Failure is simply the non-presence of success. But a fiasco is a disaster of epic proportions.
Last week (January 24-29) in New York dawned cold but relatively dry. By Friday, Snowstorm Kenan was blowing toward us, and weekend travel into and out of the city was going to be an adventure. Little did we realize it would actually be a fiasco.
Let me say at the beginning that I get there are going to be delays when the weather is bad. As much as I whine when delays smash my travel plans, I really don’t get angry. There’s no way anyone can control weather, so why stress? When I’ve been on delayed flights in the past, the airlines have tried to make things more palatable with food vouchers, hotels, and more.
I also know that everyone has an airline story and reason they do not one or the other. I get it. Stressed flight attendants and gate agents can turn anyone off quickly. Lost and damaged luggage can upset us. The JetBlue fiasco over the weekend, though, was so much more than that.
It Started Out Okay
By Thursday evening, we’d heard that Kenan was going to hit the east coast on Saturday. Early on Friday, JetBlue notified us that they had canceled our 11:15 am flight out of JFK and put us on a 4:30 pm flight. That was fine with us as it meant we could sleep in a bit longer.
We headed out to Come From Away, our favorite Broadway show, and by the time we got back, JetBlue advised us that they had canceled that 4:30 flight. Our new flight was now 4:30 pm on Sunday. We were grateful for that early notice as it allowed us to book another night at the conference hotel, the Courtyard by Marriott Midtown.
I need to point out here that the Marriott really stepped up to help us. Because we were basically stuck, they could have charged us a fortune to stay that extra night. Zack, the front desk clerk who helped us Friday evening, spoke with his manager, and they gave us a substantial discount. They also re-booked our airport transportation and allowed us a late check-out. Service is important.
We did what we could to enjoy the snow on Saturday. Actually, we went out in it twice—once for coffee and once for dinner. There is a reason I live where the weather is warm.
Things Start to Go Downhill
By Sunday morning, the sun was out, and the streets were clear. Our flight showed on-time departure when we left the hotel at 12:30. Since we had a few hours by the time we checked in, we decided to eat lunch before we went to the gate. It was during lunch that JetBlue informed us by email that our flight was delayed. Instead of leaving at 4:30, we could expect to leave at 10:35. “We’re working hard to reduce this delay,” they wrote, “so we ask that you still arrive at the airport for your original departure time.”
We were still not upset because things happen. We had an opportunity to enjoy lunch, stroll the terminal, and get to our gate with hours to “relax.”
We were sitting at our gate (the second as they had changed us) at 6:30 when we received another email advising that we would now be leaving from a different gate at 8:35. En masse, those of us on the Tampa flight trooped down to the new gate and sat, excited that we would be leaving earlier than expected.
At 8:35, we were still at the gate, and the display still showed an 8:35 departure. The passengers on the flight that was supposed to leave before ours were still sitting at the gate, also. Around 9 pm or so, a gate agent announced that the plane for that flight had arrived, but there was another plane blocking the gate. As soon as they could move that plane, bring in the other plane, disembark, clean, and re-board, they would load that flight. The plane for *our* flight to Tampa had still not arrived, she continued. Once it did, they would let us know.
At 9:15 or so, JetBlue finally updated our departure screen to show a flight time of 9:40. About 20 minutes later, they changed our gate for the fourth time, and we all charged down the hall to Gate 17. We knew that there was no way we were leaving at 9:40, and soon the board advised our flight was to leave at 10:20. I looked out the window and saw that there was a plane there. “The lights are off,” I informed Mike. “They’re going to cancel us,” he replied.
The Lady in the Wheelchair
Every few minutes, I’d walk over to the window to see if they had turned the plane lights on or not. On one of my trips over, an older woman in a wheelchair grabbed at me and shoved her phone in my hand. “No speak English,” she cried. “Daughter.” I took the phone, and the woman’s frantic daughter was on the other end.
“My mother does not speak English,” she said. “She was supposed to be here, but she’s still in New York. She has no idea what is going on.” Thinking that her mother was on our flight, I told the woman her mother was at the gate. “But JetBlue told me they canceled her flight,” she screamed.
“The flight to Tampa is still delayed,” I explained. “They have not canceled us.”
“No,” she continued, “she is supposed to be on a flight to Syracuse. They canceled it two hours ago. I’ll drive the three hours to get her, but I don’t even know how to get to her.”
“There is absolutely no one from JetBlue in the vicinity,” I told her, “but I will see what I can do.” I was not optimistic.
I told Mike what was going on, and he walked up to the desk and started picking up the phone and fooling around. Very quickly, a JetBlue employee showed up and told him that Mike was in a secured area, get out and stay out and he had no idea what was going on and that they were working on it and be patient. He started to hoof it away from the gate, and I almost tackled him.
“This poor woman has been sitting here since they canceled her flight two hours ago,” I less-than-politely said to him. “She does not speak English. Talk to her daughter.” The woman handed him her phone, and he spoke with the daughter. It took another 20 minutes or so, but someone finally came and took the mother away.
By then, it was 10:00, and they advised our flight would leave at 11:00 pm. Of course, there were still no lights on in the plane. “They’re going to cancel us,” Mike repeated.
At 11:36, I received an email that they had, indeed, canceled our flight.
Night at the
Like a thundering herd, we all took off down the hall to the baggage area. While those who had checked bags had to pick up their luggage, Mike and I went down there to try to find a hotel. We did not have any luck, so we decided to go to the TWA Hotel which is in Terminal 5 (the JetBlue terminal). I knew that JetBlue would rebook us on a flight, so I didn’t want to stand in line.
The TWA Hotel was full, so we stumbled to the lounge. As we went to sit, a guy came running over. “You cannot sit there,” he exclaimed. “This is for hotel guests who pay to sit here.” I looked around at the 20 or more empty seating areas. As it was midnight, there were no hotel guests in sight because they were in their comfortable beds. “Go to the food court,” he told us. “There! There!” He pointed down a hall.
We dragged ourselves and luggage to the cold, stark, bright, and loud (60s music blared from the ceiling speakers) food court. By the time we sat down, I had an email from JetBlue announcing that they had, indeed, rebooked us on an 8:00 flight the next morning. Not bad except that they were flying us to Sarasota, not Tampa.
I. Was. Done.
I left Mike and stormed back into the terminal and up to JetBlue’s customer assistance counters. There were about 20 passengers in line (which was good considering the hundreds that had been there earlier) and five agents working. In front of me were a couple and their three young—and very tired and hyper—children. They had been trying to find a place for the kids to sleep for the hour since our flight was canceled, and JetBlue had basically told them they were on their own. They were not happy to begin with, but things got very tense when a JetBlue employee told the children to “just sit down and be quiet.”
“Next!” a customer service agent shouted.
That was moi.
Can I Help
Make You More Uncomfortable?
I don’t want to go through a blow-by-blow account of the almost two-and-a-half hours I spent actually with customer service, but it was there that I decided JetBlue was really at fault for all of this. I will also admit that while I was polite at the beginning of my encounter with Troy (the CS agent), I was terse. I basically said that while I understood weather delays, I was not happy with what was going on.
“I am going to miss a doctor’s appointment in the morning because of this,” I explained. “I need to get home.”
“Madam,” Troy said to me, “we have put you on another flight tomorrow morning.”
“We don’t live in Sarasota,” I replied. He glared at me. “If you cannot put us on a JetBlue flight to Tampa, please put us on an American flight. There are two first thing in the morning.”
“We have you on the first flight to Sarasota in the morning,” he repeated. It was my turn to glare at him.
It was also time to raise my voice. “We. Do. Not. Live. In. Sarasota,” I enunciated loudly for him. “How are we going to get to our car at Tampa International? You going to drive us, or will we have to walk? And, anyway, it’s already delayed. Get us on a flight to Tampa.”
Without saying a word, he picked up the phone, punched in a number, tapped a few keys on his computer, and turned away from me. It was 12:03 am.
The St. Lucia Flight
By 1:45 am, Troy, who was supposedly still on hold, was the only agent on the desk. He had not said a word to me in over an hour-and-a-half. Suddenly, a large group of people crowded the area. They wanted to talk to JetBlue customer service. “We don’t open until 2:30,” Troy grumbled. The crowd grumbled back.
“They told us you opened at 1:30,” a woman yelled. Two other agents who had reported for duty were standing near us, and they laughed. “Told you wrong,” the woman whispered. Troy repeated that they opened at 2:30.
A large man in the crowd came up to the barriers and addressed the three agents standing there. “We were on a flight from St. Lucia that got diverted to LaGuardia,” he said. “JetBlue bused us over here to catch the 2:15 flight to Boston. We need to get to check our luggage and get to the gate.”
The shouts went back and forth for a few minutes. The passengers, rightly upset, became more enraged when the second male agent told them they would have to catch the 11:00 am flight to Boston because JetBlue had “…held the 2:15 flight too long already.” It was about 1:53.
“YOU bused us here so we could take that flight,” the gentleman screamed. “This is JetBlue’s problem.” “Ain’t our problem,” the second agent whispered to the woman agent who kept her head down.
In the midst of this, Troy was finally talking into the phone and tapping on his computer. Then he was silent again. “Now what are we waiting for?” I finally asked. He told me they had rebooked us and were coding the tickets to cover the fare change.
Finally, at 2:15, he handed me tickets for the 6:30 am JFK-TPA flight. “Be there at 5:55 to board, he told me. Doors will close at 6:15.” I glared at him.
My phone immediately dinged with a message from JetBlue. That flight was already delayed to a 7:48 departure. I made my way through the angry St. Lucia customers and headed back to the food court. It was 2:35.
(Side note: As you can tell, I spent more than two hours at Troy’s desk last week. Phone to his ear, he told me—the one time he spoke to me—that he was on hold that entire time. Knowing how inept JetBlue is, I might believe that. That said, I doubt that was the case. My personal opinion is that no one was on the other end of the line at any time and that he made me stand there for nothing. He appeared to be in charge of the service desk while I was there, so I believe he could have just changed my ticket and let me go.
By making me stand there for over two hours, though, he was able to get a few hours of overtime for doing nothing but looking at his computer screen. Was it a high-tension stand-off? Was he trying to see if I would blink first? Did he hope I would go over the counter and try to strangle him so he could call security on me? Was he trying to punish me because he’d been a punching bag for his employer all day? I have no doubt it is one of the above.)
In the Long Run….
In the week that I’ve been home, I’ve read several articles of how JetBlue dropped the ball last week. I have no quarrel with that statement. I’ve read that there were problems at all of the airports into which they fly. I have no doubt that is true. I’ve also read that passengers rank them worst of US airlines for customer service. I definitely have no quarrel with that statement.
Jet Blue is the seventh largest airline in the United States. The weather affected every airport and airline on the east coast. JetBlue could have averted this nightmare with doing just a little for their customers.