Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why flying Jet Blue is a dangerous proposition

Look, everyone has issues with airlines, and when it comes to bad weather, airlines screw passengers all the time. Most carriers, however, work with other airlines and try to get you to your destination. Jet Blue, however, does not, and here is my story. (there are airline complaint links listed below) (bloggers note: photos are not indicative of the actual day's weather noted below).

I've always wanted to be a writer, so one day I decided I was going to do it. I needed a place where I could live cheaply for a year so that my savings would last longer and give me a better chance of making all my dreams come true. I chose to live abroad for a while, and as a result I decided to spend time with family before heading off. Also, because I live in Boston, and because Boston winters drag on forever from January through March, I wanted to get some time in the sun when I had the chance. I booked a multi-city trip from Boston to Las Vegas to Anaheim over the course of a week. The idea was to get three good solid days of rock climbing in at Red Rocks in Vegas before heading south to California to visit family for a few days. Jet Blue had the best rates for this multi-city trip by far, so I chose them. My climbing partner, who was only going to Vegas for the climbing part, booked a flight on Continental. She'd get to Vegas an hour before me, so our timing was perfect. Red Rocks, here we come!

Boston gets snow, and sometimes that snow wreaks havoc with transportation. Naturally, we got about seven inches of snow on the day my friend and I were supposed to fly. The good thing is that these seven inches fell over the course of 16 hours, which makes it easier to clear roads and, obviously, runways. But, Logan being Logan, my friend and I were concerned about cancellations. At noon, my 8pm flight with Jet Blue was still on and her 5pm flight with Continental was still on. She went to the airport at 3pm and I checked my flight status once again: it was cancelled.

This was disappointing and I was worried because if I couldn't get out then that would shorten our climbing days. Now, to be clear, there are opportunities to do short climbs at Red Rocks, but that's not what my partner and I like to climb. We go to Red Rocks for the long, all-day climbs that tend to last more than 10 hours car-to-car. So if I arrived late the next day then that essentially cut our climbing hopes down a day. Sure, we'd still play around on the short stuff that afternoon, and that's better than nothing is when you're in Boston in the dead of the winter, but it's not how we wanted to spend our money.

OK, but it's bad weather, right? I mean, this happens. I'm disappointed, but after the bad-weather fiasco that Jet Blue had a few years ago you know they've fixed this problem right? Wrong. They haven't. I called Jet Blue and they said the earliest flight they could get me on was a 6am flight that went through JFK and then on to Vegas after that. This is tough to swallow because it means two things: 1) it's not a direct flight anymore (a mere annoyance, but I can live with it) and; 2) it doesn't get me to Vegas until noon. This last part is more annoying because now it means I am missing a whole day of long climbing. Bummer.

I asked Jet Blue what they could do for me that night.

"There's nothing sir, the 6am flight is the earliest I can book you," the Jet Blue representative said.

"What about another carrier?" I asked.

"We don't do that, sir. We don't have contracts with other carriers."

Well, that settles that, I guess. I had to take the 6am flight and had to suck up the late landing. Yeah, I know, this happens in bad weather, but it was really disappointing that Jet Blue doesn’t work with other carriers.

I called my friend.

"Yeah, Continental cancelled my flight, but they got me on a direct flight with US Airways. Maybe I'll be able to get there early enough tonight to meet up with friends for the night."

Her US Airways flight, which Continental put her on (BTW - Continental and US Airways are both a part of the Star Alliance network), ended up taking off at about 7pm. That's only an hour earlier than when my Jet Blue flight was scheduled to take off, and it was an hour closer to the meat of the storm. In other words, an 8pm takeoff time should have been better considering weather than a 7pm flight, and still US Airways took off on a direct flight to Vegas while Jet Blue was cancelled. Hmmm...

Well, there's nothing I can do at this point. Jet Blue claimed the airport cancelled the flights. I was suspicious of this, but whatever; I'm just a consumer and I know crap.

I wake up at 330am the next morning because now I need to spend $30 on a cab to get to the airport (because the subway doesn't run that early in Boston) when I wouldn't have the night before (because I could have taken the subway on my monthly pass). I check the status of the flight again before doing anything else: Cancelled. "What is going on?"

The snow had stopped and it was supposed to be a nice day today in Boston, so there shouldn't have been any bad weather coming east. I checked the weather across the US, including Vegas, and found the same: there was no bad weather. I called Jet Blue.

"I'm sorry sir, but that flight was cancelled due to weather. There's nothing we can do," the Jet Blue representative said.

"Um, the weather is fine. What's going on?"

"I'm not on the ground there sir, there's obviously nothing I can do. We don't cancel flights due to weather, the airport does." There was that "the airport cancels flights" comment again. I looked on while I was on the phone and they had three flights taking off to JFK starting at 730am. The 730am flight would have allowed me to make my connection to Vegas still. "I'm sorry sir but those flights are all booked. The earliest I can get on is a direct flight at 8pm tonight."

What?!?! So there I was; I had either the option to cancel my trip for a full refund (and screw over my climbing partner who was already there because her airline somehow wasn’t cancelled) or miss an entire day of climbing (no longer just a short day). There was really only one option, and that was to accept a seat on the 8pm flight and miss a whole day. I was really mad at this point, but I became furious when I heard a noise a few hours later. I lifted my head off the pillow and listened again because I wasn't sure if it was a snow plow (for a moment I gave the Jet Blue representative the benefit of the doubt in case there was snow still coming down) or an airplane. A few minutes later I heard another noise, and it was a plane. Then there was another, and then there was another. They were landing and taking off. I looked at the clock: it was 6am, the same time my cancelled-due-to-weather flight was cancelled.

I went back to sleep, and when I awoke I called Massport, who runs Logan Airport in Boston, and I asked a simple question:

"Hi, I have a broad question. I hope you can answer this. Who cancels flights?"

"Well, sir, there are a lot of different players. Essentially there are three factors in involved: The FAA with regards to flight plans, the airport because we clear the runways, and the airlines. Generally speaking all three work together on cancellations. We, Massport, don't really cancel flights. We have certainly told airlines and the FAA that we can't keep up with the weather, and that factor alone has cancelled flights, but we don't make that decision. The FAA does when it comes to flight plans and the airlines do when it comes to schedules."

"That's great, thanks. I appreciate your answer. So I've been hearing planes fly over my house this morning."

"That's correct sir, there are no weather related issues here at the airport today."

"Really? Because Jet Blue said the airport cancelled my flight due to weather."

"Last night or this morning?"

"Well, both, but I'm more interested in this morning."

"It's possible they were cancelled last night by the FAA. I don't know anything about that off the top of my head. Planes were definitely taking off all day yesterday, though. On a day like yesterday when we do get a fair amount of snow but we can keep up with it then it is usually up to the airline to cancel. Maybe they got cancelled by the FAA."

"Yeah, well, my friend ended up having a very similar flight pattern and she flew out OK."

"Then it's probably the airline then. It certainly wasn't us."

"What about this morning though."

"They cancelled because of weather you said?"

"That's correct."

"That's on them. We're open and running fine. There are no weather related issues here this morning."

I thanked her, and then I called Jet Blue. They insisted it wasn't their fault and they insisted all they could do was cancel my flight and refund the full amount or put me on the 8pm flight. They couldn't get me on that 730am flight because it was full.

So I decided to file a complaint with both Jet Blue and the US Department of Transportation. It's only been one day, so I haven't heard anything yet, but once I do then I will update this blog with another post.

So why is flying Jet Blue a dangerous proposition? Because they don't work with other carriers to get you to their destination for one. But more importantly, they lie. They flat out lie about cancellations. Of course, because consumers aren't protected, airlines can do whatever they want, and that's what Jet Blue did. I'm not saying other airlines don't screw passenger over either, but this blog post is a testament to what other airlines do for their customers in direct contrast to what Jet Blue does. Continental got my friend to her destination that day, even in bad weather. Jet Blue made me wait 24 hours and cut my vacation short by a full third of its original length. Be careful when you choose Jet Blue. They haven't learned any lessons from previous years at all.

Final edit: Oh yeah, tried charging me $50 for my first bag when I checked in online, but their checked baggage requirements clearly state that the first checked bag is free. I called them on this and thier representative was confused. Clearly there was an error on their website and he thanked me for notifying them.


  1. Coincidentally we were ALSO flying to Boston to Vegas for rock climbing. Our flight on Wed, Feb 10 was cancelled due to weather but we suspect the other flights were all fine. The Thursday and Friday night flights were all booked so they could not get us out until Saturday night, which was pretty terrible since our return flight was scheduled for Tuesday night. Eventually we reached Vegas and were able to do some climbing. During the day on Tuesday, Feb 16 I received an automated message from Jetblue stating that our flight had been cancelled... AGAIN! We started making called by 6pm (the scheduled flight was for 11:54pm) and Jetblue was only able to put us onto a 7am flight that arrives in Boston by 6pm (as opposed to 6:45am). This was no good since I needed to be back in Boston to meet work deadlines. We started calling around to various airlines and ended up taking a 8:22pm flight to LAX then 10:30pm flight from LAX-BOS which arrived at.. 6:45am, just like my Jetblue flight was suppose to arrive. This "inconvience" cost me $500 but I was able to return to Boston and meet the deadline.

    From our understanding Jetblue claims to have heavy taffic in and out of Boston Logan airport so at times the airport can generate too much traffic which causes congestion. Apparently Jetblue is the whipping boy and their flights are cancelled to accomodate for more air/runway space at Boston Logan airport.

    To cancel flights due to weather while ALL other flights are departing is beyond absurd.

    I will not fly on Jetblue again and someone owes me $500

    - Ted

  2. Oh yeah, and my TV didn't work either on the way out. It was not a good experience overall.

    I just don't understand how they could be the whipping boy for everything. I mean, does the FAA really not like Jet Blue that much, or is it a direct result of Jet Blue business practices? I'm having a hard time believing that it is the prior more than the latter.

  3. Hey greg, sorry to hear about your flying woes, i finally figured out how to add the following widget on my blog, so if you feel free follow me!


    - Tim


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