For years friends of mine told me about how great jetBlue was. Unfortunately, they never seemed to fly where I wanted to go on a schedule that was comfortable for me. Finally in May 2008 I had an opportunity to fly jetBlue to Boston. I recall liking the extra legroom and the individual entertainment system in the backs of each seat. It was a good experience, so I wanted to fly them again. The next time I was traveling to a location that jetBlue serviced was one year later in May 2009. Again, I recall an above-average experience. I flew them again in May 2010.
After that, none of my travels took me to places that jetBlue serviced. Unfortunately, that meant that all of my jetBlue miles were going to expire. Unlike United Airlines, Delta, and the other carriers with whom I have frequent flyer accounts, jetBlue only provides two ways to keep your miles active: (1) fly jetBlue once a year, or (2) get the jetBlue American Express credit card. Considering my high opinion of jetBlue, I was surprised that their frequent flyer program was so restrictive. So be it. I got the jetBlue American Express credit card and made the requisite charge to keep my mileage points active. I won't go into all of the rigmarole that happened during this process. (They deleted my points anyway, then I had to get them reinstated, etc. It was an unnecessary pain in the ass.) It wasn't the end of the world, but it did tarnish the otherwise pristine image of jetBlue.
I finally had the chance to fly with jetBlue again last month (and use up my jetBlue miles.) I flew from New York’s JFK International airport to Oakland, California. But unlike my previous positive experiences with jetBlue, this time they did everything in their power to drive me away as a customer.
My problems started with the taxi driver. Given the time that I got into a taxi in Brooklyn, I should have been at the airport 2 hours before my flight. Unfortunately, the driver decided that he wanted to pick up a few extra bucks by taking me the long, painful, slow route. So, he got an extra $10 on the meter, and I got to the airport with just under an hour before takeoff. At check-in I asked the attendant if I was going to make my flight. She told me that it was leaving on time, but that I would make it as long as I went straight to the gate. Everything would still have been fine, but security was running at a snail’s pace. After I made it through, I ran the rest of the way, glancing at the information screens along the way to make sure that the gate hadn’t changed and boarding hadn’t started yet.
When I arrived I was frazzled and dripping with sweat. There were several flights all leaving from the same area with some confusion going on, so I went up to the gate agent to ask if this was still my flight and how soon we were boarding. He assured me that I was in the right place, but, the plane wasn’t at the gate yet, so departure would be at least a half an hour late. Just as he said this, the display behind him switched from “ON TIME” to “NOW BOARDING.”
I had run through JFK to make sure I made my flight, but the plane wasn’t even at the gate! I asked why they hadn’t updated the display information. He said that it takes 15 minutes for the new info to appear, so it isn’t worth it to change it. “Fifteen minutes?!?! Why?” I asked. He told me that it had to go to the main office and back again. I pointed out that a signal can make it from earth to mars and back again in that time, and, even if it does take 15 minutes, information that is 15 minutes out of date is better than information that is completely wrong. [note: technically I takes anywhere from 8 minutes to 42 minutes to go from earth to mars and back again, depending on where the two planets are in their orbits.]
Since I was talking to the gate agent anyway, I asked about the food on the plane. The flight was leaving at 5pm eastern time and was schedule to land at 10:30pm eastern, so I expected that some kind of dinner would be offered – either for free or for a fee. I got my next surprise when he told me that the only things available on the plane were snacks like pretzels, cookies and nuts – for a fee. Since I had a half an hour to kill, I went to the bathroom, washed up and tried to dry some of the sweat, and then went to buy my dinner.
Eventually the plane was at the gate, cleaned, and ready to go. Boarding was totally screwy, as the gate agent decided to call each of the boarding zones within a matter of seconds of each other, but, at last we were all on board and settled in our seats.
As we began taxiing, I noticed that the people in seats ahead of me were watching programs on their entertainment systems, but mine, and those of the two people sitting next to me were blank. I imagined that they would come on after take-off, so I waited. No luck. After we were airborne and the screens in our three seats hadn’t come to life, I pushed the attendant call button to see if something could be done. Eventually Brian, the chief attendant on our flight, came over. He looked very put out to have to respond to a call. I pointed out that our screens were blank. He said “oh,” and walked away. I had imagined he might say something more than just “oh,” but I was hopeful that he had gone off to fix the problem. Five minutes later he came back, gave each of us coupons for $15 off a future flight, and left. Not a word spoken. Nothing. To which I say, “Oh gee, thanks!” Fifteen whopping dollars off a future flight, when one of the main reasons I was on jetBlue was the prospect of passing 5 boring hours with their entertainment system. Not to mention the fact that I had paid an extra $65 to upgrade my seat to their “Even More Space™” section with extra legroom. Sigh.
Some while later a different attendant was going down the aisle so I stopped her to ask about the screens. “Couldn't you try resetting the system to see if they will come on?” I asked her. She apologized profusely, and was very nice about it, but said that for some unknown reason they weren't allowed to reset the system unless at least 20 screens were affected. For just three, she couldn't do it. She agreed that it made no sense, and suggested that I contact jetBlue about it when we landed. It didn't get my entertainment system working, but at least she was nice about it.
Unfortunately I have been suffering from lower back pain for quite a while. Even with the extra legroom afforded by “Even More Space ™”, I can’t make it through a 5 hour flight without some major stretching. After about 2 or 3 hours in the air, with the “fasten seatbelt light” off, I got up and went to the galley area to stretch my back and legs. Not more than a minute later Brian arrived on the scene. “You can’t be here. This is a secure area. You have to stand behind that yellow line,” he said, pointing to the line that separated the carpeted seating area from the uncarpeted entry/exit/galley area.
While holding a side-stretch I replied “don’t be ridiculous, this isn’t a secure area on US Air, United, or any of the other airlines I fly.”
“FAA regulations require that only crew members be in this area during flight! You must leave this area now!” he barked at me.
Logically this was absurd, since passengers have to travel through the area to get to the bathroom. I ignored him and continued stretching. I hate it when flight attendants make up rules.
“Sir, now I’ve told you two times already, you must step behind the yellow line immediately.” He said, turning slightly red.
“Oh yeah? What are you gonna do about it? Make me?” I said. Now, in retrospect I will admit that wasn't the kindest, smartest, or most genteel thing to say, but my back was killing me, I knew he was wrong, and clearly Brian wasn’t gonna be my friend. I say I knew he was wrong because I had flown to New York on US Air a week earlier. That leg of the trip had a stop-over, so it was really two flights. On each of them I had gone to the galley area and stretched. On those flights, the US Air attendants had chatted amicably about what stretches work best, and one even wondered out loud why more passengers don’t get up to stretch. We joked about launching a new Airline called “Air Yoga.” At no time did they tell me I had to leave. In fact, I have done stretching exercises in the galleys of virtually every airplane I have flown for the past decade. Oh well. [Aside: after returning home I searched diligently through the FAA regulations. They say nothing on the matter.]
“No. I’m not going to make you, but when we land you will be arrested.” He threw the word “arrested” at me with a hiss, then turned to a shelf where he pulled out what appeared to be a log book.
OK. Fine. I didn’t need that kind of noise in my life. So I stepped behind the yellow line and resumed my stretching, to the annoyance of the passengers seated in row 1. Of course, once I’m being stupid, it’s hard to give it up. “So, what happens if I call you nasty names?” I asked Brian.
“This is what happens!” he hissed, tearing a slip of paper out of his log book and thrusting it at me.
According to the slip of paper, I had been officially warned. “Awesome. This will look great on my Facebook page.” I said, smiling, as I went back to my seat. Brian disappeared into the cockpit for about half an hour. I’m not sure if he was in there looking for the FAA regulation he had been quoting, or if the pilot was talking him down. Meanwhile, the nice flight attendant asked me if I wanted a drink to help me relax. I told her I was fine, but she might want to give one to Brian.
When I got back home I immediately cancelled my American Express jetBlue credit card. For one thing, I didn’t need it anymore to preserve my jetBlue mileage points as they had been used up on this trip. For another, I don’t plan to fly jetBlue again.
I then went to the jetBlue web site to look for an email address for comments. Apparently, there isn’t one (I searched high and low.) If you go to their “Contact Us” page (the link is discretely placed at the bottom of the main page), you will find prominently displayed all of their phone numbers all over the world (with a note that it costs $20 to book a flight over the phone.) They also provide links to their FAQ’s. Down at the bottom of this page there is a tabbed box where you can “share concerns.” Clicking the “share concerns” tab gives you a form with a 2-inch by 1-inch box where you can enter your "concerns."
Clearly jetBlue has joined the mainstream corporate world and doesn't wants to hear complaints. I used their “share concerns” form to send them a message saying that I wanted an email address for complaints. Their response said, “The Speak Up link at jetblue.com where you sent your question is where you will send all email correspondence. You are welcome to reply to this email with your concerns and we will do our best to respond.” OK. That’s fine. I can send them an email, but they’d prefer that I enter this whole story into a 2-inch by 1-inch box. Personally, I’d rather post it on my blog for all to see.
I will grant you that I wasn't completely innocent in this debacle, and it was just one bad journey (though I count it as three bad experiences – one on the ground and two in the air.) However, given that jetBlue so rarely flies where I want to go, their mediocre frequent flyer mileage program, and the distinct impression that they really don’t want to hear from disgruntled passengers, leaves me feeling that I don’t need to fly jetBlue ever again.
So, to all of you at jetBlue, I say buh bye, and “Happy Jetting™” (without me.)