I’ve Got the Jet Blue Blues
by John Delach
Before I begin my tale of woe I would be remiss not to send a shout out to Jet Blue for the prompt action they took in the face of Hurricane Irma in capping the price for flights out of Florida at $99 a ticket. That is a fine example of what an airline can and should do. Jet Blue stepped-up and did the right thing.
Jet Blue began flying on February 11, 2000 with first flights to Buffalo and Fort Lauderdale from JFK. I first flew with them in January of 2001to Orlando and I become a regular flyer in 2003. Jet Blue became my airline of record because of their outstanding service by friendly staff on new airplanes with spacious leg room at reasonable prices
I understood why Jet Blue had an edge on those “so called” legacy airlines, American, Delta and United. Jet Blue, Frontier, Spirit and, to some extent, Southwest, didn’t have the burden of retiree benefits and pensions, current senior flight staff and ground crews most who enjoyed similar union contracts and benefits and old operating concepts. These upstarts had none of this baggage or burdens. Jet Blue and Southwest used this advantage to improve customer service while Frontier and Spirit settled on offering low-cost flying garbage cans.
Jet Blue grew and grew. They cast off the obsolete terminal at JFK inherited from the late TWA and built a super base surrounding the old historic bird shaped terminal. Time marches on and the burden of employee benefits is coming due. I saw the first indication of slippage when they announced that they would charge for baggage for the first time. Southwest now stands alone in advertising bags fly free. Admittedly, Jet Blue still gives you one free bag, yet I worry this a sign of things to come.
I didn’t waiver and Jet Blue continued as my preferred airline. Unfortunately, this commitment has been tested by a major glitch on a flight I scheduled from Tampa to JFK. Rather than explain to you what happened, I offer you the letter I wrote to their CEO and President, Robin Hayes:
This past June I booked four round-trip tickets on your airline for travel to Tampa, FL leaving on Saturday, September 30 and returning on Monday, October 2.
The New York Football Giants are playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 4:30 on Sunday, October 1 and I will be attending this game with my son, Michael and his two boys, Andrew (17) and Matthew (15.)
Your airline has become my carrier of record since I retired in 2000 and I find the service to be better than any of the legacy airlines. I was pleased to find your schedule of flights to and from Tampa to be convenient. I was particularly happy with the return Flight 326 scheduled to leave Tampa 11:06 AM as this will give my family time to enjoy a post-game dinner. Therefore, I booked these flights through American Express.
You can imagine my shock and horror last Sunday when I received an email from AMEX advising that the ETD for Flight 326 had been changed to 6 AM. Seriously, is this your idea as to how to run an airline? A change of flight time of this magnitude is unconscionable just over a month prior to departure. Instead of a 9 AM wake-up call, it will now be for 3 AM.
For the record, your only other non-stop from TPA to JFK is #426 leaving at 8:55 PM.
Unfortunately, this is not my only bad experience with your airline. My wife and I were horribly delayed on both of our flights between JFK and Las Vegas last March, the first delay exceeding five hours and the second two hours.
I sense your quality of service slip-sliding away like so many others. Your new nickname should be JALA, Just Another Lousy Airline.
My daughter, Beth, prompted me to send an abbreviated version electronically to their customer relations department and two days later I received Jet Blue’s reply. Its essence was set out in the following sentence:
We’re able to offer accommodation on another JetBlue flight for the same or neighboring airport the day before, the day of or the day after your original flight.
I quickly ascertained Sarasota was nearest to Tampa but Orlando had multiple direct flights to JFK. I quoted that sentence to, Aaron, the Jet Blue agent I reached and as if by magic, I had four aisle seats booked on a flight leaving Orlando at 12:18 with no change in fare, add-ons or penalties. (I intend to fight rental car charges when all is done.)
Case closed, or so I thought but not quite. Enter Hurricane Irma! Everything hinges on Irma’s effects on Tampa…will Tampa be open for business now that Irma has passed? Two days ago, I would not be willing to bet the ranch on that. It appeared that despite my best efforts this could be a classic case of, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”
But the airport has re-opened and the Buccaneers confirmed this Sunday’s game against the Bears will be played at home in Raymond James Stadium. All I need now is to reach out to the Hampton Inn to confirm they are open and we will be good to go.