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News :: Media
Media Headline
29 Jun 2007
25-hour trek from Lauderdale to N.Y. leaves JetBlue's passengers seeing red
Friday, June 29, 2007


Jun. 29, 2007 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) --
A 2 ½-hour JetBlue Airways (NASDAQ:JBLU) flight bound from Fort Lauderdale to New York on Wednesday turned into a 25-hour odyssey that finally ended Thursday afternoon, as a chain of problems left 150 passengers staggered by the mind-boggling delay.

The cascade of problems occurred just four months after a disastrous five-day period in February when the airline canceled more than 1,000 flights in the New York area. And it again raises questions about how much of the blame should fall on airlines when flights encounter unexpected delays.

Flight 62's takeoff at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday was delayed for three hours. The jet departed, only to be diverted by bad weather to Atlantic City, N.J., where passengers stewed on the tarmac for four hours. At 12:30 a.m. Thursday, they were allowed off the plane. It would be another four hours until they finally were sent to a hotel for the night. The flight ultimately arrived at JFK International Airport at 3:21 p.m. Thursday.

'It's a nightmare here,' said Boris Shuserman, 61, of Hallandale Beach, as he waited Thursday afternoon in the departure lounge of the Atlantic City International Airport.

JetBlue said it would issue a full refund to Flight 62 passengers and would also give them free round trip vouchers.

All airlines have unlucky flights, but JetBlue has been under the gun since February when an ice storm in New York led to thousands of passengers becoming stranded for days. The airline paid $20 million to $30 million in compensation under a 'bill of rights' unveiled in March, but it wasn't enough to save founder David Neeleman from being replaced in May as chief executive officer. Since then, the airline's performance has been mixed. It had the second-lowest on-time arrival rate in April of 20 carriers tracked by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Only 64.8 percent of its flights were on time, compared with an industry average of 75.7 percent. But earlier this month, it was rated ahead of all other low-fare carriers in J.D. Power & Associates' annual customer satisfaction survey.

Flight 62 passengers said an already bad situation was made worse by the lack of customer service in Atlantic City.

Azim Khan, of Fort Lauderdale, said he felt abandoned by JetBlue's representatives there. Kahn said that upon landing around 8:30 p.m. passengers were told that buses would soon arrive to transfer them to JFK. The promised buses never came.

Passengers ultimately took taxis at their own expense to a nearby hotel where JetBlue had secured rooms for the night, he said. The taxi fares will be reimbursed.

For the remainder of the night, Khan and others went without food because nearby restaurants already had closed. Les Raye, 60, of Davie, said JetBlue should have made better provisions.

'I don't think I've ever gone through anything like this in my many years of flying,' Raye said.

JetBlue has a 'bill of rights' that entitles passengers to discounts on future flights for delays under certain conditions. Stories of marooned passengers on other carriers, including Northwest Airlines (NYSE:NWA) and American Airlines (NYSE:AAR) (NYSE:AMR) , have also prompted talk in Congress of legislation.

JetBlue spokesman Todd Burke said Thursday's situation was very unusual. Storms had caused multiple JetBlue delays on the East Coast and led several planes to divert to Atlantic City, where it normally does not fly.

With no ground crew or staff in Atlantic City, the airline's contracted representatives did their best to locate buses for the trip to JFK. But after calling several casinos and about 45 bus companies, they found none could do the job, Burke said.

Stuart Klaskin, an aviation consultant in Coral Gables, said landing where it had no operations was Jet Blue's key mistake.

'It might have been better to divert to a different airport where they could have better accommodated [passengers],' he said.

Klaskin said JetBlue actually is following the public's wishes by trying to fly even if the weather causes delays.

'People would rather go than be canceled,' he said.

Other airlines take a different tack. On Thursday, Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) canceled 200 flights, or about one-third of its flights from the Northeast, because of heavy storms and expected delays. Delta said it made an early call to cancel the flights in hopes of giving at least 12 hours' notice to passengers via e-mail and cell phone messages.

Arlene Satchell can be reached at asatchell (at) sun-sentinel.com or at 954-356-4209.

Newstex ID: KRTB-0067-17809767


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