Chief Executive Officer
27-01 Queens Plaza North
Long Island City, NY 11101
Dear JetBlue CEO Dave Barger:
I know you think it is all the fault of the 200th anniversary of the war of 1812, but I think it is your fault and I’ll tell you why.
Picture this. I am flying on July 4th from Boston to Pittsburgh on the 10:30 flight B6 1295. Its status is “on-time” until boarding time at the gate, when the big screen next to the desk says that in fact the plane will be departing at 11:15. Oh damn, we passengers mutter to each other, a 45-minute delay.
All around me in the terminal people are texting and calling folks in Pittsburgh to tell them about the delay, as I do myself. A waiting passenger sitting near me reports that the Jet Blue representative promises that the plane is coming over from the hangar. I ask her, “What, is it walking over?” There are, we later find out, mechanical problems. No passenger delights in seeing those two words linked.
I’m getting peckish and go off to forage for a snack. I steel myself with limits: I will only permit myself to be annoyed by one thing at a time (the delay), so I will meekly mortgage my car and pay $2.99 at the Hudson News for a miniscule bag of chips and $2.99 for a small bottle of cheap lemonade. I remember the days when delayed passengers were given food vouchers to spend around the airport.
I return to the gate to find the big display board announcing that we will be departing at one friggin’ o’clock. But wait. A Jet Blue supervisor takes over the announcements, telling us something like this: “Due to the war of 1812,” he intones, “we need to ask for your cooperation. The plane is being towed from the hangar in 15 minutes and we need to board you as expeditiously as possible. To celebrate 200 years, they are closing Boston airspace between 11:45 and 1:00 for a flyover by the Blue Angels. We want to start that show by getting you out of here before 11:45.” The display board continues to indicate that our flight is delayed until 1:00 as does Jet Blue’s website, a time at which countless held-up flights will likely be competing to get in and out.
I approach Joel (non-supervisor) at the desk to ask about the contradiction between what they are saying and what the board is saying, but he cops a rude attitude, saying he doesn’t control the board and can’t answer for its errors.
The board then changes its mind and says that we are departing at 11:40, cutting it very close to the supervisor’s stated fly-over deadline of 11:45. But hang on! Now it says that we will actually be boarding at 11:10. That would certainly make more sense, if it wasn’t already 11:27.
We do actually board at 11:45 – turns out the real deadline is noon – under an atmosphere of harried pressure. The supervisor makes tense announcements for everyone to hurry, quick, fast, let’s do this thing. Then the on-flight personnel push us to rush, stow those bags up, get out of the aisle, turn off your items, seatbelt yourself with all due hysteria, let’s start these engines.
But no, oh no, too late. No, we won’t be flying until after the air show.
We have just been told we cannot take off, says the pilot, but we’ll give you free water. Plus, feel free to use your digital devices. Almost immediately the four Blue Angels take off on our left, but that’s all we can see. The hapless lone flight attendant takes to the microphone and says that if anyone at all wants to get off the plane, ring their call bell and we will return to the terminal. Bells ring and others scream, “No! No!” Although no one really knows what he means, he says let’s try it again. Peer pressure imposes an unhappy silence.
Soon enough the pilot announces that he is going to taxi the plane to the harbor so that we can see the show. The water is filled with historic boats, the planes are doing maneuvers in the sky, and we will enjoy it all. Except for one thing. The pilot parks the plane directly facing the action in the harbor. He and his cabin mates have exclusive front row seats. Passengers see none of it. We on the left side of the plane are staring at concrete, and at a gaggle of airport employees who are out of their vehicles enjoying the show. We cannot see a plane or a boat, but the captain is having a great time. I am furious.
To add insult – literally – to injury, he offers to explain what the Blue Angels are. “They are blue and they are jets,” he says with great erudition, “And if you were more interested, you wouldn’t be flying out of Boston on the 4th of July in the first place.” I have my notebook out and take down this outrageous statement. At the end of the show, the pilot will sneer, “I hope you enjoyed the show.”
I would be remiss not to note that this happened in the same week that another Jet Blue pilot, Clayton F. Osbon, was found innocent of “interfering with a flight crew” on the grounds of insanity during a mid-air meltdown. I think a bit of serious training and vetting of your pilots might help you weed out the troubled men that seem to be plaguing your service.
Meanwhile, the cabin drama is unbearable. A cacophony of voices are once again calling disappointed Pittsburghers whose 4th of July plans are getting screwed up as a result of their friends and relatives being stuck in 1812. The families are freaking out: “Just tell us when we can light the charcoal!” Emotions are splashing all over the cabin. For example, there is the vociferously weepy woman across the aisle one row behind me whose “date” in Pittsburgh is furious that she had not anticipated this hiccup and flown in the night before. One cannot escape the general atmosphere of gnashing and gnawing caused by the airline’s unreliable communications and unrelenting rudeness.
When at last we land in Pittsburgh, the captain is at his door smiling at all of us as we exit. I tell him that he has some gall to drag us to the harbor for his personal entertainment. Without awaiting a response, I swivel to ask a flight attendant if a supervisor will be waiting for us. After all, this flight is significantly late and has been handled with a remarkable lack of professionalism.
Yes, there is Edward. Slovenly, uninterested, lolling against the wall as I deplane. “Are you the supervisor?” I ask. “Yeah,” he says. He doesn’t ask, “Can I help you?” He doesn’t even apologize for the delay. He seems downright annoyed that I’ve bothered him as he hovers right in the exit passage. I ask him how Jet Blue is going to compensate us and he says, “For what?” He seems to have no idea whatsoever that we’re regrettably late due to Jet Blue’s initial delay, but after he mumbles something about “airline ops” getting in touch, he settles back against the wall, his shirt askew, his face blank.
Edward may have been referencing your quite narrow “Customer Bill of Rights” (http://www.jetblue.com/flying-on-jetblue/customer-protection/) which offers miniscule payments for huge chunks of time. There are many more elements than time to good customer care, as I’ve tried to point out, but if you prefer to follow a strict hourly system, then please allow me to submit an invoice for my usual rates.
Dear Jet Blue CEO Dave Barger, the flight attendant in the cabin, the fellow at the door as I got off, and the supervisor all told me, when I asked about contacting a senior customer care expert at your company, to call the 1-800 number. I don’t want to devote more of my time to waiting for attention from Jet Blue. I want to talk to someone with enough punch to ensure that there is mitigation for passengers and consequences for the company. Please have your people call my people to arrange a talk with your top person. I don’t want this incident to launch the War of the 200th Anniversary of 1812.