Held Prisoner on JetBlue – The Airline That is Afraid To Fly

By Keith Cowing
June 28, 2007
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I used to like JetBlue. Not any more. Just a month and a half ago I found myself on the inaugural flight from San Francisco to New York with Jet Blue’s CEO aboard. The service was good that day. But not today. Indeed, today I felt like a prisoner.

Our flight was supposed to depart at 12:15 pm PDT. Around 12:45 we were still sitting in the plane when the Captain came on to say that our window had already come and gone and that we were facing a 2 hour and 40 minute delay. This was due to bad weather on the east coast.

We were told that we’d just have to sit in the plane. That delay alone would kill my connection at JFK down to Washington Dulles so I began to think that I’d just stay in the Bay area for a day or so. When I asked if I could get off and change my flight I was told that I could not. I asked if my connecting flight (also JetBlue) between JFK and Dulles would be held and the flight attendant said yes. He then checked – and came back to tell me that the connection would be OK – even with our delayed departure and arrival in New York.

Other passengers tried to get off as well but were refused permission to leave – even though the plane was still connected to the gate.

An hour later the Captain came on the loudspeaker and said that he was going to prepare for take off – just in case. But this meant that we were committed to take off – doors closed, etc. Eventually we rolled a very short distance out on the tarmac and sat there for another hour and a half. We eventually took off at 3:30 – three hours late.

I asked again if the JFK flight would be held if we were late getting in – since our arrival time was now 15 minutes after the scheduled departure time of my 10:55 pm EDT flight. The second attendant assured me that they would hold the flight if we were late.

Well, we arrived at 11:10 pm EDT and were in the terminal at 11:20. My connecting flight to Dulles was not listed. I called my wife and she told me that she had checked the web and that the flight that they were supposed to hold for us showed a departure at 11:06 pm. So, they did not hold it.

I then got in line at the Jet Blue help desk. It took 2 hours and 10 minutes for the JetBlue attendants to get to me. During that time I walked a total of 20 feet.

When I got to the counter it took an additional 40 minutes before they did something for me. The woman at the counter tried to tell me that I’d have to wait until Saturday for a flight – and that they would not cover hotel etc. In essence I’d have to spend several hundred dollars on a hotel room (there were none anyway) or live at the airport and wait almost 2 days to take a one-hour flight. This is just goofy. If that was their solution I’d just take a train to Washington.

They tried the “its weather therefore too bad” angle on me. I told then that this wasn’t a weather issue since I asked – offered – to get off the plane in San Francisco (as did others) – to change my travel arrangements. JetBlue refused to allow me to do so. As such they held me hostage – and assured me that I’d make my connecting flight.

Eventually, I got on stand by on a 6:30 am flight and confirmed for a 3:30 pm flight on Friday. But I had to sleep in a smelly airport. Oh well. The WiFI is free.

While this was all happening, one young college aged girl was getting emotional because she had packed her medication. She had packed it in checked luggage because it involves needles etc. One Jet Blue employee told her dismissively that she could bring it on the plane. Gee, like that helped things in the present situation. The other person behind the desk started laughing as the girl needing her medicine started to break down.

This is the second instance where someone raised a medical issue and Jet Blue employee started to smile. Indeed, one older woman who was needing to get to her luggage – which Jet Blue would not let her get to – was also starting to break down. The jet Blue attendant (“Kele”) came back behind the counter and was chuckling. Another JetBlue employee asked her what had happened and she muttered something under he breath and chuckled.

At one point someone asked a JetBlue employee if they could have a bottle of water – there was a tray sitting behind the counter. with half a dozen bottles on it. Another person asked for one as well. I asked of they could give me the tray so I could hand the water out. The JetBlue employee tossed it on the counter at me and walked away.

I have to say that the JetBlue employees behind the counter were not at all sympathetic to the plight their customers were facing. Indeed (and I have seen a lot of things like this in airports) I have never seen the entire staff on duty show the same lack of courtesy all at the same time.

But insensitivity is to be expected – especially on an airline that is still learning how to be a professional airline. However, laughing and snickering at people – customers – who need medicine is just uncalled for.

Based on this incompetence I am inclined to fly another airline next time.

If JetBlue wants to be a real airline they need to start acting like one.

Update 7:00 am 29 June

After some sleep near Gate 16 I asked the JetBlue employee, Clive, who manned the gate, if I was on standby for a 6:30 am flight to Dulles. Clive clearly woke up with the intention of being nasty to customers today and quickly told me that he did not have time to talk to me. Eventually I got him to confirm that I was indeed on stand by. He told me to show up at the gate 15 minutes before departure.

At the appropriate time I, and the others on standby stood at the gate. Just as it looked like we’d get on some inept tour guide showed up with a swarm of people . Seems they got lost. Despite repeated attempts by JetBlue to get the tour guide to round up all of her flock she did not. So they held the flight – something they did not do for the passengers on my flight last night.

Eventually only one standby was allowed on. Clive did not seem to understand the computer system and his supervisor had to tell him how to do things.

I then went back up to JetBlue customer service. Nadja Jackson took my papers that I had been given the previous time at the desk. I had been told by a JetBlue employee named Mirka last night to present these papers when I went to the gate. Nadja told me that I had not chekced in. That was nonsense since Clive had read and confirmed my name on the standby list. Nada then told me that I had to get a boarding pass. No one told me that last night. She could not explain why I was not given one last night. She told me I had to go outside security, go to a ticket counter, get a boarding pass and then come back through security. When I pressed her she admitted that she could give me a boarding pass.

At this point I started to write down her name. She saw me doing this and flipped her badge over so that I could not see her name. I said “too late, got your name” She replied in a snotty tone, you can get my mother’s name, my aunt’s name …” she said for extra effect.

After several minutes of fiddling around she told me I owed $10.40. No one told me that and I have to wonder why JetBlue would charge me to fix their problem. I paid the $10.40 and was given a boarding pass and a confirmed seat on a flight at 3:30 this afternoon.

Last night I was willing to chalk off the behavior of JetBlue employees to bad management. After dealing with Clive and Nadja, I am now certain that not only is their management inept, but that none of their employees at JFK has he slightest notion of how to treat customers.

The most bizarre thing was hearing the JetBlue employee sitting next to Nadja wonder, in a voice that everyone in line could hear, why customers were suspicious as to whether the information she gave them was accurate.


JetBlue is simply not ready for prime time. They learned nothing from last Spring’s ice storm fiasco. I can’t wait to see how they react to the next major weather event.

Update 6:00 pm 29 June

I finally managed to actually get on an airplane and make it home to Washington and I am about to go to sleep.

Earlier in the day I had a phone conversation with a producer at CNBC who had called and left me a voice message. He had read this article and as preparing a segment on a program that would air at 5:00 pm today. The producer asked if I could make it over to their studio in New Jersey to do an interview, but I said that my priority right now was simply to get home.

We left things such that we’d talk later in the day — and if I was still in the process of trying to get home he might put me on the air.

As I landed at Washington Dulles at 4:50 pm, I was watching CNBC on a seat back TV screen. Greg Olsen and Eric Anderson were on talking about space tourism. I called the producer to check to see if he still needed me. He said that he managed to book someone who had been stuck on a JetBlue plane for 8 hours (as compared to my shorter 3.5 hours) I agreed with the producer that this person had a much stronger case to make about JetBlue’s service (or lack thereof).

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.