomb in the bag?” She asked, according to court documents.

A JetBlue employee responded that “TSA agents would know if there was a bomb in the bag.”

The traveler then says she fired back, “TSA‐‐my ass” and walked away. An FBI report on the interaction claims she stated, “TSA does not know how to do their f***ing job because if it did TSA would not catch it and let it go through!”

This is where things get into she-said/company-said.

The JetBlue employee claims she did not personally regard the passenger as a security risk, and only told her supervisor that the woman had implied she had a bomb with the “What if there was a bomb in the bag?” question.

The passenger alleged that the employee deliberately misrepresented the conversation by telling her supervisor that the woman claimed there was indeed a bomb in the bag.

Regardless oh which one is more accurate, security and the FBI were notified, the plane was re-routed, the traveler detained and eventually charged with making a false bomb threat. That charge was subsequently dropped, but the passenger did plead guilty to misdemeanor drug charges after a small amount of marijuana was found in her bag.

She later violated her probation and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. The passenger was also charged around $13,000 for the cost of re-routing the Austin-bound flight to Richmond, where her bag was searched and no bomb was found.

The woman sued JetBlue over the incident, alleging defamation, but in 2014 a U.S. District Court in Brooklyn side granted summary judgment [PDF] to the airline saying that the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) immunizes airlines and employees who make a “voluntary disclosure of any suspicious transaction relevant to a possible violation of law or regulation, relating to air piracy, a threat to aircraft or passenger safety, or terrorism.”

The traveler appealed that ruling, claiming that the lower court erred in granting summary judgement. She argued that you can’t decide whether the ATSA immunity applies until you decide which version of events is the more accurate.

But a three-judge Second Circuit Court of Appeals panel held that either version of the incident in this matter still result in the same conclusion: That the ATSA applied and JetBlue and the employee are immune.

“[The passenger] raised questions about a bomb and disparaged the effectiveness of the TSA. Had JetBlue reacted otherwise, it might have been in violation of its obligation to report potential threats, and could have been subject to civil penalties,” reads the opinion [PDF] “Because it is undisputed that [the gate agent] and JetBlue were aware of ominous (even if ambiguous) references to a bomb on a flight, no reasonable jury could find that differences in wording between [the passenger’s] account and [the employee’s] constituted materially false statements made to law enforcement.”

The woman’s attorney tells the AP his client will likely appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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