Great Communication on Southwest, Not on JetBlue (Trip Report)

We had a quick trip this weekend up to San Francisco, and man, was this a lesson in the importance of communication. We flew JetBlue up from Long Beach and had a miserable experience. On the other hand, our flight home to Los Angeles on Southwest was excellent. Both flights were delayed, so what made the difference? Quality communication.

The flight north on JetBlue was booked on May 8 for $59.60 one way per person. I had a $15 voucher from my previous flight where LiveTV didn’t work, so it only cost $44.60 per person in cash. Nice. As usual, we left home an hour before the flight, sailed through security and then went to the holdroom/trailer to wait for our flight.

June 12, 2009
JetBlue #1436 Lv Long Beach (LGB) 655p Arr San Francisco (SFO) 819p
LGB: Gate 2A, Runway 30, Dept 50m Late
SFO: Gate A10, Runway 28R, Arr 1h13m Late
Aircraft: N579JB, Airbus A320-232, Named Can’t Stop Lovin’ Blue, Two Thirds Full
Seat: 12F
Flight Time: 1h12m

Just as we arrived, I received an email from FLTAdvisor saying that my flight was delayed 25 minutes. Ugh. The holdroom was absolutely jammed as three flights were preparing to leave, so I squeezed my way through the crowd to ask the gate agent what was happening. He looked surprised as well, pulled up the flight information, and flatly said that it would be 25 minutes late because the plane was late. How did they not know this further in advance?

The plane arrived and the gate agent made another announcement that we would board in 15 minutes. Then 25 minutes later, he said we would begin preboarding in 5 minutes. Another 20 minutes later, he Long Boarding Line at LGBfinally started preboarding. The misinformation was clearly annoying many in the boarding area as we all hovered around, waiting with less and less patience as each minute went by.

When they finished preboarding, the gate agent called all rows, and it was a mad dash to board from all corners of the trailer, as you can see at left. What a mess. It was made even worse by the gate agent’s lackadaiscal manner that showed absolutely no motivation to get this plane out quickly.

Once we got onboard, people sat down relatively quickly, but then we didn’t move for awhile as ground crew shuffled in and out of the cockpit. To make things worse, the TVs were all stuck on a promo screen so we couldn’t pass the time. The captain made a brief announcement that they were doing paperwork and we’d leave soon. Several minutes later, he came back on and told us that on a previous flight, it had been written up that a TV was broken but now it wasn’t. They needed to get the paperwork straightened out.

I’m sure he was trying to comfort everyone by making it clear that it wasn’t a safety issue, but it just made things worse when we realized that we were waiting for some paperwork on a single TV that wasn’t even broken. Grr.

We finally pushed back and sat through a handful of JetBlue promotions on TV right after the safety briefing. Once those were done, they turned on the TVs, but they didn’t work well on the ground. That wouldn’t have mattered except that as soon as we got to the end of the runway, the captain announced we had been given a 10 minute air traffic control delay by SFO. Could this get any more annoying?

Yes, it could. We did finally take off and it was a beautiful flight as the setting sun filled the partly Taking Off From LGB Into the Sunsetcloudy sky with beams of red and orange (at right). We started our descent, and we were told that we were on final approach. Not so much. We took a left turn and headed out to sea before turning around and coming back to get in line to land.

Finally, well over an hour after schedule, we landed and headed off to a very late dinner with extremely patient friends. The delays were annoying as they always are, but the misleading information and lack of communication at times made it ten times worse.

After a really nice weekend, including a stay at the excellent Hotel Vitale (my first Joie de Vivre hotel – I’ll be back), we hopped on the BART and went back to SFO for our flight home.

We opted to fly Southwest home because we had credits that were going to expire, and we were able to get rides from friends. It was even better when we found seats for $48.60 a person.

We arrived early and meandered from the BART station in the international terminal over to Southwest’s SFO Aviation MuseumTerminal 1 location. On the way, my wife stopped at the SFMOMA museum shop, and I insisted on stopping at the aviation museum. It’s a fantastic space with a library on the second floor (at left). Stop in if you get a chance – it’s in the southeast corner of the international terminal, outside security, on the departures level.

Security lines were short but slow, but we had plenty of time. This was my first time flying Southwest out of SFO since they returned to the airport, and I noticed we were flying out of an old Air Canada gate instead of at the end of the concourse where Southwest used to be.

June 14, 2009
Southwest #2282 Lv San Francisco (SFO) 1145a Arr Los Angeles (LAX) 110p
SFO: Gate 23, Runway 1L, Dept 12m Late
LAX: Gate 14, Runway 24R, Arr 21m Late
Aircraft: N783SW, Boeing 737-7H4, Canyon Blue Colors, 100% Full
Seat: 9F
Flight Time: 56m

We were told at the gate that our plane would be arriving late and we’d have to work to turn the plane quickly. Sure enough, it arrived when they said, and by that time, they had lined the A group (we were A26/27) up so we were ready to board asap. They kept pushing everyone to hustle throughout the boarding process, and kept reminding us how close we were to departure time.

Unfortunately, people weren’t as quick as they could have been, and departure time came and went. Despite the proactive measures, we still left a few minutes late. Once the door was closed, we pushed back quickly and started taxiing out to the runway. Then we sat there. Oh no, not again.

The captain came on and alerted us that we were going to have to wait 8 to 12 minutes to take off. Ok, that’s fair. Twelve minutes later, he came on the horn and said that we had been “penalized” further by air traffic control and we would leave at 1230p (in 10 minutes) because of traffic flow control in the LA area. (You don’t see that very often.)

Sure enough, at 1230p, our wheels were lifting off the ground and we were passing through a low, broken layer of clouds. The rest of the flight was uneventful, and I was very happy to see a cloud-free day in LA for the first time in weeks. June Gloom has been living up to its name lately.

As we landed, the flight attendants decided to kick in some good old-fashioned Southwest humor. One flight attendant said, “If you’re connecting on another Southwest flight, check the monitors in the terminal. If you’re connecting on another airline, we simply don’t care.” Love it.

Though the JetBlue delay was longer than the Southwest one, it still wouldn’t have bothered me nearly as much had the communication been accurate and more frequent. Every airline has its good and bad days, and I’m willing to assume that this was just a bad day for the JetBlue crew.

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