Feeling 'Jet' Blue During the Holidays

Contributor:  Gina Scanlon
Posted:  01/12/2011  12:00:00 AM EST
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You may recall the dire weather the Northeast experienced during the holidays, making it challenging to fly. Unfortunately I was one of many who had a difficult time returning home before New Years. But did it have to be as difficult?

I begin my tale with a mildly chilly December evening in central Florida. I was set to fly out of the Orlando International Airport on the 28th, arriving in Newark. Having been forewarned by some friends back in New York that I may experience problems upon return, I was prepared for the worst. On my way to the airport, I attempted to call Jet Blue’s customer service line to check on delays, cancellations, and weather news.

This was the first hiccup in my Jet Blue experience. I can understand that all airlines were probably at full capacity due to weather complications, and were having a hard time handling calls. However, not only did the Jet Blue line not let me stay on hold for a rep, an automated voice told me that the lines were all busy and to try calling back another time.

In other words, the automated system hung up on me.

I was not the only customer concerned about this specific issue. I overheard other customers talking about it at the airport, and openly mocking the Jet Blue attendant when they suggested they call their 1-800 customer information line.

After arriving at Jet Blue check-in, the departures screen read that my flight was delayed an hour, from 9:30 pm to 10:30 pm. Okay, no big deal, at least it wasn’t canceled, as a few other Jet Blue flights had already been. 

While checking my bag, I asked the Jet Blue attendant if there was a chance this flight could be canceled. He looked at where the plane was coming from and assured me my plane would fly out. So I proceeded to the gate. But just as I was about to step through security, I glanced at the large departure screen above me, where my flight now read 11:45 pm. I felt it might be best to wait around for a while to see if it continued to change.

The flight indeed continued to push back, from 11:45pm to 12:30am, from 12:30am to 1:15am, and finally from 1:15am to 2:45 am. At this point we were all very doubtful our plane would lift off, but members of the Jet Blue staff at the gate were informing us that they hadn’t gotten the go-ahead to cancel. And until canceled, of course, there was no hope for a refund. So we remained stuck.

It was later, through word of mouth (since the line was so long) that I found out the delay was due to a lack of a pilot and full crew, and that Newark was cleared for incoming flights. This, of course, sounded borderline comical to its prospective passengers.

The rationale behind this decision may have proved helpful, instead of simply giving us free cookies at 2 in the morning. Around this time, a Jet Blue associate got on the loudspeaker as we all braced ourselves for the word ‘canceled,’ but instead he told us we would be flying out as planned at 2:54am. I have never heard so many cheers that early in the morning outside of a bar.

Unfortunately the tale does not end here.

About 10 minutes go by. Everyone is busy calling their friends and family letting them know they will be coming home after all when the dreaded loudspeaker comes on again. This time, it was the prospective pilot of the plane, letting us know it will be canceled after all as they couldn’t gather enough crew needed for the flight.

At this point, everyone rushed into line that seemed miles long to get their refund, since most people didn’t want to reschedule for January 2nd or 3rd, the earliest dates available through Jet Blue.

What could Jet Blue have done differently?

1.Detail and communication is key

No one can stop the weather, but I couldn’t help but think if only Jet Blue would have been more transparent through the process, and not quite so vague, we customers wouldn’t have been so disappointed. If there is a natural disaster, or if there are mass cancellations and delays due to weather, wouldn’t it be beneficial to temporarily extend your call center operations? There is such a thing as a contingency plan, right? Also, not being able to get a crew together is quite an embarrassing reason not to fly a plane; especially when Newark was clear to receive arrivals.

2. Backtracking will only get you in deeper

I would have appreciated more reliable information, considering two things I was told were ‘certainties’ ended up being false.  A. Check-in Point: The attendant prematurely told me that the flight would most definitely be departing. B. The attendant on the loudspeaker who announced we would be flying out only to backtrack 10 minutes later.

3. Cookies don’t equal satisfaction

Providing customers who have been waiting for seven hours with oatmeal raisins is hardly the way to our hearts. In fact it almost came off as disingenuous. I truly believe that all the customer wants in special circumstances is to be communicated to thoroughly and on a constant basis, to be told the truth, and to be treated fairly.

What do you think about this particular experience? What would you have done differently if you were the Jet Blue management team?

  Like what you read? Check out Pat This: TSA vs. the Airline Customer 

 

Gina Scanlon Contributor:   Gina Scanlon


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