JetBlue got high marks for voluntarily adopting a customer bill of rights after its infamous Valentine’s Day meltdown a few years ago. But now, with lawmakers considering real passenger rights legislation, it’s worth examining how JetBlue’s bill really works.
Or, perhaps more to the point, how it doesn’t work.
Paul Ekmalian recently contacted me about a flight from Seattle to Long Beach, Calif., and the way in which JetBlue used clever wording in its bill to avoid compensating him.
Prior to the 3:50 p.m. scheduled departure, the flight crew, while performing their mandatory aircraft inspection, discovered that the left main landing gear brake hydraulic system line was leaking. The Airbus A320 aircraft was grounded.
After much debate between the JetBlue ground crew, the flight crew, and the JetBlue command center, a replacement aircraft was assigned to flight number 295 once it was determined that United Airlines mechanics, contracted to perform the repair, could not perform the work on the original aircraft in a timely manor.
At approximately 11 p.m., flight 295 departed the SEA-TAC air terminal in route to Long Beach.
Here’s what JetBlue’s customer bill of rights says about passenger delays:
Customers whose flight is delayed for 6 or more hours after scheduled departure time due to a Controllable Irregularity are entitled to a Voucher good for future travel on JetBlue in the amount paid by the customer for the roundtrip (or the one-way trip, doubled).
Ekmalian believes this delay was a controllable irregularity.
JetBlue begged to differ. Here’s how it responded to Ekmalain’s request for compensation.
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.
In other words, our mechanical delay was not something JetBlue could have controlled. Tough luck.
Why does JetBlue even bother to have a customer bill of rights?
Splitting hairs on terms like “controllable irregularity” is not only bound to irritate its customers. It’s also likely to catch the attention of lawmakers, who will see this as another example of a recklessly deregulated airline industry being unable to police itself.
Update (6:30 p.m.): I just heard from JetBlue. Turns out that the airline didn’t have enough information on Ekmalian’s case — which is why it sent him a form letter. It has issued a voucher for the amount he spent on the ticket.