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Update: The Latest From JetBlue

Cindy Loose

UPDATE: If you've been following the JetBlue saga, here's the latest. The airline's new customer bill of rights is out, and there's at least one whopping surprise: A customer involuntarily bumped is entitled to $1,000.

As to the kind of delays that gave the usually well-regarded airline a black eye in the past week, JetBlue has more promises, and they go well beyond anything any other airline has ever promised. If a passenger experiences a ground delay of 30 to 60 minutes, they'll get a $25 voucher. One to two hours, the voucher jumps to $100. Two to three hours and they get a voucher equal to what they paid one way. More than three -- a round-trip voucher equal to what they paid for their roundtrip ticket. The rules say nothing about payment being contingent on the delay being JetBlue's fault.

And by the way, after five hours JetBlue will "take the necessary action so passengers can deplane." Makes you wonder why they can't do that after four hours, or three, as a new consumer group is demanding of all airlines.

If the other airlines didn't already hate JetBlue for last week's publicity and the heat it's brought to the industry, I think they'll hate them now for setting this particular set of new standards --- unless of course the promises derail congressional action.

Here's what I reported earlier:

Mea culpa, pleads JetBlue in what seems to be a sincere effort to win back the trust of passengers after leaving hundreds stranded on the tarmac for up to 10 hours during last week's storm. Following that debacle was a weekend fraught with flight cancellations as the airline scurried to catch up to the backlog.

The airline promises to unveil a new internal passenger bills of rights this afternoon. We'll update as soon as the document is released, but meanwhile, one element has already leaked: JetBlue will promise to give passengers a $25 voucher whenever a flight arrives at least a half-hour late; $100 for flights one to two hours late; a one-way ticket if flights are two-three hours late; and a round-trip ticket if a flight is more than four hours late.

We have to assume that the payments will be made only if JetBlue feels a delay is its fault. Weather delays usually don't fall into that category, but JetBlue founder David G. Neeleman has already admitted that it wasn't just the weather that got JetBlue into such a jam. The payments are said to be retroactive for the stranded passengers from the recent storm, so obviously the airline isn't just blaming the weather. (You can check the JetBlue Web site for a message from the tired-looking chairman.)

It's pretty clear JetBlue should have canceled more flights rather than load up planes and let people sit. Of course the leaked element of the promised passenger bill of rights doesn't directly address that scenario -- and who doesn't believe that sitting on the tarmac is way worse than a merely late flight?

Neeleman promised improvements in several areas, putting the cost at $20 million to $30 million for doing things like tripling the size of the staff responsible for pairing up available crew with planes ready to roll, and paying inconvenienced customers.

The big question remains: Will Jet Blue's bill of rights help head off a campaign to get Congress to impose a passenger bill of rights on all airlines? That push, dropped in the wake of 9/11, got picked up again six weeks ago by a determined woman spurred into action by being kept on an American Airlines plane for six hours, without moving. The JetBlue fiasco undoubtedly gave her great new fuel.

But will a government edict help? What do you think?

By Cindy Loose |  February 20, 2007; 12:16 PM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , Cindy Loose
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I want to know why any particular airline has to be responsible for de-planing passengers? If I'm stuck at Dulles, why can't the airport manager send busses out to deplane people. If airports have supplies of busses (many do, like for transportation to rental car areas), why can't these vehicles be used after a certain amount of time, say, 2 hours, to deplane passengers from any airplane stranded on a runway? This way, airlines are working in conjunction with airports to make sure that all passengers, whether on planes or not, are treated in the best fashion possible.

Posted by: glover park | February 20, 2007 3:44 PM

Anybody notice how quickly the airlines spokesmen started saying that a passenger's Bill of Rights wasn't necessary?

If ever there is a sign something is necessary, it's when the corporate shills try to make a case that it isn't. Too bad the average person can't contribute big bucks, and wine and dine the legislators the same way the airlines do.

Posted by: DC | February 20, 2007 4:21 PM

I worry that JetBlue will have financial incentives that conflict with safety. Reasons that a flight might be delayed would include the plane having mechanical problems or the pilots too tired from previous flights. If facing thousands of dollars in payments, JetBlue might be a position where safety is compromised. I think the first article in the Passengers Bill of Rights must be that safety comes first.

Posted by: Richard | February 20, 2007 5:11 PM

I've flown Jet Blue a number of times and have been very pelased with the experience. I have to believe that the situation at JFK last week was an aberration, and it won't prevent me from flying with them again. That said, there is absolutely no way I would have been able to tolerate 10 hours on the tarmac, even in those comforable seats. I absolutely agree with Richard that safety comes first, and that forking over thousands of dollars might very well tip the scales towards a poor decision, however no airline should be permitted to hold passengers prisoner. There has to be a solution that will take into consideration both the safety and the freedom of those on board.

Posted by: Karen | February 20, 2007 5:21 PM

I find all the news about JetBlue very entertaining. Just 6-8 weeks ago both United and Frontier were in the media spotlight for the fiasco at Denver. The only difference is most people weren't surprised about it.

Posted by: BlogBunny | February 20, 2007 6:17 PM

The old Braniff Airways had a program at one point in the 1960s much like what JetBlue is proposing for paying passengers a penalty if a flight arrived late. A fatal accident near Dallas was attributed in part to the flight crew's choice to fly directly through a line of thunderstorms rather than diverting around it as all other carriers were doing. It's pure speculation, but pilots have suggested that the crew's awareness of the financial penalty the airline would suffer for a late arrival may have put pressure on them to continue their direct routing through the storms.

Posted by: Scott | February 20, 2007 8:37 PM

I commend what JetBlue is attempting to do. Withourt seeing the fine print I am not sure it will work.

irst problem is the risk passangers over airline financial savings.

The airline is using what amounts to monopoly money if it bellies up.

What happens if something along the line of 9/11 occurs again.

What happens if they delay the flight--only to cancel it would the7y still pay.

With it a smaller airline with a fragile schedule, a problem at one airport will spread.

How much time prior to a flights departure is if its cancelled only after many arrive and check their bags will the passangers be compoensated?

Congress needs to change the rules. How hard is it to enter an earmark into a bill that would state: In case of emergency, flight cancelations, serios flight delays (exceding 2 hours) passangers are allowed to leave the plame on the tarmack and walk to a gate.


Posted by: djp | February 20, 2007 11:15 PM

I don't money back! At the same time, I don't want to sit on a runway for more than 2 hours. As a matter of fact, I never want to be stranded on an Interstate for more than 24 hours...but look...that happened last week in Pennsylvania! Bad decisions get made, but throwing money isn't gonna make me feel better. Here's a much better idea -- JetBlue should keep $100 per passenger in a "break in case of emergency" cabinet. Then if you are ever stuck on a runway -- the passengers can break the case - wave the cash in the window -- and give it to the first bus that can get them off the plane. I suspect - we'll have no trouble de-planing. Keep your money! Just get me off the plane!

Posted by: Fwong | February 20, 2007 11:29 PM

The overbook thing is a red herring - jetBlue previously made a HUGE deal about the fact that they don't play the overbook game and their bump stats from DOT bear this out. I'm surprised, Cindy, that you'd fall for that one. It's easy to promise the moon when you don't actually expect to have to pay up. The focus should be on the real meat (if any) of the proposal.

Posted by: jsp | February 21, 2007 9:49 AM

I have to say that I'm pleased with how JetBlue has handled this: they've stepped up, said that they made mistakes (and not via passive-voice "mistakes were made" statements, either), and proposed ways to both fix the problems and compensate customers if problems occur again. I also don't think there will be issues with any financial disincentive to safe flight operations, since the people ultimately making the go/no go decision will be on the plane, too.

What I don't want to see is Congress getting involved and creating a pretty-sounding piece of legislation that on the surface grants better consumer protections but in practice is just a warm, fuzzy piece of corporate CYA-wear.

Posted by: BxNY | February 21, 2007 4:29 PM

Funny you should mention the de-planing issue, gloverpark. Happened to me last night (Feb. 20) at Reagan. Our flight touched down around 11:55 (about 10 minutes behind schedule), whereupon the pilot managed to plow the plane into the only patch of snow and ice apparent at the airport. Result? We were stuck, unable to move. Then the endless back and forth (as related to us by the flight attendant) about whether they would tow the aircraft out or de-plane us. It was finally decided to send buses out (along with four firetrucks) and move a stairway up to the back of the plane. But long after those preparations--which were apparent to all passengers--were made, we continued to sit on the plane. Finally, at about 1:20, we were allowed off the plane and boarded buses for the 300-yard ride to the terminal.

And the kicker? The pilot announced several times that, while he was sorry as could be that this had happened, a Northwest Airlines jet had done the exact same thing at the exact same spot (and with much the same results) a few hours earlier.

Oh, by the way, no one bothered to wait around and see how long it would take to get our luggage unloaded. Good thing, too, because my bags were checked in at the baggage facility around 4:30 in the morning. However, as I write this, it's 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 21st...any my luggage still hasn't been delivered to me.

Wonder what this kind of inconvenience would be worth at JetBlue?

Posted by: Su Hallenbeck | February 21, 2007 8:35 PM

Funny you should mention the de-planing issue, gloverpark. Happened to me last night (Feb. 20) at Reagan. Our flight touched down around 11:55 (about 10 minutes behind schedule), whereupon the pilot managed to plow the plane into the only patch of snow and ice apparent at the airport. Result? We were stuck, unable to move. Then the endless back and forth (as related to us by the flight attendant) about whether they would tow the aircraft out or de-plane us. It was finally decided to send buses out (along with four firetrucks) and move a stairway up to the back of the plane. But long after those preparations--which were apparent to all passengers--were made, we continued to sit on the plane. Finally, at about 1:20, we were allowed off the plane and boarded buses for the 300-yard ride to the terminal.

And the kicker? The pilot announced several times that, while he was sorry as could be that this had happened, a Northwest Airlines jet had done the exact same thing at the exact same spot (and with much the same results) a few hours earlier.

Oh, by the way, no one bothered to wait around and see how long it would take to get our luggage unloaded. Good thing, too, because my bags were checked in at the baggage facility around 4:30 in the morning. However, as I write this, it's 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 21st...any my luggage still hasn't been delivered to me.

Wonder what this kind of inconvenience would be worth at JetBlue?

Posted by: Su Hallenbeck | February 21, 2007 8:38 PM

I think this is an actual example of the market taking care of passengers. I give Jet Blue credit for trying to focus on their customers. They admit that they screwed up in trying to help and only made it into a big mess. They're now at least quickly recogizing that they need to repair the relationship.
I can tell you that this was certainly not my experience with Delta where there service declined. My final straw with them was when they lost my bag on a simple non-stop route and treated me like dirt. I'm sure that if Delta had similar weather problems, they would have done their usual blame the customers routine; it's the passengers' fault for planning to fly that day.
I can see where there may be cynicism regarding Jet Blue's motives, but at least they're trying and are focused on the customers which is more than can be said for lots of the old dinosaur airlines.

Posted by: Former Delta customer | February 22, 2007 2:17 PM

I think this is an actual example of the market taking care of passengers. I give Jet Blue credit for trying to focus on their customers. They admit that they screwed up in trying to help and only made it into a big mess. They're now at least quickly recogizing that they need to repair the relationship.
I can tell you that this was certainly not my experience with Delta where their service declined and declined. My final straw with them was when they lost my bag on a simple non-stop route and treated me like dirt. I'm sure that if Delta had similar weather problems, they would have done their usual blame the customers routine; it's the passengers' fault for planning to fly that day.
I can see where there may be cynicism regarding Jet Blue's motives, but at least they're trying and are focused on the customers which is more than can be said for lots of the old dinosaur airlines.

Posted by: Former Delta customer | February 22, 2007 2:18 PM

glovepark are you into socialism? you want to depend on the govt to solve your problmes? did you know the port authority of new york will not be owning the freedom tower. Can you guess why?

Posted by: smartguy | February 24, 2007 4:18 AM

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