(February 22, 2006) -- So how did JetBlue Airways, winner of last year's Best Domestic Airline award for the fourth consecutive year in the Conde Nast Traveler's 2005 Readers' Choice Awards (among other awards below), produce a flight that was supposed to arrive in LB from Oakland at 9:40 p.m. on Saturday night but didn't arrive in LB until 3:54 a.m. on Sunday morning?
It was an up-close and personal experience for neighborhoods below and LB neighborhood advocate Bry Myown above. Ms. Myown was on the JetBlue flight returning from an Oakland trip (at her expense) to meet with consumer advocates on local energy independence (to free cities from dependence on corporate energy utilities).
Ms. Myown, who served on LB's Energy Task Force and now leads local opposition to putting an 80+ million gallon Liquefied Natural Gas facility in the Port of LB, flew JetBlue to the Bay Area to meet with leaders of the Sierra Club, Environment California and Ratepayers for Affordable Clean Energy on various issues. ["None of us bought any $100 dinners on an expense account," she quipped.]
Ms. Myown says JetBlue's flight from LB to Oakland was fine...but the return trip left her surprised and disappointed. She says JetBlue's Oakland staff offered passengers (delayed roughly six hours) chips and sodas and the option to rebook on another JetBlue flight without penalty...but didn't offer to help with substitute flights on other carriers or an overnight stay at a local hotel.
JetBlue spokesperson Jenny Dervin told LBReport.com that the delay stemmed from a shift in the jetstream that produced headwinds so powerful that the aircraft, which originated in Washington, D.C., had to refuel in Minneapolis instead of flying non-stop to LB. In Minneapolis, crews did a maintenance check and the plane didn't depart for several hours, delaying its LB arrival until about midnight. In LB, a fresh crew took over for the remaining hop to Oakland (leaving LB after midnight) and returned to LB (with Ms. Myown aboard) at nearly 4:00 a.m.
Ms. Dervin said that unlike other carriers, JetBlue only has chips and sodas as provisions [the low cost, high amenity carrier doesn't fiddle with airline food]. She noted that the Oakland-LB flight wasn't cancelled, just delayed...so passengers were given the choice of staying in Oakland with family or friends or elsewhere [at their expense] or waiting for the departure. Ms. Dervin added that the carrier does take responsibility for some delays but has to draw the line at a certain point when weather is the cause.
Ms. Myown noted that on her flight, several passengers arrived at LB Airport with no transportation...meaning at 4:00 a.m. they'd be basically stuck again for perhaps two or more hours until Airport transportation services begin buzzing again about dawn.
"What was a mere inconvenience for me and for residents awakened by noise was a nightmare for other passengers. They may get over their 'Jet Blue experience,' but they won't forget that Long Beach Airport closed its doors and left them stranded in the dark and cold without even arranging ground transportation," Ms. Myown said.
So was the event an anomaly? "It was," Ms. Dervin said, adding "It resulted from a meteorological event, a shift in an unusually powerful jetstream. We try to work with or work around weather-related issues and what happened here was definitely not the usual JetBlue experience. As a result, all passengers on that flight will be receiving a $25 gift certificate, good on their next Jet Blue flight."
Last night (Feb. 21), JetBlue's Oakland-LB flight 249 arrived in LB at 9:42 p.m...within two minutes of its scheduled time.
The Feb. 18-19 period and a day or so preceding produced a number of (presumably weather-related) late (and some very late) operations.
Two hours before Ms. Myown's 3 a.m. hour Oakland-LB arrival (Feb. 19), JetBlue flight 308 arrived at [times from LB Airport website] 1:10 a.m.; flight 217 arrived at 12:35 a.m.; flight 243 arrived at 12:05 a.m.; flight 255 arrived at 12:01 a.m.; flight 308 arrived at 11:58 p.m., flight 216 arrived at 11:09 p.m.; flight 219 arrived at 10:58 p.m.; flight 489 arrived at 10:32 p.m. and flight 306 arrived at 10:24 p.m..
In the prior day's flight cycle [Feb. 17-18], JetBlue flight 217 arrived at 12:37 a.m.; flight 216 arrived at 12:10 a.m.; flight 249 [the Oakland-LB flight] arrived at 11:42 p.m.; flight 243 arrived at 11:30 p.m.; flight 248 arrived at 11:16 p.m.; flight 285 arrived at 10:58 p.m.; flight 219 arrived at 10:53 p.m. and flight 489 arrived at 10:20 p.m.
A day earlier on Feb. 17, JetBlue had two late flights (one after 10 p.m., one after 11 p.m.), and on Feb. 15, only one (after 10 p.m.).
The post-11 p.m. flights will presumably cost JetBlue some money. Under a 2003 Consent Decree with the City Prosecutor's office (ending prosecution of misdemeanor charges alleging repeated 11 p.m.-7 a.m. violations of LB's Airport noise ordinance), JetBlue now pays $3,000 for each of the first six times in any calendar quarter it breaches the 11 p.m.-7 a.m. period and the amount increases to $6,000 for each time thereafter in that calendar quarter.
Our unofficial check of LB Airport's website indicates JetBlue appears to have reached the six-time level when it hit the mid-February rough patch...but the Airport's listing of such overnight operations shows JetBlue isn't the source of many of the Airport's late night operations. Many are private aircraft; others are medical or military flights...although JetBlue is conspicuous by virtue of being LB Airport's dominant major commercial tenant.
In January 06, JetBlue had a number of 10 p.m.-11 p.m. flights (not automatic violations, subject to waiver by LB Airport management if the carrier cites good cause for the unanticipated delay) and far fewer post-11 p.m. events...until the weather-related mid-February period.
To view the LB Airport webpage for yourself listing all such activities, click here.
By coincidence, a day after Ms. Myown's experience, LB activist and Bixby Knolls resident Joe Weinstein took the same JetBlue Oakland-LB flight (for a family-related matter), expecting to land by 9:40 p.m. Instead, that day JetBlue flight 249 arrived at 11:37 p.m.
Mr. Weinstein says JetBlue's Oakland gate crew cited the jetstream as the reason for his flight's delay, requiring the aircraft (which originated in the east) to use more fuel, causing a refueling in Las Vegas, producing a domino-effect late arrival/departure in LB, late arrival/departure in Oakland, and late arrival back in LB.
In a posting on a local internet listserv, Mr. Weinstein commented, "It's not as though Jet Blue couldn't have warned us before we got to the Airport that likely we faced a significant delay. Before heading to Oakland airport from my sister's Bay Area home, on her computer I went to Jet Blue's website first at 4 PM on Sunday, to get a boarding pass printed out.
But neither the pass nor accompanying displays gave any indication of likely delay in the 8:20 PM departure time."
The weather appears to have bedeviled a number of JetBlue flights on Feb. 19. Prior to Mr. Weinstein's flight, JetBlue flight 219 arrived at 10:05 p.m.; flight 255 arrived at 11:17 p.m.; JetBlue flight 243 arrived at 11:07 p.m.; and JetBlue flight 217 arrived post-midnight at 12:30 a.m. (Feb. 20).
On Feb. 20, things were better. JetBlue's Oakland-LB flight 249 was the only one of its flights arriving late...and wasn't as late (10:50 p.m.) as the day before.
And as mentioned above, on Feb. 21 landed basically on time.
Currently on the front page of JetBlue's website is a statement by JetBlue CEO/President, who notes that in February the carrier marks its sixth anniversary. "[O]ne thing that won't change in 2006 is the great customer service you can expect at JetBlue. Every single JetBlue crewmember is dedicated to making sure your flight on JetBlue is the very best you'll ever take," Mr. Neeleman's statement says.
JetBlue is the recipient of multiple industry and consumer awards. On Feb. 16, 2006, the carrier announced it was named "Best Domestic Airline for Value" by the readers of Travel + Leisure magazine as part of their 2006 World's Best Values Awards survey.
The carrier also earned the 2006 "Passenger Service Award" from Air Transport World magazine, a monthly magazine serving the airline and commercial aircraft manufacturing industries.
And in October 2005, JetBlue won the Best Domestic Airline award from the Conde Nast Traveler's 2005 Readers' Choice Awards...marking the fourth consecutive year the low-fare carrier has earned the title. JetBlue has also won the Best Domestic Airline award in the Conde Nast Traveler's 2005 Business Travel Awards.
LB advocate Myown acknowledges the awards and comments, "Awards aren't about how they handle the exception. If you fly and the flight's on time, maybe you like it. To me, the measure of customer service is how good they handle a problem...and in my view they didn't handle this one well."