Here’s Why You Don’t Fly Cross-Country on Standby Tickets With Kids During the Summer When You’re Broke

Curtis Saxton was stranded in Salt Lake City with his wife and two children. (Screengrab via ABC4)

The Saxton family was stranded at Salt Lake City International Airport for six days.

According to the local ABC affiliate, the Saxtons got there last Wednesday night and didn’t leave until Tuesday.

Weather was great. Flights were going in and out on schedule.

But the Saxtons — Curtis the dad, Nicole the mom with Dominic and Sadee, their 4- and 13-year-old kids — were flying back to Virginia on JetBlue buddy passes. Buddy passes are vouchers that airline employees can share with family and friends, allowing them to fly for next to nothing.

Flying for almost free comes at the cost of convenience. Buddy pass users are not just flying standby, but they’re at the very bottom of the standby list. After all the regular passengers board, and then all the higher-priority standby passengers board, if there any seats left, only then are buddy pass passengers allowed onto the plane.

And because it’s August, when everyone is traveling to or from vacation, there haven’t been any seats, nevermind four, so the Saxtons remained at the bottom of the list.

Unable to afford purchased seats, a hotel or even enough food, the Saxtons slept on airport benches without showering while eating only one meal a day. Dominic, the 4-year-old, had to be checked out by paramedics at one point.

JetBlue did nothing wrong. The rules are the rules.

And speaking of rules, it’s possible the employee who gave the Saxtons their buddy passes will land in hot water over this. There are fairly strict rules about the people who use buddy passes being well behaved. If “crying to the media and making the company look heartless when it did nothing wrong” was not in the rulebook before, it probably will be after this.

United Airlines, which has been battling its own customer service demons as of late, perhaps in hope of generating some positive buzz, stepped in as the savior and hooked up the Saxtons a free flight home on Tuesday. Kudos to them for helping out, but had the Saxtons been flying on United buddy passes, we all know they’d have maintained the same position as JetBlue.

Correction: United Airlines provided a hotel room, and a generous individual donor bought the Saxton’s a flight home.

I do feel for the Saxtons. I’m not sure if they knew what they were getting into, if whoever gave them the buddy passes explained fully how it worked, or if they simply thought that luck would be on their side. Although tempted, I won’t blast them or their parenting skills.

But hopefully this will serve as a lesson to airline employees to be sure to be very clear with their friends lest they end up in a similar predicament.


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  • TractorEngineer

    This guy’s a real piece of work. I’d put him in jail for child abuse except the kids would go somewhere worse than the SLC airport. They’ve suffered enough. Send the kids to a resort all next summer and sentence this guy to the work farm all next summer. What a loser.

  • whitepapertiger

    Intelligence does not appear to be one of their strong suits. Come on folks, you couldn’t even make do by using a sink in the bathroom to freshen up? Besides, why didn’t the grandparents or someone else in the family try to convince them that flying around the country with no money is a completely idiotic idea?

    • benanov

      You can do a pretty decent sponge bath with just a basin. Common sense isn’t.

    • I got delayed 12 hours once because of weather. UGH
      Managed to do just fine with the change of clothes I packed and a sponge bath in the family restroom. Sucked but I took extra money, extra clothes and my cell charger.

  • Jet Blue did nothing wrong. The parents were in the wrong to do this and endanger their children’s safety.

  • This reporter is incompetent.

    United did not provide a free flight, United was paid for those tickets by a kind stranger:
    ‘Sue says she tried called Jet Blue and tried to get the Saxtons upgraded to regular tickets. “I was on the phone with Jet Blue reservation for 45 minutes and all said and done they could get them out, they could upgrade their passes, four stops, four layovers and it would have cost $6,000 dollars,” explained Sue.
    Sue didn’t give up; she called several other airlines and finally found something more reasonable from United Airlines. $2,400 dollars later Sue and her husband purchased tickets for the Saxtons to fly back to D.C. Tuesday morning”‘

    All united did was:
    “The Saxtons won’t be spending another night sleeping at the airport, United Airlines has made accommodations for them at a local hotel.”

  • Travis Downs

    Oh we’re piss broke and don’t have any money. What should we do? Oh i know! Let’s take a vacation!! Pucking idiots.

    • mwhit


  • Jonky

    If there was an award for the worst headline, then this would be a sure winner

  • Allegra Sloman

    Canadian here, used to fly on passes. If you can’t get out on time on passes YOU BUY CONFIRMED SPACE. The parents were dolts to not have a back up plan. Four seats on one plane during ‘summer blackout’? Puhlease.

  • ValGal67

    That floating “share” bar is OBNOXIOUS.

  • disqus_hrsbR8YycJ

    As a JetBlue employee who travels frequently to (and from) SLC I can tell you that once daily flight to JFK is without question JetBlue’s hardest flight to pass ride on. I battle to get on with employee priority and more often than not, don’t. Buddy pass riders don’t stand a chance. Many nights there are upwards of 40 people on the standby list with just a handful of unsold seats. Imagine 2,100 JetBlue employees in SLC all jockeying for a few seats on a once daily flight. It’s a nightmare, but that’s how the pass riding game is played, and the employee who gave them the buddy passes should have known that. I don’t give buddy passes to my SLC friends and family because there’s no point.

    P.S. I like the title of this article 🙂

  • Dave

    “It should be noted that JetBlue did nothing wrong here.” oh yeah, I
    used to be an Airline Employee and let me tell you, even Air-line local
    managers have the power to give out food-vouchers , free-hotel vouchers
    at their discretion even to customers/passengers who are not fully
    qualified for such vouchers. What United Airlines did for this family is
    an example. However, some Airlines and/or local managers are not into
    humane thinking . Shame, JetBlue. This is my opinion.

    • mikegun

      According to stories in local SLC media, they turned down vouchers for meals based on donations received and did not wish to leave the airport for a hotel in fear of losing a chance at a seat.

      • Dave

        Well, if they rejected food-vouchers “due to generous donors”, then how come they were complaining of eating only 1 meal/day and the kid saying that he has been “Hungary” ? Something is not being honest here. Either the family or the Airline didn’t start giving voucher assistance since the plight situation started, BEFORE all donors/media were already there.. too late for a voucher offer? I think so.

    • Juani Alvarez

      Dave, al least some one with some common sense and real knowledge. I know for a fact there were steps JetBlue could have taken but didnt care enough to do so. What United did for this family is commendable.

  • I doubt the parents knew they would be stranded for days and intentionally put their children in this situation. As far as Jet Blue is concerned, yeah they did something wrong and they know it. A multi million dollar company couldn’t spare a few dollars to at least get this family some food. This might be the way it is when you purchase tickets like that but still in yet when they knew this had been going on for days they should have stepped up at least as human beings and helped. For God sakes they can right it off as charity. I can’t stand to hear this struggling family is at fault. They had no way of knowing they would be there for days. But Jet Blue knew they were there. I’m sad to know these companies can stand to hold their heads up and say we did nothing wrong. No Jet Blue you only did what you were suppose to do, God forbid you go above and beyond to do something good for someone. You sicken me and I will NEVER travel with you again.

    • Jetblue did nothing wrong here. The problem lies entirely with the employee who gave this family the passes and the family themselves for trying to go standby on a flight that is almost always booked solid. You never fly standby without a backup plan and if you can’t figure one out then just don’t do it especially when you’re broke and have kids who are relying on you. It’s so frustrating to read such an impassioned opinion such as Tiffany’s about a subject she knows nothing about.

      • I want to make sure I understand Tiffany’s logic here:

        Parents accept ultra cheap standby tickets because they cant afford real tickets. This probably should have been their first clue not to involve their kids. They don’t evaluate the summer travel schedule before they drag their poor children on this nightmare of a trip. (a few phone calls would have saved them a lot of pain) They don’t prepare in any way for a back up plan knowing full well that they are on standby status. They can plan to go on vacation and yet not plan to have enough money to feed their children if their ticket scheme fails. And somehow Jet Blue is at fault? I cant break my brain bad enough to think this way. Next its going to be Jet Blues fault when they cancel the buddy pass program because morons have made the program a liability.

        • Juani Alvarez

          I dont understand why is everybody bashing the parents? Is it a crime to travel with no money? You are all refering to parents having no funds with such a disdain that is so sad….come on people more than half the population of the USA is POOR. The airline is at fault indeed, they could have offered a hotel room, if they were concerned about the kids safety, they could’ve also offered an I-75 or I-90 to another airline,JetBlue simply didnt care….yes my husband has been an airline employee for over 20 years, luckily not for Jet Blue they worry more about their reputation than the wellbeing of a family. As for the relative that gave them the vouches – instead a reprimand he deserves a medal, this person allowed a POOR family to have some sort of relaxation…some of you Well off crtitics should have come to the family assistance instead of bashing them for offering their kids some kind of travel experience. God help us with people like you.

          • Sounds like you and your husband should track them down and offer to pay for their next vacation. If I am hearing you right, this is what you expect Jet Blue to do for every poor person in the country. Nothing that you said changes the bad decisions these parents made concerning their children.

          • You are exactly right, Juani. For all we know, this is the only vacation these kids will ever take. Saying “they shouldn’t have gone” is an unfair opinion coming from people with privilege. I personally never took a single trip anywhere before the age of 18 because growing up we couldn’t afford to fly or even take a weekend vacation to a nearby town. It’s easy for people with money to view poor people as “bad people”, because it lets them off the hook. This family did nothing wrong, except for being uninformed about how hard it would be to find a flight home.

          • whitepapertiger

            These parents did EVERYTHING wrong. They packed up their family for a trip halfway across the country with no money set aside in case of emergencies and they got caught. Would you expect the airline to also pay for their child’s medicine if he was sick because the parents didn’t pack enough of that? It is not everybody else’s responsibility to pay for their vacation. I would bet that there are plenty of museums and parks near their home that they could go to that wouldn’t cost much if anything. The parents planned very poorly and they payed the price. There is nothing wrong with being poor. There IS something wrong with being stupid. We shouldn’t praise people who are, especially when they drag their kids into the mess.

          • whitepapertiger

            Growing up we only ever went on vacation once a year and it involved an 8 hour drive to my grandparents house. That was the only place we EVER went because we couldn’t afford to go anywhere else. I personally have never even flown because I can’t afford the tickets. Sometimes life sucks but you make due with what you have. These people tried to do something that was WAY out of their capability to pull off. Are we also supposed to feel bad for the people who bought giant houses that they couldn’t afford to pay for because “it may be the only house that they want to live in”? Your comment is one of the most self-centered I have ever read. Very few people get everything they want. That is life. Deal with it.

          • MKL

            If MORE THAN HALF THE POPULATION OF THE USA IS POOR….WHY are you flying on vacation. OWN UP to your own mistakes! They didn’t plan on an emergency…where is it everyone else fault? I am tired of the “oh woe is me”. If you can’t afford…stay home. A LOT of people do. By the way, since your husband is as airline employee of over 20 years…did HE or YOU or his employer help with this family? If not, why didn’t you give up one of your passes to help them???

          • Kristin Harley

            Um, is it a crime to go into a store with no money? Well, technically…no, but should you then expect someone to buy something for you? I don’t see more than half the population in the USA who is poor demanding free flights! Most people get by with emailed photos and Skype.

      • “about a subject she knows nothing about.” What a condescending response. You don’t need to be an aviation expert to know that it’s cruel to make a family sit for six days in an airport, regardless of what kind of tickets they have. Sometimes common sense has to trump policy. There are people who get paid to make sure companies avoid PR disasters like this, and JetBlue’s people failed in that regard, while United’s stepped up and scored bigtime.

        • Common Sense

          The family was being cruel then to make themselves vacation on standby. When are people going to take responsibility for themselves? These people are unfit to be parents!

    • Juani Alvarez

      I agree with you 150%,..Jet Blue could do something about it they simply didnt care for a poor family who could bring them no revenue. Ignore all those heartless comments of people who feel superior just because they have “money” to travel a different way; however could not offer to help a family in need they are prompt to critize the family and those who have a different opinion from their BUT are incapable of offer solutions without a judgment…God help them

    • Nicholas Palazzo

      Your comment reflects an expectation of the airline to do something out of their scope of business (remember that airlines transport people, just like Greyhound does). And, sleeping at an airport is no better than sleeping at a Greyhound bus terminal.

  • Tim Bracco

    I work for a major airline, and have not flown standby for 10 years now. Its not worth it anymore. Your at the mercy of the weather and other airlines. All it takes is one airline to cancel a flight to screw you. For example if you are flying standby to JFK to LA on airline A and airline B cancels their JFK to LA flight. Your screwed because airline B will send their passageners to airline A

  • Sorry, I’m not buying all this “JetBlue did nothing wrong” nonsense. Legally, that may be correct. But morally, and even from a simple PR standpoint, you don’t let a family sit for six days in an airport without food. It makes the company look like it’s run by heartless bastards. This was bound to blow up in JetBlue’s face. This is one of those situations where common sense should have trumped formal policy. Someone should have had either upgraded the family or found them a cheap hotel, if only to avoid the PR blow.

    • SandyLester

      One has to wonder why all those wonderful Mormons didn’t rush in to help them.

      • Michael Banks

        And I suppose you would have been able to spare 2400-6000 dollars for them? I actually don’t know that many people that can just give that kind of money away at a moments notice. Contrary to popular belief, not all mormons are freaking rich. In fact, I’m guessing the ratio of rich to poor is about the same as where you live. Maybe you should judge a bit less.

    • Common Sense

      You are encouraging people to blackmail companies into giving them things they are not entitled to. Your mentality reflects what’s wrong with our society – everyone just want something for nothing.

    • whitepapertiger

      So it’s the airlines responsibility to upgrade their tickets from free to paid status because they planned poorly? How about they stay closer to home next time and don’t run the risk of their children starving just so they can buy a post card from another city.

    • Seriously

      So what you’re saying is, JetBlue should kick paying passengers off a flight to accommodate this family who paid close to nothing for their tickets. There were NO SEATS AVAILABLE. If they are too poor to go on vacation, they shouldn’t go on vacation across the country. They can take a vacation that fits their budget. Maybe drive to the beach, drive home at the end of the day. Whatever they can actually afford. Vacations aren’t about the destination. They are about being with family. JetBlue is not responsible for idiotic people who don’t plan accordingly and don’t understand the concept of living within your means.

    • Nicholas Palazzo

      This is what gets me crazy: People will complain that air fares are expensive, and yet, they would like the airline to pay–or at the very least give up revenue–for a “family” whose adults were not thinking straight at the time of planning the vacation/trip, or did not plan at all.

      No, the airline did nothing wrong. Air travel is transportation, a very busy air transportation of people, so common that if you don’t know the rules, you should learn them ahead of time or face an uncountable number of obstacles that may impede you from getting from point A to point B.

      I agree with the reader who wrote that the employee should not have given the passes out under those circumstances. Still… I am having a hard time believing that the parents knew what they were getting into and played the “poor us”.

      Recently I was at the DMV. I had 50 people ahead of me, so the wait was long. The place was small, and with few seats available. There was this woman with a +- 18 month child in a stroller. The mother kept chatting and laughing, holding the child’s toys in her purse while the little girl screamed at the top of her lungs, out of boredom and attention. The mother did nothing. She was called to the window within minutes and got her business done sooner while we had to wait.

      I will help a mother when I see that help is not expected. I’m not so sure I would have helped this family.

  • ekaneti

    I am not sure some people here know what buddy passes are. They are space available with the lowest priority except for maybe ID 95s. JetBlue owes them nothing. No food no lodging nothing. They aren’t fare paying passengers. The fault lies with the dolt employee who gave them the passes in the first place. I’d never gives buddy passes to a family of 4 to a station with only one daily flight.

  • Jetblue offered them food and hotel vouchers. They declined.

  • mwhit

    Shame on you for judging the Saxtons!! Obviously those of you talking shit don’t have children or have plenty of money to spare. Either way, maybe you should have helpped them out. All they were trying to do was give their children a nice vacation. Not everyone can afford first class vactions.

    • Kristin Harley

      But mwhit, they had already been “helped out” when their neighbor gave them buddy passes in the first place – then, the airline and/or others are supposed to bail them out from that act of charity? That does not make sense. Yes, not everybody can afford first class vacations – I’m still paying off my flight home from DC because of my summer internship two years ago, and that was for work!

  • MakesMeMad

    I hope people understand that JetBlue has no responsibility. You fly for almost free IF you’re willing to stay behind. That is the deal! The family traveled without money. That was a mistake of their own part. The employee (by most airlines’ policy) should now be fired from the company for the unfair bad publicity.

  • TJ

    I spent 3 days in Houston Intercontinental Airport and I found a way to get a bar of soap so that I could wash every day. I mean really some just like to play the victim.

  • This family has some GOD DAMN NERVES!!!! WHY DONT U GET A JOB AND PAY FOR THE TICKETS. I worked for a hotel and a lot of JB crew members I meet were AWSOME!!!! How DARE this family call the media!!!!! Jetblue did NOTING WRONG. I have flown on Buddy Passes, now thanx to this broke ass family, theyF@#KED it up for everrrrrryone!!!!!!