Sunday, July 20, 2008

Jet Blues

JetBlue Airways

Salt Lake City, Utah

I’m sitting at Gate 19 at New York’s JFK Airport. My flight home to Austin has been delayed – twice now. It was scheduled to leave here at 8pm, the second scheduled time to leave here was at 9:45pm – but we just got a casual, “oh by the way …” announcement that the equipment they were using for our 8 o’clock (now 9:45pm) flight was getting fuel at Washington Dulles and that if and when it gets up in there air, they will make some other announcement. 

I did ask if there was an equipment failure. They said , “nah-–the flight was delayed by air traffic control.” Sounds to me like you guys just cancelled it, expired a crew, moved equipment--something other than an ATC delay, which means you lied.  Oh--we are now supposed to leave at 10:45pm. 

The news of the delays are bad, that’s for sure, but it’s not the reason I’m writing you. 

While I was sitting here waiting for my ever-delaying flight, I was seated with a bunch of folks waiting to fly to Rochester, NY.--leaving out of gate 19 at 9pm on Wednesday, July 16, 2008. Amid the crowd was a precious, stunning and stern looking rosy-faced Russian man with four adolescent aged Russian boys and girls. He stood smiling in front of the four children--five red passports in hand, perfectly stacked together--each inlaid with a corresponding ticket. None of them spoke a lick of English. He was a pleasure to watch--standing proudly in front of the four kids who he was obviously in care of—all in America, perhaps for the first time. He smiled at everyone as they walked by. The kids, ages 8 to 11 maybe, were sitting in the front row of chairs right next to the counter, each with some sort of toy, blanket, or pillow and perfectly behaved. 

An American Airlines flight attendant waiting to fly standby to get to her own home happened to see them as well and spoke with the older man with what little Russian she knew. Her name was Jo Ann Schuetz. Her gesture of courtesy generated a brief kinship between the two and she became the conduit for communications between this Russian family and your ground and flight crew at Gate 19. 

By the way, my flight has just now been further delayed, no time specified.  And since I flew home from Italy today, having been a special guest of the International Press Awards Ceremony in Ischia, I’m starting to get a little tired. They are now saying 11:45pm for departure with a 2:11am arrival time in Austin. 

As I watched this handsome group of foreign visitors from just the few seats away – I watched the grandfather pour the children some water into small plastic cups he’d carried with him in his belongings. 

The American Flight Attendant walked the grandfather to the counter and explained to the desk attendant there that they were Russian and spoke no English. Although your counter clerk acknowledged her, he seemed disinterested, waving her off and the extended passports and tickets. The American Flight Attendant explained to the grandfather about the flight time and they compared watches. 

In addition to the flight crew and desk attendants, three Jet Blue employees, who also were trying to fly standby were behind the counter eating food, cutting up, kidding around, hugging each other and telling “shitty customer” stories, and generally not giving a damn about the many customers on the concourse--all of whom were awaiting delayed flights (except your Puerto Rico flight, which seemed to be the only one out of there on time). 

When the flight time came around, the Russian man got up from his seat and walked over to the gate. He checked his watch and when the time passed, he signaled to the four children with a grin and a nod, who all then immediately jumped up from their seats and scurried over to be with him--all with smiles and enthusiasm. 

By the way, I just now got another update on my flight: a gate change from 18 to gate 6--our third gate change so far (that would be Gate 23, Gate 18 and now Gate 6). I don’t need to tell you that there’s a planeload of people who HATE you right now….. as customers lament and your counter clerk at gate 18 yells at them with a furrowed brow, “so we don’t inconvenience the incoming flight”…as we all walked to the shuttle bus, again. 

I am now sitting a Gate 6, as is the man with two babies in a stroller. It’s a good thing I only have a computer and a camera bag and my press credentials. Can you imagine trying to handle two kids--just old enough to talk--on a customer service black hole Jet Blue adventure like this one?  ...lurking deeper and deeper into the night. 

But, as I was saying, this happy group of Russians, a grandfather and four grandchildren I assume, waited patiently at the gate to be called. Jo Ann, the American Flight Attendant, was still seated waiting on standby. Behind the counter was your crew working the flight, the three Jet Blue employees waiting for jump seats, and I assume some of the working flight crew. The inbound flight had just arrived. 

One of your employees, a uniformed black man, took it upon himself to clear the aisle in anticipation of the passengers off-loading. You can imagine the chaos – but then perhaps, it’s normal. He commanded, not smiling, for people to move back and clear the aisle. The Russians of course did not know what he was wanting, did not understand, and continued to stand there smiling. Your employee took this personally, and further escalated his decline from professional conduct--now waving his hands and exercising his frustration in the elevated tone of his voice. A second employee, also uniformed, a female with punk died red hair chimed in—she, raising her voice for these people to get out of the aisle, walking forward toward them flailing her hands as if to shoo cattle. The Russian grandfather stood there with a perplexed look on his face--eyes wide open—comprehending only he was the target of someone’s disdain. The kids knew something was wrong too, huddling together. In just moments, your flight crew made this small band of happy Russian guests into a public spectacle and the subject of everyone’s attention who was within earshot. It wasn’t nice, it wasn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t the welcoming, considerate America I know. 

To further your employee’s conduct deeper into the abyss, a female member of your working flight crew called out across the concourse to the America Flight attendant, “do you speak Russian, can you tell these people to get out of the aisle?!”, like it was her problem to handle. 

Jo Ann, the American Airlines employee, got up from her seat, smiled at the group of Russians, and motioned gently with her hands to move backward, pointed toward the door and then moved her fingers as if someone was walking. They understood and stepped back--but the damage was already done. Your black employee huffed back behind the counter making faces to his colleagues, proud of his conquest, commenting aloud how stupid these people were. The redhead went back to eating some sort of vegetable medley from a Tupperware bucket, laughing at the whole situation, inciting conversation among them all about stupid people. The redhead boasted at one point in their conversation, commenting that patience was a virtue she did not possess. 

The Russian Grandfather and his four impressionable companions did not smile again. 

So pissed I was at what I was witnessing, I got out my camera and photographed your Jet Blue crew. Had I been a supervisor under your employ, I would have fired every one of them on the spot. 

As you’ve no doubt surmised, I’m not very happy about the way you operate your airline, and even less pleased about how you treat guests to our country. Our President has already done quite enough to screw up the World and our reputation in it without you helping. The U.S. State Department, Disney, and a lot of good Americans,--despite the current administration--have spent a lot of money and effort trying to facilitate international travel and goodwill, to overcome our bad press and welcome foreign visitors--a multi billion-dollar economic stimulation --an essential component to our overall national economic health.  

I expect you will most likely attend to this letter in the same way your employees seem accustomed to treating your customers—one of whom is ME. But I’m sending it to you anyway. When you receive it, you will be receiving maybe the 450th copy, as I will have already sent it to my entire and extensive email list, posted it to my travel blog, sent it to my friends and colleagues both here and abroad, and to your competitors – and one copy each to American Airlines and the US State Department Travel and Tourism Boards. 

I boarded my flight at 11:30pm, staying parked on the tarmac until 12:30am. We arrived in Austin at 2:26am. Everyone here--the young people mostly--are talking with each other about how to get rides home, whom to call and wake in the middle of the night, whether they can afford a cab, how to reschedule their rehearsals, appointments and events for the day—which begins in only a couple of hours…. 

Perhaps your marketing department should consider adding a single S to your company name: Jet BlueS. 

Happy Jetting to you, indeed

Carl H. Deal III


Michael said...

As an employee of JetBlue Airways, I’d like to apologize for the behavior of my co-workers that you witnessed recently at Kennedy Airport. There is absolutely no excuse for their disrespect and lack of compassion.
I’d also like to thank you for posting your account of the event on a public forum. It is being read by many JetBlue employees and is an eye-opener for those of us working hard to keep a keen focus on the well-being of our customers.
I enjoyed reading about JoAnne Schuetz, the American Airlines flight attendant who stepped up to aid the JetBlue customers. I met Jo while we were both working as flight attendants for TWA. Jo lost her job after TWA was acquired by American Airlines, but was recently rehired by American. It is an interesting story.
Jo was one of the most senior flight attendants at TWA, easily among the top ten, with more than forty years of experience. When American purchased TWA in 2001, the American Airlines flight attendant union forced the American to place the TWA attendants at the bottom of their seniority list. Seniority determines job security and Jo found herself “junior” to more than 20,000 American attendants, some with less than a year’s experience. In July 2003 Jo lost her job.
Since early last year American has recalled about 600 former TWA flight attendants including Jo who returned to flying after an absence of four years. However, today she is subject to lay-off again after American announced drastic service cut-backs. She may be unemployed again while younger, less experienced flight attendants continue to work.
Jo was hired by TWA at a time when airline employees had to be educated, well-groomed and well-mannered. She worked through an era when flight attendants, predominantly female, were not allowed to have children. There was a time when they could not marry. She was part of a large group of women who fought hard to change the rules. They succeeded in making the flight attendant job a viable profession.
It is almost unthinkable that the American Airlines flight attendant union would destroy the longevity of Jo’s career by stripping her of her TWA seniority. What’s beautiful about her story is that, through it all, Jo has lost not an ounce of professionalism. Decades of regard for the customer survived a decision by a company and its’ union to end her career.
I’d like to sum this up by talking about JetBlue. I am in my fourth year as a JetBlue employee. Our management works hard to remind us that the well-being of the customer will result in the well-being of our careers. Obviously, the effort isn’t completely successful. In my opinion JetBlue is missing the Jo Scheutz factor. We all learn through example and because JetBlue is a relatively new company, our young workers rarely have the chance to work with others who have decades of customer service experience. I’m not offering this as an excuse, simply a possible reason, and again I am so sorry for what you experienced. I’m hoping that Jo’s action that night set an example for the JetBlue employees who witnessed it as well as for those who are reading about it.
Thanks again.


Anonymous said...

I would like to say that I loved your post. It does say that JetBlue has a lot to learn in terms of their Customer Service (ground personnel).

I would like to add, though, that JFK has had major issues of late. In June, there was an Air Traffic Control "Ground Delay Program" issued for JFK on all but 3 days of the month. July has been pretty much the same.

The delays that you experienced on JetBlue that night are what ALL airlines are experiencing in the New York area (especially at JFK). If you go over to the Delta terminal, or the American terminal, you will find similar delays. On this beautifully clear Saturday morning, JFK issued a "Ground Delay Program" at 1130am this morning, which will be affecting the rest of the day.

JetBlue does one thing which I must commend them on. Rather than cancel flights, they try to get people were they are going. By delaying them. They would rather NOT cancel a flight if they can get people to their destination (even with a delay of several hours). I used to work for Continental (for 8 years), and we used to make massive cancellations every time there was a delay program, to try to get other flights on time. That displaced tons of customers. That is something that JetBlue TRIES not to do, and for that, I do commend them.

That doesn't make the situation you experienced that evening right, but you did make it to Austin (even though you were late). Yes, they have some work to do with their customer service folks, but all in all, I think they are a good airline that really does try their best in the very bad JFK airspace.

Scott said...

The post was great until you threw in the ignorant comment about the president.

Painting with a wide brush are we? That moronic comment makes me doubt this entire story....