JetBlue Fails to Learn From History and They Aren’t the Only Ones

By | October 31, 2011

When the so-called Valentine’s Day Meltdown happened in February of 2007, JetBlue issued a public apology in the form of its then Chief Executive and Founder, David Neeleman.

Words cannot express how truly sorry we are for the anxiety, frustration and inconvenience that we caused. This is especially saddening because JetBlue was founded on the promise of bringing humanity back to air travel and making the experience of flying happier and easier for everyone who chooses to fly with us.

JetBlue Airways was one of several carriers that were a victim of the unanticipated early snow season that hit the Northeast on Saturday, dumping snow on communities unprepared for it at this time of year. Six JetBlue flights, and seventeen additional flights were diverted

The interior of Bradley International's Terminal B

Image via Wikipedia

to Bradley Airport in Hartford, Connecticut after diverted from Newark and Kennedy Airports.

However, Bradley was suffering from intermittent power failures, capacity issues due to the number of diverted flights, and other issues. The airport infrastructure was overwhelmed. Why did so many flights get sent to Hartford? There were other airports. Airlines designate primary diversion airports in the event they cannot land at their destination. This can mean a great deal in landing fees for the airport.

But, if the airport can’t handle the number of flights it is receiving, then we get problems like this. This is not an issue specifically with Hartford, but a bigger issue that crops up every time storms hit. A JetBlue aircraft diverts to Hartford, arriving at 1:30. At 8:30, a paraplegic began to complain of pain. He hadn’t been assisted to the restroom, or helped to move for circulation since before boarding the aircraft. At this point, the State Police and ambulances were called in, at which point other passengers were allowed to leave the plane.

The bathroom were clogged up and disgusting, the power intermittently failing, and the situation is bound to be investigated. JetBlue issued an apology, and promised to refund all the passenger’s tickets.

Another plane, an American Airlines flight bound for Kennedy from Paris, was allegedly held up because customs would not deplane them. This is also a legitimate possibility.

The summer before last, as these rules were being proposed, we had a long talk with someone who used to work ground crew at a diversion airport. While many were for the rules, he was squarely against them, even the rule regarding forcing airports and airlines to have better contingency plans. The issue is one of practicality. What airport can afford to have the personnel and equipment around doing nothing for the mere possibility of diversion? Even having plans is an issue, as every is theoretical until you assess the current conditions.

But can we prepare for such things? People will blame JetBlue Airways, American Airlines, Hartford Airport…the truth is that is was a confluence of circumstances that created this. We all know how easily things can get out of hand, but everyone involved could have handled this better, as if this sort of thing happens, it is a failure of the system. The DOT will and should investigate, and should issue recommendations, both to the airports and to the airlines.

We will not pretend to know of a solution to this sort of problem. But there is never a problem that isn’t worth discussing, and coming up with the best solution. What do you think the answer is?