Hey JetBlue, that’s no way to start a cruise!

Michele Kelly’s recent Alaska cruise got off to a bad start, and she blames JetBlue Airways for it. First, for not keeping its schedule — and then, for keeping its schedule a little too well.

Kelly’s flight from Boston to Anchorage misconnected in the worst way possible. A mechanical delay caused the first flight to miss its scheduled arrival time by a few minutes. But then her connecting flight left early.

A JetBlue representative suggested the airline might compensate her for the difference between her missed Alaska leg and the walk-up fare she had to pay to get to the ship on time, but you can probably already guess what happened when she tried to collect on that.

Yes, my friends, always get a promise like that in writing.

I’m sending this case to my “dismissed” file, for reasons that will become clear to you in a minute. (And if they aren’t, then you’ll want to vote in the poll — if I’m wrong about this, I’ll be happy to take up her case.)

A few details: Kelly, her husband and another couple were scheduled to leave from Whittier, Alaska, on May 31. They booked a JetBlue flight for the 30th, thinking it would give them enough time.

“Apparently that wasn’t enough,” she says.

Their itinerary was a little circuitous: Boston-New York-Long Beach-Anchorage, all on JetBlue. She’s either a fan, or someone who just wanted a deal. After all, the end-on-end fare combination through Long Beach is cheaper than the Boston-Anchorage through fare.

But flight one, from Boston to New York, experienced a maintenance-related delay, which really threw a wrench in her itinerary.

“Because of the delay, we were worried we may miss our connection to Long Beach, and when we landed we ran to the gate, only to find the flight had left early,” she says. “The flight was scheduled for 1:40 p.m., and we and a few others arrived at the gate at 1:38, only to find that not only had they closed the doors, the plane was already gone.”

Kelly asked a gate agent why the flight was gone. The agent “snapped at us” and ordered the couple to return to the customer service desk.

We went to the JetBlue desk at JFK to try and get on another flight. The only itinerary they could book us on would get us to Anchorage late Saturday night, after our cruise ship left.

We started looking for other flights that could get us to Anchorage in time, and found that there was no option with JetBlue.

We ended up booking with Delta, which cost us $5,324 for the four of us. This was $4,135 more than the original JetBlue itinerary. A supervisor at the desk mentioned that they could potentially refund us the difference between the two flights, so that’s what we figured we’d do.

But she figured wrong. When she contacted JetBlue requesting a refund, here’s what it said:

While we do not reimburse for expenses paid outside of being accommodated on the next available JetBlue flight whenever it may be, or we refund the flight cost instead as per our Contract of Carriage, if your flight qualified for credit compensation and meets the criteria for the Bill of Rights, you should have already received an email from JetBlue. If you did not receive an email, you may click on the link below to see if your flight qualified:

Although you were each issued a JetBlue credit equal to the fare paid on us, minus taxes and fees previously, we have issued each of you on your reservation an additional $50 service credit which has been applied to your individual Travel Bank accounts. We feel that this compensation is generous and protects the integrity of our guidelines, while ensuring consistency for all of our customers.

JetBlue credits are valid for one year from their original date of issue and must be used to book a future flight and can be used by whoever you wish.

We do hope that you will use your credit and fly with us again. We look forward to seeing you aboard a JetBlue flight sometime in the near future.

In other words, no can do on reimbursing you for your Delta flight.

So here’s why I’m saying “no” to this case. JetBlue is absolutely correct on the compensation levels offered to Kelly. Technically, it just has to refund the unused flight segment from JFK to Anchorage. The credit is a nice bonus.

Here’s where Kelly erred: When a JetBlue supervisor said, “We might be able to fix that,” she should have pulled out her iPhone and taped it.

You know, “State your name. Tell us what JetBlue agrees to do.” Short of having something in writing, that video is the only way I can think of that the airline will make good on an offer to reimburse the Kellys and their friends for $5,324.

And JetBlue? Ah, JetBlue! Why are they pushing back two minutes before their scheduled departure? I’m sure there’s some kind of airline logic behind that, but I’m starting to get a little tired of these games airlines play to rig their DOT on-time ratings. The government should note — and punish — airlines for pushing back from the gate early, in my view. But that’s another story.

Should I have turned down Michele Kelly's case?

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My T-Mobile phone doesn’t work — now what?

Cellular tower, waiting to be disconnected. / Photo by Gary Lerude - Flickr
Cellular tower, waiting to be disconnected. / Photo by Gary Lerude – Flickr
Question: My daughter and I have been experiencing problems with our T-Mobile service, and we need your help. I’ve made multiple calls to T-Mobile and received the exact same responses: “You’re not the first person to call about this problem, and a ticket has already been opened,” and, “Remove the battery and SIM card and put them back in.”

I saw one of your recent columns, and I took your advice and sent a very long email requesting that my accounts be canceled, without penalty. After a month, I received a generic letter stating T-Mobile “can’t guarantee service in all areas.”

It infuriated me. I’m not asking for service to be guaranteed in all areas. I should be able to expect adequate service in areas where there is service. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
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That’s ridiculous! Hotels are charging even more for what should be free

What could be more absurd than paying a surcharge for a wireless Internet connection at your hotel?

Paying even more for a wireless Internet connection at your hotel.

But that’s exactly what more travelers are being asked to do when they open their laptops after checking in. A “regular” Wi-Fi connection typically costs about $10 a day, but if they want to upgrade to a higher speed, they have to pay a premium of between $5 and $10 over an above that rate.

Philip Guarino was faced with that choice on a recent visit to Zurich, Switzerland. A basic wireless connection at his hotel ran at 500 kilobits per second (the average dial-up connection is 56 kilobits per second). The “premium” connection speed was about 20 times faster, which would have allowed him to easily stream videos, make Internet-phone calls and download large files – all the things a reliable high-speed connection ought to do in 2011.

“I pay for the upgrade every time because the difference is so drastic,” says Guarino, a business consultant.
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Is this enough compensation? Missed my connection because of an emergency landing

Close calls are the narrative glue of aviation journalism. Where would we be without stories of near-misses, mechanical failures and emergency landings?

We might be less understanding of Sean Norton’s problem. His Delta Air Lines flight from Philadelphia to Paris had to divert to Ireland on Nov. 19, causing him to miss a connecting flight. He wants to know if Delta helped him enough, given that a mechanical problem is a controllable circumstance.

This isn’t an easy case, and you’ll see why when we get into the details. But first, we have to acknowledge that things could have been much worse. Delta Flight 196 could have gone down, in which case I’d be hearing from Norton’s next of kin.

How far should an airline go to fix a schedule that’s disrupted by a mechanical failure?

Delta’s contract of carriage doesn’t address emergency landings, so the airline has a lot of discretion in addressing the issue.

Question is, did it do enough?
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Hey, what happened to my Internet connection?

Question: I recently reserved a room at the Ramada Charleston in Charleston, S.C., through When I checked in, I was told there was no Internet in the rooms despite what the Web page said.

I explained that I needed Internet access and that the Ramada would not do. I called from the Ramada lobby and the representative, whose English language skills were poor, confirmed with Ramada that there was no Internet and canceled my reservation.

I then went across the street to the Red Roof Inn, confirmed they had Internet in their rooms, and called back to book it instead. This time the phone representative (whose English was even worse) told me my credit card was declined. This was because she couldn’t understand me and input the wrong number.

Finally, I had to book the room with the front desk of the Red Roof Inn using the same credit card that the agent said was declined and the same credit card I used for the initial Ramada reservation. I lost four nights of Welcome Rewards and about 35 minutes on my cell phone.

I think, at the least, my four nights of welcome rewards should be reinstated. But refused, instead offering me $50 worth of “Hotel Bucks.” They promised them within four to six weeks, but it’s been five months, and there’s no sign of them. Anything you can do to help would be appreciated. — Michael Rosenthal, Miami

Answer: Your room should have had an Internet connection, as promised. I can understand how some hotels might think of a wireless high-speed network as an amenity, like a TV or a hair dryer, but if you’re traveling on business, it’s a necessity.

I reviewed the listing of the Ramada Charleston several weeks after working on this case, and I saw that the hotel still claims to offer “high-speed Internet access” on site.
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Help! My baggage didn’t make the connection

Question: I am a Marine based in Nicosia, Cyprus. I have a situation, and I am looking for some guidance.

I recently bought tickets from Travelocity for my fiancee, Cara. Her return itinerary had her flying from Cyprus to Athens and then on to Munich on a Lufthansa flight operated by Aegean Airlines.

Her stopover in Athens was 50 minutes, which was not a problem. But when we checked in at Cyprus, she was only given a boarding pass to Athens and was told to pick up another boarding pass in Athens after retrieving her luggage. It didn’t make sense.

To make a long story short, I contacted Travelocity but Cara missed her connection in Athens and had to pay $250 to change her flight, and had to stay in a hotel for the night until the next day, which also wasn’t cheap.

I don’t know if this is just a mix up and we just got the short end of the stick, or if there is something we can do. Any help would be greatly appreciated. — Joshua Smith, Nicosia, Cyprus

Answer: Cara should have been able to check her baggage all the way through to Munich, no questions asked. When you phoned Travelocity, they should have given you a straight answer about why that wasn’t possible and helped you and your fiancee figure out a solution.
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“How can this possibly be legal?”

At first glance, Deanna Dawkins’ flight itinerary from Jacksonville, Fla., to London looked perfectly normal. There was only a change of plane in New York, according to Travelocity.

But neither she, nor her father, Robert, examined the schedule closely. If they had, they’d have noticed a small notation: “Airport change from New York La Guardia (LGA) to New York J F Kennedy International Airport (JFK).”

That’s right. Dawkins would have to take a cab across town.
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“The representative asked me if I had been drunk when I booked the flight”

If there’s just one thing we’ve learned this week, it’s that alcohol and booking travel don’t mix. And just in case you had your doubts, here’s yet another case in which booze may  — and I stress the may — have played a role, at least according to the airline.

Arnar Hjartarson booked two roundtrip tickets from Minneapolis to Reykjavik through a few months ago. He thought they were nonstop flights.

He thought wrong.

Upon closer inspection, I found that we would be taking a Northwest Airlines flight into Newark and then switching over to JFK for our Icelandair flight.

The total time between the arriving and departing flights was approximately three hours. I wasn’t familiar with those airports and when I looked them up on the Port Authority, I found that the travel time between those two airports was between 75 to 90 minutes. Considering that we would have to retrieve our luggage, find a taxi, re-check in, and go through security — three hours seemed too little a time.

I called Icelandair and they said they could not help me. I called back again and the representative asked me if I had been drunk when I booked the flight. I told her that I had booked the trip directly through their Web site and with the itinerary that they created for me. Her response was that the laws only required them to give three hours of time between flights and that they would not be responsible if we missed the flight — even though she conceded that there was no way we’d make the flight considering Icelandair’s policy requires you to be checked in one and a half hours ahead of time.

I even offered to take a separate Northwest flight (on my own dime) that would take us directly into JFK giving us plenty of time to change flights. She said they would cancel our entire reservations if we did not check into our original flight.

They basically offered no help, nor apology. Given that we had to be in Iceland, I had to pay extra for a separate flight directly into KEF and on top of that, they charged me an extra $80 per ticket for changing fees! Overall, I paid nearly an extra thousand dollars.

It seems unethical to me that Icelandair would offer flights that even they admit are impossible to be on time for. What can be done about this?

First of all, Icelandair has no business selling a flight with an impossible connection through its site. However, Hjartarson should have checked his itinerary before hitting the “buy” button.

I contacted Icelandair, and here’s what it had to say:

Mr. Hjartarson made an online booking for himself and his travel companion on our Web site. In his haste, he booked travel from Minneapolis to Keflavik via Newark, New Jersey – and purchased the tickets. Mr. Hjartason then called our call center and arranged to have the flights rebooked to depart on our direct flight from Minneapolis to Iceland.

As the fare on the direct flight from MSP was only available in a higher fare category, the difference of $384 per person, was collected – in addition to the $80 per ticket fee to have the tickets reissued. Mr. Hjartarson was advised of the difference in fare and the fees associated for his re-routing and gave his permission for the credit card to be charged.

In his letter to you, Mr. Hjartarson takes issue with our booking engine in routing him via Newark. However, the system is not programmed to question a passenger’s selection in routing. The booking engine offers a number of routing possibilities from which the passenger may choose, and it is not unheard of for a passenger to plan a routing to allow for a meeting in one city while en route to another.

In proceeding with his original booking by supplying his credit card details, Mr. Hjartarson was assenting to the routing, as well as to the terms and conditions of the purchase. Our booking engine will not allow a passenger to proceed with an online booking without selecting the box confirming that they have read the terms and conditions of purchase and accepts them.

Regardless, we empathize with any passenger who finds themselves in a situation in which they made an error in booking – and will always try our best to improve the outcome which we feel we have done in this case.

I agree and disagree with Icelandair’s rebuttal. Hjartarson agreed to the terms and should abide by them. But not everyone knows New York’s airports and can be expected to understand that the ticket they’re buying makes a connection all but impossible. How hard would it be to disallow such a difficult connection in its booking system?

Hjartarson isn’t pleased with the response, either.

Icelandair never provided an explanation as to why they sold me a flawed itinerary and they still haven’t in their response to you. They are blaming me for “making an error in booking.” Basically what they’re saying is, “Yes, we offered you a bad deal but you fell for it, so it’s not our problem!” What Icelandair is doing is just plain wrong.

Good on ya, mate! United Airlines rescues failed New Zealand flight all by itself

There’s been an interesting question raised by an earlier post about Southwest Airlines’ lost-and-found luggage debacle. What role, if any, did yours truly play in retrieving the passenger’s bag?

The answer is: None whatsoever. And that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.

To explain, let me tell you another story. This one is about Barbara Takahashi, who recently flew from Auckland to San Francisco on Air New Zealand and United Airlines.

Here’s what happened to her:

In LA, we had to change terminals and were not able to use the electronic check-in machines to get our boarding passes.

There were so few United agents available to assist with boarding passes that we had to wait an hour and a half in line and could not get to our flight on time. Nearly every person in our long line missed their connection. There were no alternate flights available that day as it was the last day of a holiday period.

We were given standby tickets and told to wait. After our first try at standby, it was clear that there was no way a group of four people would be able to get seats on one of the many oversold flights. The only option we were given was to wait all day for a flight and then, if that failed, try to get a flight the next day.

Because Takahashi was traveling with three children, waiting until the next day wasn’t an option. So she bought tickets to San Jose, Calif., on Southwest.

I would be much more understanding if there had been weather or mechanical issues, but this was a case of being sold defective merchandise. Our flights were not late. There was simply no possible way to use the tickets as sold.

She asked Air New Zealand why she couldn’t make her connection. It responded by punting to United.

While you were travelling under an Air New Zealand flight number, your flight between Los Angeles and San Francisco was a code share flight, with UA being the operating airline. As such, any boarding passes would have been issued or permitted to be issued by UA system. When you checked in Auckland, it appears that UA did not allow our system to issue your boarding passes as yet which is beyond the control of Air New Zealand.

There’s a much bigger issue here involving “legal” connection times and the reservation system used by airlines. But for the purposes of this discussion, let’s focus on Takahashi’s next move, which was to contact me. She wrote me a note, asking what to do next.

Now, there are some of you out there who believe I should have immediately contacted United on her behalf and asked it to look into this. Isn’t that what an ombudsman does?

Actually, no.

It’s important that the airline has a chance to review Takahashi’s complaint and respond. So I suggested that she take the matter up with United and provided her with a few names.

She did, and just yesterday, I heard back from her.

I can’t believe it. I got a call at home yesterday saying that they had received my information and would look into some sort of refund. Frankly, I was just happy to get a call. This morning, I got a message that they were refunding $1,120 to our account. That is over twice the amount that I requested. I truly would have been happy with a sincere apology, but this is amazing. United is back in my good graces!

I agree.

My point? The system sometimes works. It did for Takahashi.

You don’t always need a reader advocate to hold your hand when things go wrong. And that’s the point of this blog: to offer tips on how to work within the system and get the results you deserve.

If you read my syndicated column, The Travel Troubleshooter, you’ll see plenty of examples of the system not working. Thank goodness, those are few and far between.