Friday, February 16, 2007

MyFox News

Travel Woes Ease Slightly for JetBlue
Last Edited: Friday, 16 Feb 2007, 7:21 PM EST

The Associated Press

JetBlue said Friday that it has turned a corner in its attempt to recover from a three-day operational meltdown at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

As of sundown, the New York-based carrier had canceled 89 of its 570 planned flights nationwide, down from 217 a day earlier.

Delays were still common and disgruntled passengers continued to steam in the airline's terminals, but the company said it was resolving the scheduling logjams that crippled its operations following a Wednesday snowstorm.

"Things are getting better," said JetBlue spokeswoman Alison Eshelman.

She added in an e-mail message that the company still has plenty of work to do in restoring its relationship with its clients.

"Bottom line is, we screwed up, and we're going to be focused for quite some time on earning back the trust," Eshelman wrote.

JetBlue's problems began Wednesday morning when its operations at JFK became overwhelmed by a moderate, but icy winter storm. The airline found itself with dozens of grounded jets and too few gates to unload passengers. As many as 10 jets were stranded on the tarmac for between six and 10 hours.

The troubles continued Thursday, when JFK had only one runway operating because of icy weather. The airline also began experiencing manpower problems because of federal regulations limiting flight crew hours. Most of the airline's flights after 5 p.m. were canceled.

Thousands of passengers found themselves in a lousy situation again on Friday, at the start of a big winter travel period for chilly Northeasterners trying to get south.

Many quickly found their vacation plans smashed with little hope of recovery.

Amanda MacKenzie, 21, a student at Pace University in Manhattan, had been headed to Orlando, Fla. with a friend for a long weekend with family, but gave up and went home after her attempts to land a replacement for her canceled flight on another airline failed.

Like other low-cost airlines, JetBlue has no agreement allowing it to shift passengers to other carriers during an emergency, and MacKenzie said she couldn't afford to pay for the only alternative offered: a Delta flight on Sunday at $1,000 per ticket.

"Now all my family is down in Florida, and we can't join them," MacKenzie said, looking downcast.

Under federal law, airlines are required to do relatively little for customers whose vacation plans are ruined by cancelations due to bad weather. Generally, they are required only to refund the cost of a ticket.

The days when airlines would offer to put travelers up at hotels or pay for their meals following a weather-related delay are long gone, said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association.

"This is the brave new world that has been created in this new low-fare era," he said. "We are getting the kind of airline system that we have paid for."

In addition to a refund, JetBlue was also offering a free roundtrip ticket to anyone who was stranded onboard a grounded plane for more than three hours Wednesday, and also to passengers who got less than four hours advance notice that their flight had been canceled.

The airline's efforts to recover Friday included chartering three DC-10 aircraft to fly routes to California, Florida and Puerto Rico.

Still, the carrier couldn't get enough planes in the air to accommodate passengers like Glenn Bader, of Westport, Conn., who found himself missing out on a weeklong family vacation.

Bader arrived at JFK with his wife and two 10-year-old children at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday for a flight to Oakland, Calif. They were still waiting to get on a plane at 10 a.m. Friday.

"We slept on some benches," he said. "It's not great. Not great for the kids."

They planned to try landing standby seats on a 6 p.m. flight, but didn't have high hopes.

"We'll probably have to go home, which is too bad. The kids were really looking forward to the trip."
Copyright 2007 Associated Press.

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