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Airlines Don’t Take Airplane Jet Bridge Accidents Seriously, But You Should

Airline passenger injuries on jet bridges are an all-too-common occurrence. The jet bridge (jetbridge) can be called by many names, including, jet way (jetway), gangway, tunnel, or airplane bridge or airplane ramp. Its official name is passenger boarding bridge. Simply, it connects the airport terminal building to the passenger door of the aircraft allowing passengers to board or get off the airplane. While simple in concept, jet bridges are more complex than they seem. Accidents occurring on jet bridges are one of the highest underreported types of injuries in the airline industry.

Jet bridges can either be stationary (fixed) or mobile. The most common are mobile jet bridges which are semi-permanently connected to the airport terminal building, but are moveable on the other end to pair up with different size and types of airplanes. Mobile jet bridges are found at almost every commercial airport in the United States and throughout the world and they exist primarily to increase aircraft turn-around times by providing for all-weather passenger boarding (enplaning) and disembarking (deplaning) in the fastest manner possible.

Jet bridges come in several different designs, but all of them share three recognizable primary components: (a) the cab, (b) the rotunda, and (c) the tunnel section. The cab serves as the part of the jet bridge that meets the aircraft. It’s most recognizable from the bellows (the umbrella-like extendable curtain that protects the airplane door). The rotunda is the round, rotating section of the passenger boarding bridge. The last section is the tunnel. The tunnel is the long telescoping rectangular walkway that extends and retracts.

Why aren’t the airlines doing anything about airplane jet bridge injuries?

There are two simple answers to why airlines are not doing enough when a person is hurt on a jetway. Time and money.

With hub and spoke connection systems, most airline crew members of legacy airlines (this includes airlines like, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and United Airlines) are in the same mad rush to get to their next flight. They may feel that the passenger who gets injured on the jet way is the responsibility of the airline’s gate agent (the person working the boarding counter near the door to the jet way) and do little to nothing to help the injured airline passenger. And, because the time an airplane sitting on the ground is wasting money for the airline, the gate agent is not supervising the passengers getting off the airplane, but instead is checking-in the passengers who will soon be boarding the outgoing flight.

As a result, the airport or airline doesn’t make an accident report for the hurt airline passenger. A supervisor doesn’t review the jet bridge for positioning errors, operational mistakes, trip and fall hazards, and defects. The names of eyewitnesses are not collected and quickly forgotten. The passenger doesn’t get the help or first aid she requires. And, passenger injuries resulting from falls, trips and slips on jetways are never properly and fully addressed as a passenger safety concern for airlines.

Money also factors into the matter. Airline gate agents are the airline employees responsible for operating and lining-up the jet bridge evenly so that it is level and safe. They are also required to inspect the jetway. But, the gate agents are also tasked with getting arriving passengers unloaded and departing passengers loaded in the fastest amount of time possible (known as the “turn”) and they don’t adequately inspect and supervise the jet bridge deplaning process. As a result, dangerous conditions on the jet bridge go unaddressed, and passengers become injured, because time is money. Airlines could hire or assign another employee to ease the burden on overworked gate agents. But too often they don’t. Airlines don’t tell the public, but they sometimes directly or indirectly punish gate agents whose flights are not “turned” quickly. The “turn” is the time it takes from the arrival of the flight at the gate, letting all the passengers off and then boarding the outbound passengers and closing the airplane door.

Five common ways passengers are hurt on an airplane jet bridge.

Passengers can get hurt in many different ways on an airport jet bridge. One such serious jet bridge accident with multiple victims occurred in Baltimore, Maryland on December 30, 2018, when six Southwest Airlines passengers were seriously injured while getting off a Southwest Airlines flight.

Although structural failures with mass casualties are not a regular occurrence, some of the more common injuries occur from airline employees failing to maintain, inspect, observe and monitor the condition and activities. These include:

  • Falls in the jet bridge tunnel section, either through misaligned and uneven portions, unmarked alleys (the depressed sides of the jet bridge tunnel section on which the extending and retracting sections of the tunnel move back and forth, poor lighting, weather elements (water, ice buildup, debris, airline equipment improperly stacked);
  • Overcrowding, failure to control passengers crowded in the jet bridge and sometimes grouped together (waiting for carryon bags, strollers, or other passengers in the tunnel) resulting in a passenger falling into the alley
  • Uneven, mislevel or gaps between the aircraft door and the jet bridge floor. These frequently occur when the jet bridge is not correctly matched with the airplane door. In some cases, even though a jet bridge auto levelers is used, they sometimes fail or are not inspected and/or operated correctly.
  • Incline too steep. With airlines moving to more and more regional jets, the jet bridges at many airports designed for mid-size and larger jets, resulting in an incline too steep and dangerous for the passengers, particularly elderly passengers.
  • Missing sections or pieces on a jet bridges or air stairs. Airlines need a way to get passengers off the airplane and may sometimes operate a jet bridge with important components that are not fully set up for airline passengers or even have missing pieces or sections.

Remember these four suggestions if you are hurt on an airline jet bridge or ramp.

  1. You obviously need to address any immediate medical help that you, your family member or travelling companion require. Be careful of making blanket statements such as “it’s ok, I am alright,” when you’re not 100% sure. Many people, either because of “not wanting to cause a scene,” embarrassment, or attracting unwanted attention, brush off their injuries, refuse help on the scene, only to find out later that the initial pain and injury are something much worse.
  2. Make sure the airline or airport workers do an accident report. If you’re not sure they’re doing one—ask them. While you probably will not get a copy without your attorney filing a lawsuit first, you will start a process within the airline that will help document the situation. In our aviation law practice, we’ve seen many airlines and airline insurance representatives tell us that the airline has no record of the event even happening. As a Florida Bar Certified Aviation Attorney, Mark Kelley Schwartz, knows how to address that situation.
  3. You or a member of your traveling party should try as much as possible to document the scene, without interfering with airline workers or emergency personnel. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to make a Ken Burns documentary, but if you or a family member can take a picture using your phone’s camera of the condition of the jetway that caused the injury, this will go a long way to documenting and supporting your claim or lawsuit. Try and get the names of those people that assist you, if only to thank them later or write a nice email to their supervisor.
  4. Did any fellow passengers witness you getting injured? While you may not be able to get their names, try to remember how many rows away you were seated. Were they seated in front of you n the airplane or behind you? To the right or the left? Again, this can assist an attorney with locating possible witnesses, if you have a case.

Why you need a board certified aviation attorney to represent you when hurt on an airline jet bridge.

There are many attorneys who advertise or have websites asserting that they practice in the field of aviation law, if only to refer you out to another attorney who regularly practices and specializes in aviation law.

But, why not speak directly to the attorney who may be handling the matter in the first instance by calling Mark Schwartz? Mark is a Board Certified Aviation Attorney (FL), a specialist representing people hurt by airline negligence on a nationwide and international basis. Mark is available for free telephone or zoom consultations if you or a loved one have been seriously injured while getting on or off of commercial airline flight.