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JetBlue chooses not to censor on-board TV

Airline leaves satellite TV service running, even as emergency-landing video plays over and over.

ABOARD JETBLUE FLIGHT 248--High above California on Wednesday night, I was taking this JetBlue flight from Long Beach to Oakland.

Like most other passengers, I was acutely aware that another JetBlue plane had survived a nationally televised emergency landing at the Los Angeles International Airport just hours earlier.

How did I know? Because JetBlue's on-board satellite television screens played the landing ad nauseam.

Numerous news reports about the nerve-wracking landing of JetBlue flight 292--which took off from Burbank, Calif., and was supposed to land at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport--mentioned that passengers had eerily watched their own plane circling over Southern California on the satellite television the airline provides, as experts and commentators pondered its fate.

Even in the age of ubiquitous and instant communication, the situation was likely unprecedented.

Less than three hours later, passengers aboard JetBlue flight 248 were also able to watch as channels such as MSNBC played, over and over, video footage of the Los Angeles landing, in which no one was injured despite a fiery shower of sparks as its malfunctioning landing gear burned up.

The fact that the television service was not turned off on my flight--let alone on the fight that had actually had the mechanical problems--was a surprise to some of my fellow passengers, given that airlines have long been reluctant to show movies or any other video involving airplanes in distress.

On MSNBC, one passenger from flight 292 told an interviewer, "I was surprised that they kept the televisions on because some people were getting (agitated) and shaking their heads" as they watched-?live--what was happening to them.

Bryan Baldwin, a JetBlue spokesman, told CNET late Wednesday that the airline generally does not stop its passengers from watching the satellite television.

"Our general policy is not to censor the programming pretty much under any circumstance," Baldwin said. "That's our general policy across the board. We provide customers information on how to make the screen dark if there's something they don't want to watch."

But for at least one passenger aboard my flight, the choice of whether to make the video go dark was not his own. Noticing me intently watching the news coverage of the emergency landing was unsettling for him.

"I don't know if I want to watch that," the passenger told me as he saw the video of the emergency landing again and again on my screen.

Baldwin said JetBlue's policy does take such a situation into consideration.

"We still leave it up to our customers to make the appropriate decisions for themselves based on their feelings or those feelings or reactions customers around them may be having," he said.

However, Baldwin noted, a flight crew likely does have the discretion to override the company's policy.

"I think we probably would leave it up to the crew if there (are) any specific or unusual circumstances," he said. "I believe it would make sense to have the crew make the decision on each aircraft as appropriate, based on the situation on board."

Given that the crew of malfunctioning flight 292 had not exercised such discretion, according to news reports, until a few minutes before landing, it's hard to imagine when a crew would decide to cut off TV service.

On the popular Web site Americablog Wednesday night, readers were asked, "Would YOU let the passengers on that plane watch the live news coverage of their predicament from their seats?"

Reaction was mixed.

"No, because I wouldn't want to risk panicking the passengers, especially if they're already on edge," wrote Tireiron Chef. "I would probably let them call their families, though."

Another reader disagreed.

"I really think that if I were a passenger, I would want to see what was actually happening," posited Walt in L.A. "Of course, I say that now, because everything I was hearing on TV led me to have more hope that this (while an emergency) was something that the flight crew was well-trained for."

Meanwhile, Baldwin said JetBlue had issued communications to all its crew members Wednesday evening about the situation in Los Angeles.

But when my flight landed safely in Oakland, I asked a crew member about the television coverage, and he said he wasn't aware that anything amiss had happened.