When Arlene Morzinsky tried to check in for her recent JetBlue Airways flight to New Orleans, the airline told her that her business wasn’t welcome. “Get out of my store! What to do when you’re denied service”
What happens when there’s a fundamental disconnect between a customer and a company? You end up with a case like Maria Mendoza’s, where everyone is right — and everyone is also wrong.
Mendoza and her family recently flew from Newark to Orlando so her husband could compete in a marathon. It was a terrific trip until the end, when they arrived at the airport for their return flight.
“We reached the check-in desk at around 6:45 a.m. and a representative informed us that Flight 28 was canceled,” she says. “We were surprised because we never received any emails or texts. He said that all he could do for us was to send us to JFK airport in NY or to Boston and then wait there from around 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. for a connecting flight to Newark. Or we could fly the next day. ”
This column is called Should I Take The Case, and it takes a completely unvetted consumer question and asks you if I ought to get involved. As a reminder, I haven’t asked JetBlue about this one yet, but I will if you tell me to do so.
Mendoza’s problem isn’t really about the delayed flights. It’s about how JetBlue treated her.
None of the solutions JetBlue offered worked. Their car was parked at Newark Airport. Also, their daughter has a chronic ear problem and couldn’t be on two flights in a day. What’s more, her husband had a 1:30 p.m. appointment in court. They had to get to Newark that day.
That didn’t go over well with the JetBlue staff, apparently.
“The representative became noticeably irritated and in a very rude, loud, and demanding tone he told my husband he needed to decide which of his excuses he wanted him to believe,” she says, “my daughter taking two flights or his court case.”
To which her husband, Edward, replied: “Both.”
That really set him off.
He walked away saying he had enough with us and he was getting a supervisor.
The supervisor never acknowledged us, looked at us, or even identified himself to us. He started typing away and listened to the representative’s story. My husband attempted to speak to the supervisor but as soon as my husband started to speak, the supervisor said he was being disrespectful for interrupting his conversation with the representative and even rolled his eyes at us.
We were shocked!
The supervisor also said that he had enough of us, and that we were not going anywhere because he was canceling our reservation, as he slammed his hand against the keyboard. He then walked away from us.
My children were terrified and kept asking why were the guys treating us so mean, and did not want to get on the plane. At this point, all the representatives had accomplished was to frighten my children who are only 7 and 8 years old, and the other customers around us who came up to us to ask us what was going on with those two.
Finally, another supervisor appeared. He offered to pay for Mendoza’s ground transportation from JFK to Newark. That worked, and the family was on their way.
But the Mendozas felt traumatized by the JetBlue employees. They decided to send a complaint letter to the airline, and in it they named names (I’ve redacted them in this post, since I haven’t yet asked JetBlue for its side of the story).
Here’s how JetBlue responded:
We take all our customer complaints seriously. We have sent your letter to our Orlando Leadership for review. They will remind our crewmembers of the importance of providing kind, helpful service to our customers, especially families with special needs. Any necessary training or disciplinary action will be addressed.
Airlines don’t guarantee their schedules, and you should realize this when planning your trip. There are many things that can and often do make it impossible for flights to arrive on time.
Some of these problems, like bad weather, air traffic delays, and mechanical repairs, are hard to predict and beyond the airlines’ control.
Although we strive for the highest level of customer service, that does not always constitute a refund, compensation, or fare adjustment. In fairness to all of our customers, we must respectfully deny your request for additional compensation due to the delay in your flight.
Nothing highlights the Great Divide between companies and their customers like this JetBlue exchange. Mendoza expected to be transported from Orlando to Newark without a hassle — a completely reasonable expectation on the face of it. JetBlue, and all of you reading this who understand anything about the airline business, will say it’s not reasonable to expect a carrier to keep its schedule.
Now, normally, an airline does a fairly good job of explaining that; you know its schedules are just a suggestion. Then along comes a work stoppage, a broken windshield wiper or, God forbid, a force majeure, and all bets are off. But sometimes it doesn’t, and when that happens, this happens.
Mendoza was wrong to expect JetBlue to guarantee her family would get to Newark on schedule. But she is also right. JetBlue was wrong to expect Mendoza to have read all the fine print associated with its tickets. But it is also right.
And that pretty much describes the ongoing issues not just between airline passengers and airlines, but also between customers and corporations.
Both are right. Both are wrong.
So now what? Should I go after JetBlue for compensation or assurances that it disciplined these gate agents in Orlando? Or should I let this one slide and pretend the divide doesn’t exist?
One of the most troubling travel stories of 2014 was a report that airlines are considering a new class of service — and I use the term “class” loosely — called economy “minus.”
“Let’s kill economy class”
Veronica Wittmann buys a $100 gift certificate through a company called Cardcash. Then the money disappears. What happened?
“Help, my Cardcash gift card is bogus!”
Michele Kelly’s recent Alaska cruise got off to a bad start, and she blames JetBlue Airways for it. First, for not keeping its schedule — and then, for keeping its schedule a little too well.
Kelly’s flight from Boston to Anchorage misconnected in the worst way possible. A mechanical delay caused the first flight to miss its scheduled arrival time by a few minutes. But then her connecting flight left early.
A JetBlue representative suggested the airline might compensate her for the difference between her missed Alaska leg and the walk-up fare she had to pay to get to the ship on time, but you can probably already guess what happened when she tried to collect on that.
Yes, my friends, always get a promise like that in writing.
I’m sending this case to my “dismissed” file, for reasons that will become clear to you in a minute. (And if they aren’t, then you’ll want to vote in the poll — if I’m wrong about this, I’ll be happy to take up her case.)
A few details: Kelly, her husband and another couple were scheduled to leave from Whittier, Alaska, on May 31. They booked a JetBlue flight for the 30th, thinking it would give them enough time.
“Apparently that wasn’t enough,” she says.
Their itinerary was a little circuitous: Boston-New York-Long Beach-Anchorage, all on JetBlue. She’s either a fan, or someone who just wanted a deal. After all, the end-on-end fare combination through Long Beach is cheaper than the Boston-Anchorage through fare.
But flight one, from Boston to New York, experienced a maintenance-related delay, which really threw a wrench in her itinerary.
“Because of the delay, we were worried we may miss our connection to Long Beach, and when we landed we ran to the gate, only to find the flight had left early,” she says. “The flight was scheduled for 1:40 p.m., and we and a few others arrived at the gate at 1:38, only to find that not only had they closed the doors, the plane was already gone.”
Kelly asked a gate agent why the flight was gone. The agent “snapped at us” and ordered the couple to return to the customer service desk.
We went to the JetBlue desk at JFK to try and get on another flight. The only itinerary they could book us on would get us to Anchorage late Saturday night, after our cruise ship left.
We started looking for other flights that could get us to Anchorage in time, and found that there was no option with JetBlue.
We ended up booking with Delta, which cost us $5,324 for the four of us. This was $4,135 more than the original JetBlue itinerary. A supervisor at the desk mentioned that they could potentially refund us the difference between the two flights, so that’s what we figured we’d do.
But she figured wrong. When she contacted JetBlue requesting a refund, here’s what it said:
While we do not reimburse for expenses paid outside of being accommodated on the next available JetBlue flight whenever it may be, or we refund the flight cost instead as per our Contract of Carriage, if your flight qualified for credit compensation and meets the criteria for the Bill of Rights, you should have already received an email from JetBlue. If you did not receive an email, you may click on the link below to see if your flight qualified:
Although you were each issued a JetBlue credit equal to the fare paid on us, minus taxes and fees previously, we have issued each of you on your reservation an additional $50 service credit which has been applied to your individual Travel Bank accounts. We feel that this compensation is generous and protects the integrity of our guidelines, while ensuring consistency for all of our customers.
JetBlue credits are valid for one year from their original date of issue and must be used to book a future flight and can be used by whoever you wish.
We do hope that you will use your credit and fly with us again. We look forward to seeing you aboard a JetBlue flight sometime in the near future.
In other words, no can do on reimbursing you for your Delta flight.
So here’s why I’m saying “no” to this case. JetBlue is absolutely correct on the compensation levels offered to Kelly. Technically, it just has to refund the unused flight segment from JFK to Anchorage. The credit is a nice bonus.
Here’s where Kelly erred: When a JetBlue supervisor said, “We might be able to fix that,” she should have pulled out her iPhone and taped it.
You know, “State your name. Tell us what JetBlue agrees to do.” Short of having something in writing, that video is the only way I can think of that the airline will make good on an offer to reimburse the Kellys and their friends for $5,324.
And JetBlue? Ah, JetBlue! Why are they pushing back two minutes before their scheduled departure? I’m sure there’s some kind of airline logic behind that, but I’m starting to get a little tired of these games airlines play to rig their DOT on-time ratings. The government should note — and punish — airlines for pushing back from the gate early, in my view. But that’s another story.