Wednesday, August 27, 2008

It's official! My JetBlue lawsuit has been accepted.

I received notice today that the Connecticut Small Claims Court has accepted my case against JetBlue. It (JetBlue) has until October 1, 2008 to respond.

You can follow it here.

I suspect that upon receiving my complaint, JetBlue will have already spent more on lawyers than I am requesting but, hey, that's JetBlue's problem.

For a more thorough explanation of my reasons for going the small claims route, see this previous post. Basically it says "Let's hold the airlines accountable for the service we purchase."

It will be interesting just to see how this progresses. Win or lose, it will be a powerful incentive to everyone who has been screwed by an airline to take action on their own behalf. If enough people file small claims suits, it will eventually become more cost-effective for the airlines to do the right thing and deliver the product they are selling, rather than make the cynical calculation that pissing-off customers is just a cost of doing business and we'll get over it and be back anyway.

Sure - we all have to fly for one reason or another. But if we make it financially impossible to get way with treating us this way, eventually it is the airlines that will have to change, not us.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

No, I didn't really go to JetBlue's "Flight to Nowhere"

I have received a few emails asking if I actually attended JetBlue's shakedown cruise of their new terminal at JFK this past Saturday.

Yes, I know I said I was going. I lied.

I had no intention of going, despite being invited. I just wanted to keep those JetBlue PR folks on their toes. (As if they actually cared about me one way or the other. All evidence up to now indicates JetBlue could not care less about a former VERY loyal customer.)

I did see some press reports about the new terminal and I have to say, it appears quite nice. It better be. According to the New York Times, it cost $743 million. Too bad JetBlue didn't put some of that money into a couple of extra planes and staff that could actually deliver the service they are selling to customers.

Look at it this way - which would YOU choose?:

- Behind Door #1, we have you stuck in JetBlue's fancy new terminal due to a lack of a plane or a crew.

- Behind Door #2, you wait in the old terminal, but board your plane on time and arrive at your destination somewhere in the vicinity of the promised time.

- Behind Door #3, we have a year's supply of canned chipped beef.

"I'll take doors #2 or 3, Monty. Anything is better than sitting around waiting for JetBlue to do what I actually paid them to do."

Well, I guess if you are being held in purgatory, it's nice if you can get some sushi and a microbrew.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

And now back to JetBlue: "Happy Jetting" my ass

A colleague of mine commented to me after reading my blog post about the dopey invitation that JetBlue sent me a couple of days ago that it seems that JetBlue keeps loading the gun and handing it to me.

Yep. Any company that lives by slick marketing will ultimately get hoisted with its own petard.

In its ongoing effort to TALK about how wonderful it is, rather than actually BE wonderful, JetBlue has created a microsite called "Happy Jetting", which is their marketing slogan du jour.One of the pages on the "Happy Jetting" web site is called "Jetting Cares" and it reads as follows (I am NOT making this up):

"At JetBlue we believe happiness is a whole lot better than grouchiness, anger and unhappiness. We believe that happy crewmembers lead to happy customers. We believe that listening isn't hard to do. We believe that while air travel always has its unexpected bumps, our job is to keep improving the ride. And we believe that when you add that kind of common sense to 35,000 feet, you make air travel something it hasn't been in a long time: enjoyable."

Now, this statement must be parsed. Bear with me:

- At JetBlue we believe happiness is a whole lot better than grouchiness, anger and unhappiness.
OK, we accept that you believe that. Who wouldn't? It's common sense. We all believe that too. We're with ya'!

- We believe that happy crewmembers lead to happy customers.
Uh oh. Sounds good, but what about the poor JetBlue employee that I had to deal with at the ticket counter in Portland when you cancelled my flight and told me I could fly in three days? THAT guy was so unhappy, you could taste it. He actually said to me that he wished there was a supervisor there, but it was 5:00 AM and they run a skeleton crew in Portland so, sorry, but he was almost as miserable as I was.

- We believe that listening isn't hard to do.
Big trouble here. That same employee was not EMPOWERED to listen. He could only say two things to the planeload of stranded customers: "Partial refund or wait three days for the next flight." That's ALL he kept saying because that's all he was allowed to say by JetBlue. Listening was NEVER part of the equation. And the corporate relations person who called me a couple of weeks ago kept reciting from the "Contract of Carriage" as if it were the Talmud. She "heard" what I was saying, but she was never really "listening".

- We believe that while air travel always has its unexpected bumps, our job is to keep improving the ride.
"Unexpected bumps?" Bad weather is an unexpected bump. Mechanical problems are unexpected bumps. Stranding 150 people for three days in an airport with no food or lodging because you are selling a product that you can not properly service - that is somewhere between a "bump" and an "egregious abdication of any corporate responsibility to the customer."

- And we believe that when you add that kind of common sense to 35,000 feet, you make air travel something it hasn't been in a long time: enjoyable.
Yeah, well, I can't really comment on this one since the closest I got to 35,000 feet with JetBlue was the escalator up to the ticket counter, where I was told, in essence, to "f-off." To find out what it was like to enjoy anything at 35,000 feet, I had to buy a one-way ticket home for $1,000 on Delta Airlines.

So there you have it. More marketing pablum from a company that talks a great game, but forgets the essential part of any customer experience is actually providing the product that you sold to the customer.

As Hamlet (or was it Homer?) said: "D'oh!"

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Let's pick on a different airline

JetBlue invites abuse. It would be impolite of me to not accept.

That said, I just got around to reading the latest issue of BusinessWeek, wherein reporter Roben Farzad makes the rather compelling case that it is time to put a bullet in what's left of the brain of United Airlines and put it out of all of our misery.

I couldn't agree more. United has been a basket case for years. Its management are a bunch of well-compensated [fill in the blank] (don't forget - United CEO Glenn "Let Them Eat (Maybe) Pretzels" Tilton was paid nearly $24 million last year) who seem to be universally reviled by the rank-and-file employees.

There is an entire web site - - that tells in glorious detail the utter heinousness of the United flying experience.

During the Olympics this week, it's almost comical watching United Airline commercials, with "Rhapsody in Blue" playing in the background, trying to convince us what a pleasurable experience flying can be. If I were George Gershwin, I would be scoring perfect 10s doing Olympic back flips in my grave.

I even have a couple of doozy United incompetence stories that are so surreal, they defy logic. I'll share in due course.

Listen - I know that picking on the airline industry is like shooting fish in a shoebox. And I certainly know that I am not the first. Or the 50 thousandth. But, I think we can all agree that things are out of hand and someone has to do something. The way they treat paying customers is, in some cases, (and just in my opinion) borderline criminal. As I have stated and will continue to state: Selling a product you can't adequately deliver and support is an act of fraud. Fraud is a crime.

Somehow, the airlines have managed to lobby Congress to enable them to charge us, then strand us, and then hide behind their "Contracts of Carriage".

Let me see if I can simplify the language in the airlines' "Contract of Carriage" for you:

"We are incompetent. We know this. Congress knows this. Now you do. There is a good chance we will not be able to get you where you paid us to go. By buying this ticket, you are agreeing to our incompetence and accepting, in a legally binding fashion, that we have no obligation to do anything remotely resembling flying you from point "A" to point "B". If you are stupid enough to agree to such a ridiculous arrangement, well, then shame on you, dumb-ass."

Feel free to tell me if I have misinterpreted something.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

JetBlue marketing: "Schedules? We don't need no stinkin' schedules!"

Well, it really doesn't get much better than this. Really. If this wasn't the truth, you would think I was lying.

It appears that the vaunted JetBlue marketing department - the same one that paints a nice blue veneer of customer happiness over their lousy customer experience - has the same casual relationship with scheduling as the people who coordinate the planes and the crews.

Before I reveal what I am talking about, a quick refresher to the thousands of new readers coming to this blog every week (and that also sets up this blog entry to perfection.)

1. I started this blog because JetBlue canceled my flight from Portland, Oregon, to New York and wanted me (and all the other passengers) to wait three days until they got around to scheduling us.

2. A couple of weeks ago, I was poking fun at JetBlue for inviting people to a dress rehearsal of their new terminal at JFK airport on August 23. This appears to involve arriving at the airport and then going nowhere - an experience that JetBlue passengers know all too well.

Well, guess what?

I received my invitation today from JetBlue! Yep. Your humble writer has been cordially invited to spend an August Saturday in Queens, New York, going nowhere with JetBlue.

I plan to wear a tee-shirt along the lines of "I paid JetBlue to fly me home from Portland and all I got was this lousy tee-shirt" with the address for this blog on the back. But I am open to suggestions.

Gee, I hope there will be reporters there!

But that's not the best of it. Click on the image below of the actual, fancy email invitation I received from JetBlue. As you can plainly see where I have circled in red, JetBlue seems to have some sort of genetic problem with schedules.

The RSVP date is five days after the actual event!

I guess we really will be making "aviation history" as we travel back to the future to accept JetBlue's ridiculous offer.

I will let you all know how it feels to be the world's first time travelers.

Also note at the bottom of the invite it says: "Note: You will not take a flight or leave the building during the trial run."

And this is different from my experience with JetBlue flight - how?

Happy Jetting!

Am I being opaque?

I received a couple of emails from people saying, in effect, "What are the airlines supposed to do if weather screws up their schedules and their crews are over the legal hours?"

Let me make myself perfectly clear, if I have failed to do so up to now (and this is the same point I made to the multiple JetBlue customer service and corporate relations people with whom I spoke):

(clearing my throat here - ahem)


So, in my example with JetBlue, they should have found a crew in Los Angeles or Las Vegas, flown that crew (either in a JetBlue plane or another carrier - I don't really care) to Portland and flown me and my fellow passengers to New York instead of stranding us at the Portland airport for (at least) three days with no hotel or food accommodations.

What? Can't do that, JetBlue? Too expensive? Not enough crew? No planes?

NOT my problem! YOUR problem!

Except that you chose to make it my problem by basically selling me a product you could not deliver. So I am taking your blue asses to court. So, STILL your problem.

I keep thinking my anger over how we are treated by the airlines will dissipate with time. But, to my amazement, it has not. It is constantly renewed by tales like the US Airway debacle in the Dominican Republic and the multimillion dollar salaries that the CEOs of airlines are being paid despite running their companies like third-graders.

If only the airlines could tap into the same source that is fueling all of our anger at them, they would never have to buy another gallon of jet fuel.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

We're the airline industry! Welcome aboard. Welcome to HELL!

This story just came to my attention. U.S. Airways strands passengers in Dominican Republic. People actually had to spend the night sleeping in a parked bus because they had nowhere else to go.

The excuse?

First weather, then "we have no crew."

Sound familiar?

How are the airlines getting away with this and Congress sits by and watches? Just like my experience with JetBlue, the airline blames weather and then, when the plane finally makes it through, the crew is over their legal hours so they just STRAND PEOPLE???

Is this criminal? It's theft, isn't it? Am I missing something?

If you pay me in advance for a service or product that I know there is a chance I simply can not deliver, aren't I stealing from you? Sure, I can offer you a partial refund, as JetBlue did for me, but if I wanted to hand my money to someone, only to have them hand it back to me two months later, I would have deposited it in the bank and earned interest.

I did not pay the airlines for the POSSIBILITY that they MIGHT be able to take me to and from my destination.

This is simply wrong. As I have said repeatedly - on this blog, to JetBlue and to anyone who will listen - it is WRONG to sell a product you can not service and support.

It's just that simple.

Oh, by the way - I left out the CEO of US Airways in my previous post.

W. Douglas Parker - the man who seems to have no problem with his customers (including children) sleeping on a bus in the Dominican Republic - was paid (as opposed to "earned") $5.4 million last year.

Look for yourself (click on chart to enlarge):

Monday, August 18, 2008

Airline CEOs: I would do the same, crappy job for half the price

I took a look at the most recent proxy statements of a few airlines. And, loath that I am to say so, JetBlue's CEO(s) aren't as greedy as their counterparts. Take a look:

JetBlue had two CEOs in 2007. David Neeleman was CEO until May 2007, when he was bounced for (or at least in part for) the now-infamous JetBlue Valentine's Day Massacre of 2007.

Current CEO David Barger took over that role from Neeleman. Together, their combined salaries for 2007 were about $800,000.

"That's OUTRAGEOUS!" you say.

Well, yes it is for such horrific service, but JetBlue's management are responsible corporate citizens when compared to the other weasels that make up the corner offices of the airline industry:

  • Delta CEO Richard Anderson: $3.3 million
  • American CEO Gerard Arpey: $4.6 million
  • Continental CEO Larry Kellner: $7.3 million
BUT... the winner is:
  • United CEO Glenn Tilton: $23.8 million!
Congratulations to all you airline executives! Your mothers must be very proud. Your ability to screw over the public while taking home the big bucks is something that she never could have taught you. Indeed, you must have learned that at business school.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Add censorship to the airline/China comparison

It was about 10 seconds after I posted the item below, which cleverly compares the airline industry to the oppressive Chinese government, when this item came to my attention from Chris Elliott's blog.

It appears a grandmother was led off a JetBlue flight in handcuffs for videotaping an on-board skirmish.

My beef is officially with JetBlue management and not the rank-and-file employees, but I have to ask: what were those flight attendants thinking?

Looks like the JetBlue PR flacks will be taking more shrapnel...

Airlines, China: Tough to tell the difference

I was thinking the other day about what a farce these Olympics are because of the utterly corrupt and contemptible bunch of dictators that rule China.

And then it occurred to me that the top echelons of the Chinese government must have gone to the same management schools as the executives of the United States airline industry.

Careful analysis bears this out:

Feel free to add your own!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What's a six letter word for "Satan"?


(J-e-t-B-l-u-e holds the seven letter rights.)

My story of JetBlue abuse looks like a kindergarten-age practical joke compared to this story of horror courtesy of the friendly skies of United Airlines.

You know that green scum that often forms on ponds and small lakes during the dog days of summer? It is held in higher regard than JetBlue or United management by 4-out-of-5 Americans surveyed.*

*This statement was fabricated by the author of this blog. It has no basis in reality. He just pulled it out of thin air in a feeble and ham-handed attempt at humor at the expense of the noble and caring people who make up senior management of the airline industry. You see, like the airlines, the author of this blog tries to wrap himself in a cloak of honesty and integrity, while hiding the fact that he is an evil malcontent in the fine print of his blog. This fine print includes a "Contract of Readerage" which, like the airlines' "Contract of Carriage," disavows any semblance of commitment to quality service, truthfulness or fair play. This blog is, like the airline industry, unencumbered by the thought process. Deal with it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How do you say "Do you have any pretzels?" in Korean?

My fight with JetBlue has gone international:

Translated from Korean, the title says: "JetBlue: Another Crisis?"

One can hope...

More chatter from the tech press

Beth Pariseau, writer with TechTarget, blogged about my JetBlue travails. It's interesting how the technology writers are picking up on the "power of the blog" angle.

Make sense, since the travel writers have done an excellent job of covering the travel angle, as evidenced by the New York Times story mentioned in my previous post.

Today's New York Times

In case you missed it, this story from Joe Sharkey appears in today's edition of the New York Times.

More kidnapping and illegal (or should be illegal) imprisonment by the airline industry.

I was at my in-laws this weekend and we were discussing my JetBlue beef. We all agreed that in any other context, the act of entrapping people, holding them against their will, denying them water, clean facilities and possibly medication and verbally abusing them would be considered a felony (and possibly a violation of the Geneva Convention, considering the airlines appear to be at war with their customers.)

With JetBlue and the airlines, it's just how they do business.

Monday, August 11, 2008

No - I have not heard from JetBlue

A few people have emailed me asking if I have heard anything more from JetBlue. The answer is no and I do not expect to. Were I they, I would just sit back and count on this whole thing slowly fading away.

Maybe it will. I am just one voice. Well, maybe not one. Check out this post from tech writer Joe Wilcox. Once again, JetBlue coughed up a hairball all over its paying customers

Seriously, I honestly think that collectively, we can do something to hold the airlines accountable. Tell your friends, family and pets about this blog and feel free to tell me about any other blogs that document the daily horrors of the U.S. airline industry.

I will continue to tilt at the JetBlue windmill.

I have mailed off my small claims form and will document here what happens during the whole process. Whatever JetBlue does (or don't do), you'll read about it here.

In the mean time, keep those cards and letters coming.

Friday, August 8, 2008

JetBlue customer committment: Putting lipstick on a pig

Take a moment to read some of the comments on this blog. It's clear that my experience was not an isolated one.

Here's the thing that really rips me about JetBlue: It wants to market itself as a better kind of airline. And how does it do that?

- TV at every seat
- a customer "Bill of Rights"
- Handing out cookies, water and earplugs to passengers they stranded
- Free snacks on flights
- Leather seats
- A slick marketing campaign with the tagline "Happy Jetting"

The problem is: I and almost every traveler alive would happily, willingly, give up ALL those things if they would just get us where we need to go. Get us where we have PRE-PAID them to take us. Do it in way that is respectful and appreciative of our business.

All the stuff listed above is at the margins. In the end, it is meaningless if you don't actually get where you need to go. It is a cynical attempt to convince customers that JetBlue is somehow different, better. Imagine if a car company said "Well, your engine doesn't work, but how 'bout that stereo system!" You get the point.

I'll admit: I sort of bought into it. But trust is quickly lost and not easily earned. JetBlue clearly believes in putting a veneer of quality service on top of what we all now know to be true: that it is just another airline that can not adequately staff and support the product it sells.

Stop trying to sell us on being good and actually BE good. That's all we ask.

The plot thickens...

I received a call from c/net yesterday, inquiring about my little spat with JetBlue. I spoke with Senior Editor Charlie Cooper, who wrote an excellent article. Charlie was less concerned with my plight per se and more interested in how, in this day of blogs and YouTube and instant citizen "journalism", how companies like JetBlue can expect to get away with anything.

I agree. I think.

For the JetBlues of the world, it really comes down to an actuarial calculation that I am sure goes something like this:

"For every loudmouth like Bill Baker, who is just smart (or dumb) enough to set up his own blog and bitch, there are millions of people who will just sit back and take whatever bad service we can get away with."

The thing is, as I said to Charlie, my wife and anyone who asks - JetBlue had several opportunities to do the right thing during this process and each time they blew it.

Also, I have been totally up front with JetBlue all along. I told them that I was going to blog about it. I told them I was in PR and and knew how to reach the media.

Funny how within an hour of posting his story, Charlie heard from the PR guys at JetBlue. (Us PR guys - we always know precisely when to get into the game!)

Someone said to me "You're going to be the guy to bring down JetBlue." If only. Were I that powerful, I would get myself elected president or embarrass an automobile manufacturer into giving me a free car. Or something.

And, honestly - I don't want to bring down JetBlue. I want to bring "up" JetBlue and the rest of the airlines. If this whole episode results in a friend, family member or a complete stranger being treated humanely and with a modicum of compassion then job well done.

It will be interesting to see if I hear from JetBlue again. I have spoken to them four times and so far, all they have done is recite from the Contract of Carriage, which says that they don't have to do anything remotely resembling the "right thing."

Advice to JetBlue: If you plan to call me, think first. It's no longer about the money I had to spend and the time I lost getting home. It's bigger than that. Think about what might be the right thing here and then do it. Be creative. Be smart. Or just be humane.

By the way, just in case anyone reading this thinks I am some crank who just likes to complain: On my personal blog, a few weeks ago I wrote about a company that treats its customers right - Steelcase. I encourage you to read it. Needless to say - I am a lifetime Steelcase customer.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Flying to nowhere on JetBlue: Been there, done that

JetBlue is getting ready to open their new terminal at JFK Airport in New York. In preparation, they have invited 1,000 frequent fliers to come and help them do a dry run on August 23, just to make sure everything is working. But they won't actually fly anywhere. These people will just show up at the airport, go through security and, well, sit there, I guess. They will get free parking, lunch and some gifts.

News flash: I recently had that same experience with JetBlue, minus the gifts, free parking and the fact that I did not volunteer AND I had to pay $1,000 extra to actually get home.

Allow me to offer some advice to those 1,000 invitees: I can think of about 9,000 better things to do on a Saturday in August than sit in a JetBlue terminal and fly nowhere. As much fun as JetBlue might have you believe this activity is, it actually really sucks. Trust me.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The future for air travel: Dig deeper

There are three choices, as I see it, for the airline industry (and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive):

1. We all stop accepting the status quo and just refuse to fly. That will cut down on traffic, ease congestion and force airlines to re-earn our trust and business. If that includes raising prices to a level that allows them to actually run their business in a way that provides an acceptable level of service, so be it.

2. Re-regulation. Congress steps in, viewing air travel almost like a utility that needs to be regulated. Airlines are allowed to earn certain, regulated profits, which would be reflected in the price of tickets (i.e. the days of $300 cross-country flights are over). Congestion eases, service quality goes up and it is the 1960s all over again: air travel is for business people and those who are willing to pay.

3. Things keep going the way the are and the system collapses under its own weight. Airlines will go out of business, the survivors will be in a better position to raise prices and run a real business.

There's a common thread here: Prices must keep going up. People like me can't bitch about crappy service and then not be willing to pay for good service.

And I realize that paying $1,000 for a ticket that used to cost $300 is not going to change the realities of weather. What it will do, however, is cut down on traffic and allow the airlines to run a system that actually has slack built into it, so that we don't have to live in airports, waiting for the next flight out.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Lest you think I am a JetBlue bigot....

I actually hate ALL airlines, pretty much. So, since I know the JetBlueMeanies are reading this, I figure I'll throw them a bone and pick on another airline:

As I type this (4:30 PM EDT, August 4, 2008), a work colleague is sitting on the tarmac at JFK on an American Airlines flight (#85) to San Francisco that was supposed to leave at 3:00 PM.

The problem?

They have to replace the co-pilot's seat because it is broken.


A couple of thoughts:

1. Aren't these crew the same people who always seem to cut in front of me at security so they can get to their plane to make sure everything is all set?

2. Nobody noticed this BEFORE they imprisoned a planeful of innocent travelers? I am willing to bet that some pilot's fat ass was sitting in that seat two hours earlier. He couldn't say anything?

This is why we hate you, airline industry. HATE!

JetBlue pillow talk: "That will be $7.00 please"

JetBlue has announced that they will now charge $7.00 for the pillow and blanket.

I say: "No problem." If that's what it takes to help JetBlue act like a real airline, so be it. They are in business to make a profit and if this helps, well then bless them.

By the way, according to the press release, the new pillow "... features an advanced technology called MicronOne, a fabric that blocks all micro-toxins larger than one micron in size, such as dust mites, mold spores, pollen and pet dander. Using this technology, the airline's new in-flight pillow and blanket kit provides peace-of-mind and allows the health-conscious traveler to rest easier in flight."

Um - does that mean the old ones were basically large sachets filled with bugs, fungus and dried dog skin? Just curious, JetBlue.

The press release also says: "On JetBlue's overnight flights from the West, customers are enticed to sleep with the airline's signature Shut-Eye Service, which includes a complimentary Snooze Kit containing an eyeshade and ear plugs."

I ask: "Can I use the pillow, blankets and eye-shades to set up camp in the airport during the three days I have to live there when JetBlue fails to deliver what I paid for - a ride home?"

Friday, August 1, 2008

What kind of business model is this, anyway?

I had this thought. Imagine this scenario:

You call up to make a dinner reservation for two weeks from now. The person on the phone takes your reservation and asks you to place your order. Then you are asked for your credit card and it is immediately charged for the amount of your order.

Two weeks later, you show up to consume what you have already paid for, only to be told that the restaurant can not serve your food tonight. Further, they will not give you a refund because they think they can squeeze you in for dinner two nights from now.

How long do you think this restaurant would be in business?

Is there another business in the world that charges you for their product in advance and then when they can't deliver it says that it is not their fault and there is nothing they can do for you? (Well, nothing that you want or that would make a difference.)