JetBlue was the only airline to shut down operations in Boston and New York for an extended period. With customers facing endless waits at the airports and on the phones, did JetBlue make any errors in its preparations or response to the situation over the weekend and its aftermath? You weren't hearing any such admissions today.
Despite some 1,800 flight cancellations since Thursday and massive disruption of passengers’ travel plans, JetBlue is standing firm and not conceding any errors in the way it has handled its operations over the last few days.
In a conference call with the press to provide an update on airline operations, JetBlue COO Rob Maruster said, “I absolutely think we did the right thing when you are doing things for safety reasons.”
JetBlue has a “safety first mentality,” he said, adding that operating through the frigid conditions Monday night and Tuesday morning would have exacerbated problems in a very challenging environment.
Maruster said the situation the airline confronted was a peak travel period following the New Year’s holiday, massive snow in the Northeast and Midwest, the shutdown of some JFK runways Friday evening and Saturday morning due to icing and a regional jet accident, and the implementation of new pilot rest rules January 4.
The new rules complicated matters, but were not a driving force behind the operational problems, Maruster said, although he added the rules were “quite candidly the biggest work-rule changes we have seen in our lifetimes.”
About the only concession that Maruster made was that faced with disruptions to the flights of some 150,000 passengers, he said “we were not necessarily built for that kind of volume to be handled at one time.” He said it was very difficult to rebook passengers as the airline was operating at about 90% of capacity.
Maruster said JetBlue would be contacting customers impacted last weekend by the end of the week and apologizing, and offering compensation beyond their expectations to convince them to fly JetBlue again.
In a blog post this afternoon, JetBlue announced it would compensate customers who had to deal with multiple cancellations through a combination of loyalty points, and credit towards future flights in the following manner:
|True Blue Members
|20K points +
OW CGW (or $100)
|20K points +
RT CGW (or $200)
|OW CGW (or $100)
|RT CGW (or $200)
CGW is a customer goodwill credit with the airline.
The airline notes that this compensation is separate from and in addition to anything mandated by the Passenger Bill of Rights.
The “recovery looks good right now,” Maruster said, adding that hold times on JetBlue phone lines were running around 15 minutes.
He predicted that JetBlue’s operations would be back to normal on Thursday.
On the controversial issue of pilot rest rules, Maruster said JetBlue applied in September for a temporary waiver of the rules because the airline thought they would be difficult to implement on January 4, following the holiday weekend.
The FAA turned down the application, he said.
JetBlue reached out to the FAA last weekend for clarifications and discussions about the pilot-rest rules, “but couldn’t have that discussion over the weekend,” Maruster said.
Asked whether JetBlue had hired enough pilots to comply with the new pilot mandates, Maruster said the airline had hired “a significant number of pilots” to deal with the new rules, although he declined to specify the number of hires for competitive reasons.
JetBlue, which faced extensive tarmac delays in February 2007 and apologized, at that juncture “sought to operate through the weather,” but this time around the airline chose not to “challenge” the weather in New York.
JetBlue has a “safety first mentality,” Maruster said, adding that is the airline’s “number one value.”
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Photo credit: People wait in line at the JetBlue counter at La Guardia airport in New York. Carlo Allegri / Reuters