There were mixed reactions when JetBlue introduced its Customer Bill of Rights after the Valentine’s Day problems earlier this year. Some thought it was adequate, but others didn’t think it went far enough. Thanks to a frustrated reader’s question, I’ve found a nasty little loophole that you’ll probably want to know before your next flight.
On the 4th of July, I received an email from a reader who had been fighting with JetBlue about compensation. Some parts of the email were exactly what you’d expect to hear from someone flying out of JFK in bad weather this summer . . .
I was scheduled to depart JFK airport at 7:15 PM….At 10:09PM we boarded the plane.We sat there until 4:22AM at which time we took off. My time sitting on the plane & waiting to go down the runway was 6 hrs & 13 minutes. We took off 9 hrs & 7 minutes late.
Sounds like a normal summer day at the most painful airport in the US these days, but something struck me.
The email that I sent Jet Blue a week ago asking if we would get a flight vouched [sic] has not been responded to….I called tonight,waited an hour for a supervisor only to be quickly told that no voucher for future travel would be forthcoming…Is this right?
It certainly didn’t sound right. Actually, it sounded like a job for the Cranky Helper. (I needed a really cheesy name to go with that ridiculous picture.)
A quick trip to JetBlue’s Customer Bill of Rights seemed to back me up. The flight was delayed due to weather issues. Since that’s a “controllable irregularity,” it was obvious that the mere delay wouldn’t be worthy of compensation. But what about the 6-hour ground delay when they were stuck on the plane?
According to JetBlue, customers will be compensated for an onboard ground delay regardless of the cause. “Customers who experience an onboard Ground Delay on Departure for 4 or more hours are entitled to a Voucher good for future travel on JetBlue in the amount paid by the customer for the roundtrip (or the oneway trip, doubled).”
Bingo! Seemed like an easy one to me, so I couldn’t figure out why the reader wasn’t compensated. I decided to call the airline and find out.
JetBlue roughly agreed with the timing of the flight. A combination of thunderstorms, crew delays, and general JFK messiness saw the flight slip later and later. According to them, boarding began between 1030p and 11p, and after they found a replacement crew, the plane finally pushed back at 320a and was in the air at 422a. So at the very best, these people sat on the plane from 11p to 422a before departing for the newly-turned redye – still over a 5 hour delay and certainly eligible for compensation. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not checking the contract of carriage (PDF).
Ground Delay, as used in Section 36 shall mean a delay involving a flight that, in the case of departures, has boarded and pushed back from the gate but that is not in air and, in the case of arrivals, has landed but has not yet arrived at a gate.
Ooooh, that’s pretty weak. So basically, they can board you but the clock won’t start on the ground delay until the plane actually pushes back. This is a huge hole in their Bill of Rights and it’s bound to anger a lot of people, including my reader. Once you board that plane, you don’t care if you’re at the gate or on the taxiway. You still aren’t getting off, and that should count as a long onboard delay.
There was a slightly happy ending to this story. After my continued prodding, JetBlue agreed to give $50 vouchers to everyone onboard that plane. In their words . . .
Although this compensation is outside the bounds of our Bill of Rights, we are happy to extend this gesture of goodwill because of the unique circumstances of this flight, and the fact that customers were asked to stay on board in anticipation of an imminent departure that kept being pushed back because of the many uncontrollable factors we’ve discussed.
That’s a nice gesture considering that under the contract of carriage they didn’t have to do anything, but it still doesn’t change the fact that this type of delay should without question be covered under the Bill of Rights. I don’t care where the plane is when you’re stuck . . . you’re still stuck. JetBlue did promise to look at this from a policy standpoint as well . . .
This issue has raised an important question that our Airports team will be examining closely: in those situations when we know a ground delay will be prolonged, how do we let customers off without delaying the flight further — for instance, if we have to locate customers in the terminal prior to the new departure time. We always want to ensure everyone’s comfort but we certainly don’t ever want to leave anyone behind.
With any luck, we’ll see a real change here, but I’m not holding my breath. I do have to say that I appreciate JetBlue’s responsiveness to my inquiries, so I’ll hold a sliver of hope that this will get changed. But for now, keep this in mind when traveling on the airline.