“There were angels all around me on that JetBlue flight”

Christopher Parypa /
Christopher Parypa /
Early boarding privileges are typically reserved for frequent fliers and passengers with obvious disabilities. But on a recent JetBlue Airways flight from Boston to Los Angeles, gate agents granted special access to a passenger whose need wasn’t that apparent, and perhaps even in violation of their own airline’s policy.

Elaine Regienus-Gravbelle, who was recovering from a double mastectomy and two other minor surgeries, was on her way to way home to Redondo Beach, Calif. She asked a ticket agent if she could get on the plane first.
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What do you do when points vanish into thin air?

What's the point? / Photo by Mitchell Bartlett - Flickr
Question: I’m having an issue with I thought you might be able to help resolve. I recently traded 6,000 American Airline miles for 6,000 JetBlue miles, with a transaction fee of $100. The interface stated that the estimated processing time was five to eight business days.
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Is this any way to treat a member of the President’s Club?

Sarena Wiener thought she’d taken every precaution before embarking on her Vantage Deluxe World Travel tour of India recently. Her flight itinerary gave her plenty of time to make her connections, she had purchased travel insurance, and besides, she was a valued customer — a member of Vantage’s “President’s Club.”

What could go wrong?

Everything could go wrong, that’s what.
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Passport mix-up leads to a missed tour

When Doris Lemonovich booked a vacation package for two to Costa Rica through Gate 1 Travel, she thought the passport requirements were clear: All she needed was a passport that wouldn’t expire for the next month, according to the State Department.

She though wrong.

When she arrived in San Jose, the customs agents told her she couldn’t stay in the country.
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Here we go again! Another tarmac stranding incident — beware of outraged talking heads on TV

It seemed eerily familiar: A JetBlue aircraft, a freak storm, passengers stranded on an aircraft for hours — and all happened near the media capital of the world.

Except that it wasn’t Valentines Day 2007, the infamous ice storm that cost JetBlue its golden reputation, made a small-minded mainstream media obsessed with tarmac delays and led to tough but largely unnecessary new government rules on tarmac delays.

It was happening right now, in real time.
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JetBlue flight attendant who bailed after passenger confrontation: “Your carry on drama ain’t worth that to me”

I‘ve been following the coverage of Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who bailed out of a parked aircraft after a profanity-laced confrontation with a passenger about his luggage, with some interest.

It’s a curious story, and while reporters congratulated themselves for finding Slater’s MySpace and LinkedIn account, they may have overlooked the richest source of information: his apparent profile on, the industry discussion site where he goes by the handle Skyliner 747.

A review of his postings reveals that he’s a former TWA flight attendant with a history of commenting on luggage issues. At one point, he even seems to indicate that he’s considered exiting an aircraft in an unauthorized way. I’ll get to that in a moment.
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JetBlue’s “classy and professional” move for disabled passenger in need

Here’s a pick-me-up story for a Monday morning: Penny Parrish’s niece bought a roundtrip ticket to Florida to visit her ailing father late last year, but when he died and she asked to return home early, JetBlue Airways charged her a ticket change fee.

Parrish’s niece is deaf, so she suspects there may have been a communication problem at the airport. That’s when she discovered a rarely-used list of JetBlue contacts on my site.
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JetBlue quietly helps family with burned baby

adamThis is Adam James Faust, a 14-month-old boy from the Washington area. One day, Adam and one of his siblings got into a bathtub with their clothes on to play. The hot water got turned on and Adam suffered serious burns on 65 percent of his body, according to his parents’ blog.

It’s a tragic accident that required three months of painful treatment in Boston, 440 miles away. Enter JetBlue and one of the most extraordinary examples of corporate kindness I’ve ever seen.
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Does JetBlue owe me a cash refund for canceling flight 427?

Airline rules are relatively uniform when it comes to canceled flights. You’re owed either a full refund or a flight of the carrier’s choice — but no fare adjustment.

But what if the replacement flight costs less than the original one? That’s what Michael Sorg wanted to know after JetBlue canceled his flight from Boston to West Palm Beach, Fla., recently.

At the time of the reservation I had the option of booking flight 427 leaving at 5:55 p.m. or flight 429 leaving at 7:33 pm.

After a lot of thought, we decided to book flight 427 even though it cost us about $100 more since it would be a more convenient time for our small children. A couple of months later I received an e-mail notifying me that flight 427 was canceled and I was now booked on flight 429.

I called customer service at that time because I felt that I was entitled to a refund of the $100 that I would have paid if I had booked that flight to begin with. They told me that they could issue a credit associated with my confirmation number.

The more I have thought about this, the more I think I am entitled to a refund back on my credit card. The change in flights was NOT due to my request. This credit forces me or a family member to have to purchase another ticket to use it.

A quick look at JetBlue’s contract of carriage (PDF) will reveal that technically, JetBlue is correct.

Rule 25 states …

Whenever Carrier cancels or otherwise fails to operate any scheduled flight, Carrier will, at the request of the Passenger either (i) transport the Passenger on another of Carrier’s flights on which space is available at no additional charge, or (ii) provide Passenger with a full refund in accordance with Section 26 below. Except as may be provided in Section 37 below, Carrier shall have no other liability or responsibility to any Passenger as a result of a failure to operate any flight.

(Section 37 is its customer “Bill of Rights” and doesn’t address Sorg’s situation specifically.)

So it was no surprise that he received the following reply to an email requesting a refund:

Responding to your letter is extremely difficult for we know the high level of service JetBlue strives to extend to each of our valued customers. We know there are times when we are not able to meet their expectations and still remain within the parameters of our company guidelines.

JetBlue is a nonrefundable airline and we only issue credits. We are very flexible with the credit in that it is transferable so anyone can redeem or even sell. We show you have a credit of $94 which is valid until October 10, 2009 and each of you have a $25 voucher. All vouchers are name specific.

You only need to redeem the vouchers and credit by the expiration date, not travel by these dates.

I read form letters every day, and I think the first part is a little over the top. Do they have some kind of ALT+”extremely difficult” key they push to insert that paragraph? If so, I think they should consider toning it down a little. It sounds too much like a letter of condolence sent to someone’s next of kin.

I suggested an appeal to someone higher up at JetBlue, so Sorg emailed David Barger, the airline’s chief executive. Here’s his reply:

Thank you for your correspondence and taking the time to share your concern. Dave Barger has requested that I respond to you on his behalf.

We appreciate your feedback and can assure you that your comments have been heard. We regret that we are unable to honor your request.

We truly value you as a JetBlue customer and hope you will allow us to serve your travel needs at JetBlue in the future.

I think JetBlue is right — and wrong.

Right, in the sense that it doesn’t owe Sorg anything. If it wants to offer him credit — or nothing at all — it’s well within its rights to do that.

But it’s wrong in the sense that JetBlue failed to appreciate this parent’s perspective. Or to see the big picture, for that matter. A refund might have ensured Sorg would become a lifelong customer.

Now, it’s safe to say he’ll go out of his way not to fly on JetBlue.

Christmas air travel warning: avoid Minneapolis, JetBlue and Northwest Flight 189

If you’re making air travel plans for the Christmas holiday, you’ll want to check out these numbers from a new site called Airport Butler. A review of last year’s on-time data by the airline statistics company suggests you might want to avoid flying on JetBlue, Northwest or going anywhere near the Minneapolis airport.

These are delays by origin airport for Dec. 23-25, 2007. Minneapolis, Chicago and New York top the list. No big surprises here – except maybe sunny Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

How about the most delayed airlines?

For all of you non-airline folks reading this, B6 is JetBlue and 9E is Northwest Airlink. In fact, most of these obscure airline codes belong to regional airlines. Lesson? Stay off the small planes if you can.

Let’s dig down into the data a little. Which flights were the most delayed?

Six of the top 10 flights belong to either Northwest or one of Northwest’s regional carriers.

Now, bear in mind that these are last year’s statistics. We have no way of knowing if history will repeat itself. This is just a useful look at past performance.

Feel free to take this data into account – or not – when you’re making your Christmas travel plans.

Here’s the video that got grandma detained on JetBlue flight

Remember Marilyn Parver, the grandmother who was detained after she refused to delete a video she had lawfully taped on a JetBlue flight? Well, after weeks of back-and-forth with the airline, she’s released the incriminating tape.

Here it is:

On second thought, it’s not that incriminating. It’s a passenger arguing with another one about a child that is apparently misbehaving.

Passenger 1: Get the hell out of here.

Passenger 2: Excuse me!

Passenger 1: Stop!

Passenger 2: Can’t you control him?

Passenger 1: I don’t wanna control him.

I’ve seen this before. It’s nothing.

But what JetBlue sent to Parver … that’s something.

In a rambling letter to her, the airline disclosed that it does indeed have a rule against people taking photographs on planes.

JetBlue’s policy above 10,000 feet is to request passengers to discontinue videotaping or photographing, particularly the cockpit area or inflight procedures.

In light of this, our crew decided to identify the passenger who had been taking photographs and request that he/she delete the photographs.

(Curiously, JetBlue doesn’t feel bound by its own policy. It videotapes the interior of its cabins — below and above 10,000 feet.)

The letter also accused Parver of being “argumentative, condescending and belligerent” and refusing to obey the instructions of crewmembers.

Parver sent me the letter on Monday evening and denied she had acted inappropriately. She also questioned JetBlue’s “policy” on photographs, noting that passengers were not informed of this rule when they boarded.

I suggested that Parver publish the videotape online. By Tuesday morning, she had.

I was at an all-day meeting yesterday, but I noticed that my friends over at Photography is Not a Crime had an insightful post on this, which included some valid points about JetBlue’s flight attendants disregarding their own policy.

I think JetBlue could have handled this differently. Rather than sending a lengthy, defensive letter to the customer, the airline could have tried to patch things up. It’s obvious that she wasn’t taping the flight deck for nefarious purposes. Arguments between passengers such as the one she taped are pretty common these days.

The crew overreacted and the company overreacted. Its letter to Parver has just reopened old wounds.

Is JetBlue invoking the “controllable irregularity” excuse to dodge its customer bill of rights?

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.

Grandmother arrested after refusing to delete JetBlue fight video

Marilyn Parver filmed an altercation between two passengers on a recent JetBlue flight. When she refused to delete the footage from her video camera, she says the airline threatened to blacklist her and accused her of interfering with a flight crew, which is a federal crime.

You can read the account of Parver’s flight and subsequent arrest here. And look for Parver on ABC’s Good Morning America, along with the incriminating footage.

Parver contacted me yesterday to, as she put it, “get the word out.”

I am a 56-year-old grandmother who has never had so much as a speeding ticket. But on July 26th, I was taken by armed officers, in handcuffs, off JetBlue flight 195 for refusing to delete a video I had taken of a minor altercation between passengers over a screaming kid.

The flight crew made up a charge of interfering with the crew. My recording proves I did nothing wrong. I never even stood up. I was left with the threat that I will never be able to fly on JetBlue, that I will go on the no-fly list, and have a report written about me filed with the FAA.

I only refused to delete a legal short video. This is a complete misuse of power and what happened to me could happen to anyone.

I’m not a lawyer, but I can’t find any rules that would prohibit a paying passenger from filming the interior of a JetBlue aircraft or of any commercial plane. Parver said she phoned JetBlue later, and that a representative told her she could tape whatever she wanted.

My reading of the law — and again, I’m no expert — suggests the JetBlue flight crew overstepped its boundaries. In a big way.

I asked Parver if she would consider posting her footage to the Web so that we could see what the fuss was about. She said the JetBlue crew specifically told her they didn’t want the material posted on YouTube, which is why they were so insistent that she delete the videotape.

Instead, Parver is taking her case to ABC News, where its legal department can fend off any attack from JetBlue. I think that’s probably a smart move. YouTube might delete the footage, anyway.

This case underscores the travel industry’s sensitivity to the growing influence of social media, and particularly to viral videos. Makes me wonder how many other passengers have been asked to delete images that were not flattering to an airline.

Update (12/2/10): Parver has sued JetBlue.