JetBlue Airways

3 reasons you should love a customer service meltdown

Marco Prati/Shutterstock
Marco Prati/Shutterstock
Spectacular customer service failures are the grist of my consumer advocacy mill.

But some of the loudest implosions are off limits to me. Like the young blogger who was reportedly booted from a United Airlines flight. His crime? Taking pictures of his seat in apparent violation of the airline’s photography policy.

Even though colleagues urged me to come to his assistance, I couldn’t. He didn’t ask me for help, and I have a strict policy of staying away from cases where I’m not invited.
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“The good guys won!”

Today’s award for most creative definition of an airline cancellation goes to JetBlue Airways. Back in February, after canceling Judith Ganz’ flight from Dulles to Boston — that’s right, canceling — it redefined its action as a “schedule change” in order to pocket her money.

But the airline split hairs with the wrong passenger. Turns out she was uniquely qualified to question JetBlue’s claim.
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JetBlue says customer service “embedded in the core” leads to airline profits

t5A few weeks ago, I asked Michelle Hansen, JetBlue’s director of customer support operations, if I could interview her about customer service issues. She later asked Morgan Johnston, JetBlue’s manager of corporate communications, to field my questions. Here are their answers.

JetBlue is one of only a few domestic airlines that doesn’t charge for the first checked bag. You’ve also gone easy on other fees. I’m a little confused. I thought passenger had embraced a la carte pricing. Why are you holding back, when you could be making more money?

You can’t put a price on customer loyalty and creating a unique travel experience. That’s what we do here at JetBlue by providing amenities we think of as standard and core to your travel experience. We’ve created a value product where our customers can experience 36 channels of DirecTV, 100 channels of XM Radio, unlimited drinks and [without] paying extra. However, should a customer choose to upgrade their experience, for an additional charge, we offer our Even More Legroom seats, first run movies with JetBlue Features, or specialty beverages.

For the majority of our customers, checking a bag is a normal part of their flying experience and one we feel it’s important to protect. Those customers who do request to check more than the one standard checked bag, we will accommodate with an additional fee. In the end, we believe that offering these free amenities will result in greater dividends than if we were to nickel and dime our customers.
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Which airline kept passengers trapped on the tarmac nearly six hours?

blueThat would be JetBlue Airways, according to the latest Transportation Department figures.

Flight 12 from New York to Syracuse was delayed on the tarmac 328 minutes on June 26, which makes it the tarmac delay winner — or perhaps it’s more accurate to say loser — of the month.

The overall number of flights with excessive delays remains small. In June, which is the most recent month for which numbers are available, .0499 percent of scheduled flights had tarmac delays of three hours or more, up from .0064 percent the previous month. There were 42 flights with tarmac delays of four hours or more in June.

Here’s the breakdown:
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JetBlue Airways
11829 Queens Blvd
Forest Hills, NY 11375-7212
(718) 286-7900

Customer Relations
PO Box 17435
Salt Lake City, UT 84117-0435
(801) 365-2470

How to get through to an operator: press “0.”


JetBlue’s customer service reputation trends toward the extremes. It’s either really good, with friendly flight attendants, superior onboard amenities, generous legroom and many other customer-friendly practices. Or it’s really bad (think passengers stranded on the tarmac during an ice storm or grandmothers being threatened with arrest for videotaping other passengers). More often than not, though, JetBlue does right. Hopefully you won’t have to use these names.

If you have a customer complaint, please read this before contacting the company.

Customer service resources

Contract of carriage
Customer bill of rights
Email form

Primary e-mail

(A JetBlue insider notes: “We are all best reached by emailing through our email management software.”)

Primary contact

Sharon Evans
Corporate customer support
(801) 993-6726

Debbie Castleton
Corporate customer support
(801) 365-2406

Shauna Seymour (personal injury claims)
Specialist customer support
(801) 365-2493

Jenna Peterson (ADA concerns)
Specialist customer support
(801) 365-2361

Secondary contacts (*)

Michelle Hansen
Director, customer support operations

Rob Maruster
Executive vice president and chief operating officer
(718) 286-7900

Chief executive (*)

David Barger
Chief executive officer
(718) 286-7900

What others have to say about JetBlue

Aviation Consumer Protection Division Air Travel Consumer Report

This information has been collected from publicly-available resources and is believed to be accurate at the time of the last update. If any of this information is inaccurate, please e-mail me.

* Executives should only be contacted when your letter or email has not been acknowledged within six to eight weeks.

The 6 most influential Twitter users in travel

Who are the most influential Twitter users in the travel business?

That’s an easy question to ask, but a hard one to answer.

I get around on Twitter — I’ve been active on the site since the beginning — so I thought I’d query my friends using a tool called Tweepular that helps you identify your most popular followers.

Before you say anything, I know: This is hardly scientific. And just because someone has a lot of followers doesn’t necessarily make them influential. But it’ll have to do. Besides, with another revolution imminent in Iran, and with everyone blaming it on Twitter, what better time ask a question like this?

Here we go:

1. JetBlue Airways (685,244)
2. Southwest Airlines (80,697)
3. Gary Arndt (72,778 )
4. Kathika Travel Blog (51,114)
5. islandprincess2 (38,405)
6. BrilliantTrips Blog (23,487)

Why not list the top 10? Actually, Tweepular pulled up the top 100, but only six were pure-play travel accounts. My top three, for example, were Britney Spears, Barack Obama and Whole Foods Market, in that order. There’s a joke in there, somewhere.

Why cut-rate carriers are (still) your favorite

Discount carriers used to be the darlings of air travelers, if not travel columnists. With low fares and high standards of customer service, what wasn’t to like?

Then JetBlue had its embarrassing Valentine’s Day meltdown more than a year ago, in which dozens of flights sat on a frozen JFK airport tarmac for up to 11 hours. And then Southwest had its humiliating safety scandal for operating almost 50 planes that missed their safety inspections. It faces a record $10.2 million civil penalty.

It’s enough to make you want to fly one of those pricey network airlines, isn’t it?

Actually, no.

I asked readers to nominate their favorite airlines, and wouldn’t you know it, the low-fare airlines still kicked butt. I also boarded a Southwest flight after the inspection snafu, and found no evidence that the carrier had fallen out of favor with fliers.

Why? Here’s your take on each of these low-fare airlines:

JetBlue: ‘They screw up less’
JetBlue pulled some very respectable numbers last year, even when you factor in the tarmac stranding incidents. A closer look at the 2007 Transportation Department report card shows that JetBlue lost less luggage, bumped fewer passengers and didn’t generate as many complaints as most of the major airlines. Yes, even when you count the gripes about the ice storm.

But performance is only part of the reason you favored JetBlue. After all, other airlines did as well — or better — than JetBlue in many categories, but failed to make customers as happy. So what’s the secret? Passengers say it’s because they’re treated with dignity by employees who seem to genuinely care. And that kind of corporate culture is something their competitors (except maybe one, which I’ll get to in a second) just can’t match.

“The flight crews are very friendly and accommodating, there is plenty of leg room at each leather seat and the personal TVs keep everyone entertained,” says Elaine Canter, a reader from Mamaroneck, N.Y. “What a pleasure.”

Adds another reader, Aaron Gold: “They have a reasonable amount of seat room and their fares are pretty decent.”

All of that is nice. But Stan Prus, an attorney from New York, says he loves JetBlue for a simple reason: “They screw up less.”

I’ve always felt that JetBlue is one of the best airlines in America, even after the media pounced on it more than a year ago for the whole ice storm incident. But I was genuinely surprised by the passionate response from readers, whose experiences remind me of what flying was like before airline deregulation — a pleasant, civil experience that the entire family enjoyed.

Southwest: ‘They truly seem to care about customers’
Like JetBlue, this always-profitable, no-frills airline does well in the Transportation Department rankings. Not perfect, but good enough to set it apart from many of the bottom-feeding network airlines. For example, the government recorded only 266 complaints against Southwest in 2007, or 0.26 gripes per 100,000 enplanements — the second-lowest number behind island-hopping Aloha Airlines. The worst performer, US Airways, had a mind-blowing 1,828 complaints, or about 3.16 grievances per 100,000 enplanements.

JetBlue’s numbers on mishandled baggage were so-so — 5.87 reports per 1,000 passengers — which put it in the top half of the flock. (The worst record belonged to American Eagle, which mishandled more than 1 in 100 bags it put its hands on.)

But again, it’s possible to do everything right and still get it wrong. I mean, United Airlines, Continental Airlines and Northwest Airlines had a better baggage-handling record, but they failed to get as much love from customers. How come?

In order to understand the reasons, I spoke with some of the raving customers.

“Once, a Southwest pilot saw me struggling with the overhead storage of my travel bag and graciously helped me,” says Carolyn Steel, a retired stockbroker. “I was surprised and pleased to be so well treated. I am a senior and would choose Southwest over all of the others.”

It isn’t just the go-the-extra-mile service that’s delivered with a real smile, but a truly user-friendly airline, according to customers. It’s easy to change reservations, easy to board planes, easy to cash in award tickets, and, most importantly, Southwest is easy to fly. “They truly seem to care about customers,” says Diane Daniel, a writer based in Durham, N.C.

“I like Southwest because of its engaging flight attendants, its generally good on-time performance, its use of Americans-only phone agents and its round-trip pricing method, where legs are priced separately,” says reader Gibbs LaMotte. “But most of all because of its change policies: no $100 fees and no restriction on using the unused return leg of a round trip ticket.”

Why I’m flying JetBlue and Southwest
Coincidentally, I recently needed to buy airline tickets from Orlando to New York and Orlando to Los Angeles. I ended up booking one set of tickets on JetBlue and the other on Southwest. Here’s why.

On the first flight from Orlando to New York, the network airlines offered more expensive flights with a one-stop. AirTran had a comparable price, but less convenient times. A family of five with two kids under three can’t take an evening flight that gets them to their destination after midnight. It’s just not practical.

I also knew JetBlue offered free seatback TVs, but more importantly, that the flight attendants treated kids well. My five-year-old son, who is not all that brand-aware, knows the difference between JetBlue and another airline. And he almost always prefers JetBlue. How they managed to leave that kind of impression on a kindergartner, I have no idea.

On the second transcontinental flight, JetBlue was not as competitive. The major airlines came much closer to matching JetBlue’s price, and even offered a non-stop flight, which is a big bonus when you’re flying with young children.

So why did we pick the less convenient one-stop flight on Southwest, with no change of planes? Because it cost almost $400 less than the flights offered by JetBlue and the other big airlines, because the flight took only about an extra hour — and because it was Southwest.

Southwest is another airline that my kids recognize. The flight attendants hand out trinkets to keep them busy and they don’t treat them like hazardous cargo.

JetBlue and Southwest weren’t the cheapest airlines flying to New York and Los Angeles. AirTran Airways and Spirit Airlines were. But for us, they were the best choices.

Based on your feedback, they are for many of you, too.