Problems with JetBlue’s Customer Bill of Rights

Customer Service, JetBlue

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. CrankyHelperActually, 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.

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23 comments on “Problems with JetBlue’s Customer Bill of Rights

  1. Does anybody know WHY people are ever forced to stay on the plane while it is on the ground for hours on end — either at the gate or while taxiing? I was once told that flight crews only get paid for the time while they are on the aircraft with the door closed, but I have never been able to get this confirmed.

  2. It was only a matter of time. The PR stunt with the gaping hole is finally coming home to roost.

    Cranky, can you use your web of contacts to find out how much they have paid out under this silly little contract? (my guess, not much as they’ll be able to define most anything as out of their control) Inquiring cranky fliers want to know!

    A bientot

  3. There are many different reasons, DRG. When the weather is bad, often Air Traffic Control will give you a time when you’ll be allowed to go, but as weather conditions change, that can change too.

    On this flight, for example, a thunderstorm came over the airport and they had to shut it down while lightning was in the area (for the safety of those working the ramp). That would have messed with times in a negative way, obviously.

    But sometimes, it goes the other way. For example, the fog at SFO can restrict the number of arrivals, so they delay planes before taking off so they don’t have to circle in the air when they get near SFO. If that fog lifts, planes that may not have expected to go for two hours could get immediate clearance. If you’re not boarded and ready to go, you’ll take a longer, unnecessary delay.

    As far as taxi delays go, there are a few reasons for this. One is the lack of gates. Delta at JFK may be the worst example right now. They’ve completely overscheduled their gates, so they need to push a plane out to the taxiway in order to get the next plane in there which is probably already delayed.

    Another reason is the way the FAA handles departures. You have to physically get in line to take off. So, even if there are 40 planes ahead of you, you have to push back knowing you’ll sit there for hours. Otherwise, other people will be able to get in front of you. If they allowed airlines to reserve a place in line and only require they show up on the taxiway when they were second or third in line, that would save a lot of frustration.

    Of course, it’s not that easy. There are taxiway congestion problems with a plan like that, and you still have gate restraints. For that reason, people keep going round and round the problem without solving it.

    Nothing is ever easy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed. It’s just going to take a great deal of cooperation between the airlines, the airports, and the FAA, and that will be tough.

  4. Hey, Cranky, you act like this is new. Joe Branatelli at dissected and dismissed the Passenger Bills of Rights back in February. He called it essentially useless back then, and he’s generally a fan of Jet Blue.

  5. Yes, yes. Unfortunately, I can’t get you a number. What I did find out is that of the amount they’re paying regarding Bill of Rights issues, 75% was being paid out before under the previous rules. So, that can at least give you an idea directionally.

  6. I agree that no one should be forced to stay on the aircraft longer than an hour, at which time passengers should have the option of staying on or getting off. But the million dollar question really is, at what point do you leave passengers behind once you have clearance to pushback? There will always be someone who wanders off during a delay, only to show up at the gate after the flight has pushed back – no matter how many times you tell them you might get an early release. I can certainly sympathize with JetBlue and any other airline on why you would want to try to keep the customers on the plane as long as possible, but no matter what further delays you might incur, even 2 hours sit-time is too long.

  7. I just experienced a 5-6 hour ground delay due to weather… Coming from JFK to San Jose. We were on the plan for about 11-12 hours! What can I do about it? Please help!

  8. I just experienced a 5-6 hour ground delay because of weather. We were departing from JFK to San Jose, CA. The total amount of time in the plane was about 10-11 hours! We got chips and beverages, but NOT enough for a LUNCH meal.. Can someone help me and tell me what I can do about it to get some sort of compensation for this ridiculous scenario… I can’t believe they kept us in the plane for soooo long!

  9. JetBlue Flyer – If you were delayed for more than 5 hours, then you get a free ticket:

    “Customers who experience an Onboard Ground Delay on Departure for 5 or more hours after scheduled departure time 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).”

    They should send it to you via email, but you can always call them at 1800-JETBLUE and they can help.

  10. I was on the June 10 Flight 95 from JFK to OAK. In our case we had “pushed out” and were waiting in line to take off when Air Traffic Control closed down the airport due to the onproaching lightening storm. We finally took off at 12:03 am, a delay of over 6 hours.

    Yet over 2 months later, I have not been offered a voucher by Jet Blue. They claim to send the vouchers within 2 weeks.

    So today after reading this site I sent them an Email. We’ll see what happens

  11. Jet Blue responded after 5 days. Turns out, they did issue vouchers for double the one way ticket price on June 18. Yet I received no communication about it, either Email, letter or phone call. Nor did it appear on my monthly True Blue statement.

    So it doesn’t hurt to contact them, despite what their Bill of Rights says that you don’t have to do anything.

  12. I just got this email from them…. But just like TJ, it was because of weather… any suggestions on how I can approach this?
    Thank you for your email detailing your frustration with the disruption to your JetBlue travel plans. Although it is not possible for us to address every condition and situation that occurred, please know that we truly sympathize with your unique circumstances and disappointments.

    JetBlue has a team dedicated to issuing compensation per our Bill of Rights when delays or cancellations occur. When compensation is determined, a notification is sent to the customer via email or by regular mail. This information should be received within 7-10 days after travel. If you do not receive a compensation notification from JetBlue, it is because your flight(s) did not qualify for compensation. The decision made by the compensation team is final and we cannot reverse that decision.

    The Bill of Rights compensates for controllable irregularities, such as maintenance cancellations or delays and crew unavailability (with the exception of those that occur as a result of weather disruptions). Weather and Air Traffic Control delays are not something we have control over; therefore, compensation is not offered in these circumstances as per the Bill of Rights. In addition, as per our Contract of Carriage, any incidental expenses that are incurred because of the disruption will not be reimbursed.

    To view our Bill of Rights in its entirety, including the explanation of Controllable and
    Uncontrollable Irregularities, please click on the link below:

    Once again we hope you will accept our sincere apology for any inconvenience you experienced. We look forward to future opportunities to welcome you onboard JetBlue.

  13. JetBlue Flyer – I’m happy to follow up on this if you would like. Hopefully I can get some further info. I’ll need all the flight information including your confirmation number and the flight in question. Send it to cf *at* and I’ll see what I can find out.

  14. Jet Flyer, That is the same Email, I got back. 5 days later I got the notice from the compensation committee.

    My case was weather related but also had the neccessary component of an on board ground delay while on the runway for over 5 hours. Thus the 2X One-way voucher.

    My only remaining issue is whether they really inform you of the voucher as stated in the Bill of Rights. I had to be proactive to get notice of mine.

    Also they seem to be cancelling more flights at least at OAK and SFO. They almost never used to cancel flights. Perhaps a way of avoiding the compensation issue?

  15. TJ and CF: Thanks for the input. Like you, although it was weather related, we were on board and it was a ground delay on the runway for over 5 hours. Hopefully they’ll get back to me. If not, CF, I would like to definitely get your help.

    I’ll try giving them a call today.

  16. FYI – I was on the JB flight from JFK to SFO on June 8, 2008 that sat on the tarmac due to weather for 5+ hours. The flight eventually was canceled b/c the flight crew was in the cabin longer than FAA regulations allowed and there was no backup crew. JB was unsympathetic, saying it wasn’t their fault but rather due to the weather. It did not matter that ours was the only flight canceled.
    That week, myself and a friend called and JB gave as a one-way fare as compensation despite their Bill of Rights being explicitly and unambiguously clear we were entitled to a full fare.
    I wrote a letter to JB on behalf of myself and 11 others pointing out this fact, and received an unresponsive reply that we were only entitled to the one-way fare due to the delay being caused by the weather. This decision was seemingly arbitrary.
    Two months later (end of August), I received an email from JB Legal stating they reviewed our complaint and were reissuing vouchers equivalent to the full round-trip fare. In this email, JB stated that the miscommunication occurred because the website apparently was not updated. I have no idea what this was a reference to. What was also alluded to was the fact that they had been contacted by the federal Department of Transportation.
    During this whole process, JB never apologized for their mistake, made up lame unsubstantiated excuses, and only responded b/c I had filed a complaint with the feds!
    The lesson learned: don’t expect JB to do the right thing and be prepared to put pressure on them (i.e., file a complaint / contact local media). Corporate America at its finest….

  17. dear friends…. i want to let you know that I am very disappointed in JetBlue Airlines. They say they are number 1 in customer service… well, why then am I being charged over 100$ to cancel a flight due to a medical emergency (aka MD ANDERSON BREAST CANCER PATIENT) and unable to fly. We all know they have the power to make individual considerations but refuse. Why? And what can we do about it?! What’s 100$ to a major corporation? To this mom of 2 with THOUSANDS of dollars in medical bills- it’s groceries.

  18. Almost 5 years later to the day, July 15th 2012, and the same problem happened to the flight I was on (173) JFK to San Jose. Weather conditions were horrible with thunder and lightning, they boarded us anyways. I calculated we were waiting at the gate on the place for 1.5 hours. Then off to the tarmac we went to wait for another 2.5 hours. When it appeared there was no chance of us taking off before the 3 hour mark (apparently an FAA rule?) they took us back to the gate. ONLY, the grounds crew were unable to connect jet bridge to the plane because the weather was so bad. Once again, we waited for another 30 minutes. In total… 4.5 hours on a plane.
    I tried to contact JB so may times and spent several hours arguing my case. I was given different answers each time, and each time a promise the someone would contact me. No one ever called me. Today, the woman was very kind but said no one else got a refund on the flight and so I couldn’t be issued one either. She also argues the FAA had data indicating we were only on the plane for 2.5 hours. (I realize from this article why).
    So, just want to say that this little loophole has not been fixed and I think they use it to their advantage. This customer bill of rights is in illusion.
    BTW, the flight was eventually cancelled, after 7 hours total waiting in the airport as well as the 4.5 waiting in the plane. Heck of a day.

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