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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21 Comments on "Great Communication on Southwest, Not on JetBlue (Trip Report)"

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Nick Barnard

Sadly in the service business people tend to measure you by your bad days..

We’ve had a bunch of bad days at my work place as of late, although we try to be really on top of our stuff..

The Traveling Optimist
The Traveling Optimist
June 10, 2009 American Airlines, Phoenix to Dallas #2020, MD-80. Scheduled Departure 4:25PM. Actual Departure: 5:30PM Ground hold due to DFW weather: 1 hour 45 minutes. Take-off 7:15PM, uneventful flight. Enter holding pattern over Brownwood, Texas 11:30PM. Divert to Austin 12:30AM. Land Austin 01:00AM. Several AA diversions, one DL 737 and one CO 737 also waiting for gates. Could not see out the right side of the plane to find out how bad Southwest was doing. Finally deplane about 2:30am after waiting for flights with plenty of crew-time left to refuel and try to make DFW. Our crew timed out… Read more »

Optimist — I wonder why in situations like this, airlines don’t just charter a few buses to get passengers to the original destination airport. It’s probably not that hard to find 10-20 buses that would leave AUS at 6 AM and get the passengers to DFW by 9 or 10. AA would still need to reposition the planes and crews, but that’s probably easier (and possibly cheaper) without the passengers. Is it the cost of buses? Or is it that at any point throughout the delay it looks like flying has a chance of being faster?

David SF eastbay

Like it’s been said, people only remember and tell family and friends about the bad flights and never talk about the good ones. Humans seems to like hearing the ‘horror’ events more then the good evenes. Wonder why that is?

The Traveling Optimist
The Traveling Optimist
Ron – I’m not sure if the contingency operating model for that scenario has changed over the years. Many years earlier on another American service between DFW and JFK where I was to connect to Brazil bad weather in New York AND Dallas held us up for three hours prior to takeoff. When we finally got to the New York area things weren’t any better and we diverted and cancelled at Philadelphia. American did charter buses and we trundled across the Verazzano about four hours later, bags included. Sadly I missed my flight to Brazil but again I was alive… Read more »
The Traveling Optimist
The Traveling Optimist
DavidSFEastBay – Ever heard the news catchphrase: “If it bleeds, it leads.” In selling papers and websites in the news industy it’s all about misery definitely loving company to make our own lives seem that much better than we think it to be. Please note also that at the end of my story I praised American and it’s people for a job well done under extremely stressful circumstances. I don’t begrudge them the weather, the pilots stayed on top of both the weather and the news as they received it and the gate agents never gave up the ghost while… Read more »
Alex Hill

Re bussing:

AA and UA both fairly routinely bus us down from Madison, WI to O’Hare when there’s bad weather. (It’s a 2.5–3 hour drive.) The MSN-ORD flights are all RJs, though, so one bus can handle a full planeload. I’ve had UA and AA share a chartered bus to get the passengers on both airlines down to Chicago.

I also sometimes hop on the regularly scheduled commercial bus on that route when the flight is significantly delayed, with AA’s blessing.


Bay Area lingo for our LA friends: “BART”, not “the BART”


…although when referring to stations, “the BART station”


Great picture of the ceiling at the SFO Aviation Museum. But what about some pics of the carpet next time?

Nick Barnard

We used to get bussed from Ithica to BGM all the time. USAir would actually transfer the checked luggage right to the hold of the bus. It was only an hour or so, but the last flight of the night had a nasty habit of being fogged out. That is one of those problems that happens with building an airport ontop of a big hill, and low cloud cover.

I expect though that new autoland systems have made this a mood event for BGM.

But the calculation probably comes down to how much they have to shell out for meals etc.

Communication: Are we that far off where there will be no verbal communication with anyone, anyone from your airline about anything, anything, between the time you leave for the airport until the moment you plop down on the plane seat? Same when you leave the plane at destination. Verbal communication, useful verbal communication for the average passenger, is going the way of the buggy whip. Should improve the airlines’ bottom line given the lack of need for much of their airport labor forces. Very sad, a great loss for what being human is all about. But this, I believe, is… Read more »

In 2008 took my first flight on JetBlue from JFK to Las Vegas. Service was fantastic. America west couldn’t hold a candle toJetBlue.

As a foot note US Air no longer flies between Las Vegas & JFK.

Insider Knowledge

That supposed “humor” is why we call Southwest, Southworst! How DICK like of them to say. I fly nothing but Continental and if our flight is late and there are passengers trying to make connections, they do what they can to notify the other carriers and/or find them the next available flight and put them up in a room or at the least, buy them dinner. I wish you would dive into that comment more and explain if there were any other passengers on other carriers and did SW do anything about it.


The Traveling Optimist
The Traveling Optimist
CF – I understood the joke as intended but am not sure if Southwest really has an understanding on their interline exposure. THEY see their 80% point-to-point customer base only from the data of their ticket history. What they may not capture is how many of those passengers “manual interline” to other carriers thru two separate tickets. They ARE aware of it as it was a story line in “Airline” a while back. A Chinese couple was late from Phoenix to Los Angeles and missed their flight on China Airlines to Taipei. If I remember that episode correctly Southwest did… Read more »
The Traveling Optimist
The Traveling Optimist

Cranky –

Agreed. When they flew secondary airports, and especially ones with slim to no international exposure, FIM agreements weren’t much of an issue. As they continue to expand in to larger markets it is a good question to challenge them with:

As you grow in to larger market airports, are you, Southwest Airlines, reviewing your passenger protection programs with respect to FIM acceptance in support of controllable delays at your carrier?

Accommodation San Francisco

‘we left home an hour before the flight’ – man, you’re lucky! I wish I ever could have flyed like that!

I have been flying Jetblue out of Syracuse and around the country since 2004 (mainly JFK, but also Austin, Ontario, Las Vegas, and will be LAX tomorrow). Out of all of those, the only flight I ever had a problem with was one leaving Austin. The worst, and an example of REALLY bad communication was my flight leaving Austin that was delayed 10 minutes at a time due to weather, which added up to almost an hour. We left and then were delayed another 10 minutes at a time, circling Norfolk, Virginia waiting to approach JFK due to traffic and… Read more »