"It was turning from an operational problem to a safety and security problem for our workers," a JetBlue spokeswoman, Jenny Dervin, said yesterday. "We canceled late departures, upset more customers, met overnight and said, "This has just got to stop.´ "
Irving Fain, a New Yorker who said that his 6:05 p.m. flight Friday from J.F.K. to San Diego was delayed many times and then canceled at about 10:30 p.m., described a scene at gate 16 in the JetBlue terminal with angry passengers crowding around the gate podium, a gate agent calling security, and then passengers and a security officer exchanging heated words.
"It was really a disaster," said Mr. Fain, who is 26 and works for a radio station. "Passengers screaming, "We pay your salary.´ The security guy screaming back. Fifteen minutes into this ruckus, they finally canceled the flight."
Ms. Dervin of JetBlue said that scenes like the one described by Mr. Fain "happened at a number of gates and at the baggage claim, too."
NBC News reported earlier in the week that the airlines had four reasons for not returning the passengers to the terminal earlier:
a) they thought the weather was clearing,
b) there were no gates,
c) it might be days before all passengers could be rebooked, or
d) the aircraft would lose its place in line to take off.
I can’t argue with their opinion of the weather, but I don’t buy their argument about the gates. They could have rotated planes through the gates or, as they finally did, sent buses out to take them back to the terminal. As for their third reason, that happened anyway, didn’t it.
The airlines wound up with passengers upset at them. Had they focused on their customers instead of their bottom lines, and taken prompt action, passengers would have been upset at Mother Nature, not the airlines. In fact, had the airlines focused on their customers, they had a chance to generate positive PR by bringing the jets back to the gates, then working to rebook as quickly as possible. Sure some people would have been upset, but the individual airlines would have come off better, and their front-line employees would not have born the brunt of the passengers’ anger.
Of course those employees were not the ones who made the decisions to keep the passengers on the airplanes. I wonder if the employee turnover rate will spike after this.
So once again it’s passengers vs airlines, us against them, instead of the airlines and the passengers partnered together to overcome delays caused by weather. Had the airlines put the best interests of their customers first, instead of focusing on the money they would lose, much of this bad blood could have been avoided.
But the real question is, did anyone learn anything that will reduce the risk of this happening again?