Wednesday, February 21, 2007

JetBlue Makes Skies a Little Friendlier

JetBlue, having learned from a recent experience when it cancelled more than a thousand flights scheduled to leave from New York, stranding 10s of thousands of customers, has pissed off the rest of the airline industry by issuing a Customer Bill of Rights.

The new guarantees include vouchers for any delays over two hours and future round-trip vouchers if your flight is cancelled due to the airline itself. There is also a $1,000 guarantee if you're bumped because a flight is overbooked although JetBlue apparently has a policy not to overbook flights at all.

In this case, it's not the value of the compensation that is interesting but rather the admission that, all things being equal, airlines actually have an obligation to deliver customers to their destinations within a reasonable timeframe.

I'm not a business-type flyer who's hopping from one city to another on a daily or weekly basis but I do fly fairly frequently (three to four times a year) and usually on long-haul flights. Thus, I have experienced the full gamut of airline failings from overbooked flights to lost luggage to cancelled flights to long delays to the interminably stupid security measures that couldn't catch a snowflake in a blizzard much less a terrorist.

I've flown enough to shrug most of this off, find my way to the nearest airport outlet that sells booze and just relax until I can get off the ground.

But what is maddening is the completely callous disregard airlines have for their customers. It is the only industry I can think of that can have a written contract with a customer, be paid in advance for the rendering of services and then fail to do so with no consequences.

A recent flight I took with Delta is a perfect example. I arrived on a flight from New York in Salt Lake City where I had a connecting flight to Vancouver. Delta had overbooked the SLC to Van. flight and were offering people a night's accommodation and Delta vouchers to step off.

Fine. I had to work the next morning or I might have taken them up on the offer. They then announced that the weather in Vancouver was foggy and they might not be able to land there. If they couldn't, we were informed, the plane would land in Seattle (not Bellingham or Abbotsford which were both much closer to the destination and were suggested by passengers as possible landing sites). Once in Seattle, the plane would refuel and return to Salt Lake City. The passengers would be free to either return with the plane or disembark in Seattle where they would be, and I quote, "on their own"...

On their own. Think about that. My ticket said Vancouver. I paid for a flight to Vancouver. Seattle is a three-hour drive from Vancouver. Delta was not offering to provide flights to Vancouver when the weather cleared nor were they prepared to, for instance, rent a bus to transport their customers to their destination.

I get that weather can affect an airplane's ability to land and I sure as hell would rather land in Seattle than plough into the bogs surrounding Vancouver's airport. I understand that airlines are allowed to overbook though I think it's ridiculous. I can even appreciate that they wouldn't put passengers up in hotels for the night if we were forewarned and chose to go anyway.

But the sheer gall of telling a paying customer that they're "on their own" when they have a contract to deliver them to a certain place is nuts. On the way to Vancouver, where, ironically, we landed in very clear weather, several passengers were disgruntled enough to announce they wouldn't be flying Delta again. I wasn't one of them but only because I was too busy composing the letter I was going to send to Delta if they didn't get me to Vancouver.

Maybe I'll check out JetBlue next time. At least if they dump me in Seattle, they'll compensate me enough to rent a car.


Catherine said...

I am SO glad that I seldom have occasion to fly. My last flight was to and from Mexico just a month or two before 9/11. I recently turned down a job offer because they wanted me to fly to Miami for training.

southfield_2001 said...

Airplanes are just buses with wings, cat. But, I guess we're stuc with them until we invent transporters.

Catherine said...

I don't mind flying per se -- just the incredible hassle. Transporters would be fabulous! :)