Tuesday, February 20, 2007

ALL THINGS RUTH - All of her wisdom in one place

Ruth, in her unending wealth of information and support. Everything Ruth Right here waiting for you.

Feb 20th:

Hi Gen-
I do have another reply, however, to the JetBlue employee who felt that you had miscategorized the passengers as "hostages".

I do not think that the characterization of the status of Jet Blue passengers aboard the planes out on the tarmac for hours is as misguided or self-serving as you have implied. From what I have read, conditions on those planes, in terms of lack of the basics of sanitation, food, and fresh air do not fall short of those which were present within the same time frame in the Astrodome in New Orleans. Had the passengers remained on board, in such conditions, for even longer hours, one might have seen the same breakdown in human values that occurred in that venue.
The attempt to "pass the buck" from Jet Blue management to the Port Authority to the unions in place at JFK Airport is not a meaningful exercise as it in no way justifies what the passengers went through last Wednesday. And, yes, I would call people who are told that, if they try to leave the plane, they can and will be arrested, "hostages". What is the greater good: to assist passengers in returning to a terminal within eyeview or to insist that they remain on board, in fetid conditions, or risk the ire of the TSA, FAA, NYPD, etc? How strongly and to whom did pilots and flight attendants advocate? One does get the sense of individuals accustomed to following orders and obeying protocols who did not respond with flexibility and self-direction when circumstances so warranted.

Guns may not have been pointed at the passengers, but the threat of criminal prosecution for trying to get off a plane was continuously present. This is particularly powerful in the post-9/11 era.

All of this begs the question of who is in charge and what protocols exist to get people off planes under such circumstances; these are basic issues of accountability. A similar lack of an informational chain of command and direction was present within the Jet Blue terminal at JFK. Even as early as 9:30 on Wednesday morning, the ground staff had decompensated and was unable to maintain focus, disseminate information and exercise basic management skills. To the extent that this resulted in more people being in the terminal for prolonged periods of time, it was utterly unnecessary.

Please let me note that highway access to JFK was by no means cut off by the weather conditions. Jet Blue's corporate headquarters are less than 1/2 hour from the terminal. There was no excuse whatsoever for members of the senior management team not to have been present, to have created and implemented a plan to address problems within the terminal, etc. To date, there has been no credible explanation for why passengers could not reach telephone customer service representatives and were told to call back some other time; I think that most reasonable people would have expected and understood long waiting times for assistance under the trying circumstances.

Hurricane Katrina attacted so much public dismay not only because of the destruction created by an Act of God but based upon the failures of communication, planning and implementation. Precisely the same can be said for the events of last Wednesday and the subsequent chaos which affected Jet Blue to a far greater extent than any other airline in the United States. To the degree that passengers view this failure as axiomatic of larger problems within this carrier, the nature of which we can only conjecture, Jet Blue will find that the road to restoring our trust a long and arduous process which cannot simply be accomplished by a "mea culpa" and offers of token, prospective compensation.

Ruth

FEB 19
A collective thanks from everyone who reads this blog to YOU, Mrs. Ruth K.

Things to note: The same JB Employee Robert Alvarez who unethically threw off a passagener on Ruth's flight some time back is the SAME ROBERT ALVAREZ who has a reader thrown out of an airport and BLACKLISTED! The wonders of the online world. Bringing people together in ways we never knew!

Gen-
Thanks so much for the lovely words! I read on another responder's letter to you that he was told that, if he opened the emergency doors, he'd be arrested. I am planning to research this on the FAA site later today--I am quite curious about it. He also alluded to a Robert Alvarez, a flight attendant who was incredibly nasty. Guess what? Same guy who got those people thrown off my Florida flight a couple of months back. JetBlue wrote back to say that they couldn't tell me the result of my complaint due to privacy concerns, but apparently, he remains in the air!
Needleman made the front page of the NY Times today, claiming that, later today, he will announce a compensation package which will be tiered in relation to the # of hours spent on the plane (I'm sure this is due to your efforts, Gen!). He explained that the telephonic staff is home based, largely in Utah, and didn't know what to say. In this internet era of real-time communication, I find this particularly hard to believe. Hopefully, either CNN will air details later or, to be sure, it will make the front page of the WSJ tomorrow.
Glad to be of some help!
Ruth

Hi Gen-
Just did some checking on the FAA site. Of course, it doesn't directly address the question of passengers being held hostage by an airline. However, there is a line somewhere in thousands of pages or rules about "hijacking" which is defined as unauthorized persons taking control of the plane itself or its crew. Apparently, opening the emergency doors without authorization falls within this category and would convert your status from hostage (which the FAA would dispute as no third party was involved) to hijacker.

So, self-help, which is generally deplored in jurisprudence as going outside legitimate lines of authority, would be illegal under such an interpretation. The more interesting legal point, though, is whether this would apply if health and safety were being threatened by the airline's own operations or conditions within the plane. If there was no heat, no ventilation, no sanitation, no food, etc. or if a medical emergency existed, I think that the interpretation of the same action would change. Of course, I believe that the FAA and TSA are more likely to credit the subsequent testimony of any flight attendant over that of a passenger so this would still be risky business.

Nevertheless, I know that I am completely capable of trying to organize passengers to open the doors. What are they going to do: arrest the entire plane? Before doing so, as many passengers as possible should sign a manifesto or petition enumerating the conditions on board.
Hope other lawyers write in with their thoughts on this critical issue.

Best,
Ruth

This may seem long, as all these posts do, but this covers almost all the same questions I have and would love to get answers from Jetblue about.I recommend reading this-Love, G

February 19

Hi!
After reading all these posts, I am convinced that Jet Blue will be the subject of a class action lawsuit. We were more fortunate than you; our flight was cancelled on Wed. morning so we didn't have to endure hours in such awful circumstances. However, exactly like you, we did call Jet Blue on Tues. night and multiple times on Wed. morning. Even in the middle of the storm, I was told that the flights were on time. When we got to the airport, same thing. All signage said on time; however, this didn't make sense because the Buffalo airport was already closed and we had found out that the flight was coming from there. When we got to the front of the line, suddenly, we were told that the flight was cancelled but they'd be happy to get us on a flight tomorrow. Strange because we already knew that all flights through Sunday were fully booked. When we pointed this out, the agent became very obnoxious, called her supervisor who said, if you don't like it go home. We'll give you a refund for the flight. Given that my husband had a medical conference to attend with a $1600 tuition and that I had taken the days off from court, giving us back our money for a flight we couldn't take didn't exactly seem like a fair shake. We asked for proof of refund for the outgoing flight and were told that it would be a credit on my True Blue account, not a cash refund. Certainly not a comfort to the many people who'd never fly Jet Blue again after this debacle.

We knew that there were a few first class tickets on Spirit available earlier in the day so we rushed home to try to book another flight. No luck; everything sold out. Had JetBlue been honest and reported that the airport had closed in real time, not delaying, we might have been able to rebook. Also, we asked about standby status, # of people already on a standby list, etc. and were told that they didn't know this information. Either we could go home and forget the trip or hang around with no information.

After we got home, I spent the entire day on the phone and online trying to track down alternate reservations. No luck whatsoever, as I'm sure many others discovered. The next day, when we realized the scope of the problem that we'd never make it to Florida, I tried to cancel the return tickets online and JetBlue then tried to impose a cancellation fee of $60. My husband was able to reach them by phone and get the fee waived. Again, this left me with a Jet Blue credit, not hard cash.

What is most unconscionable to me was that, once people on your flight called the news media and reported that they had been stranded on the tarmac for hours, Jet Blue's customer service people stopped answering the phone. The message said basically, we have call overload. Check online for your flight status and call us back another time. All this begs the question of what customers who don't have access to the internet are supposed to do in order to ascertain whether their flights have been cancelled. By basically putting all such individuals in the position of having to get to the airport, Jet Blue exascerbated its own problems. Today's message was basically the same, plus the statement that credits would be issued and change fees waived.I agree with other posters that the Jet Blue personnel in the terminal were rude and stressed to the max. I have repeatedly wondered in the past few months whether the airline's expansion program has led it to reduce its customer service standards. We experienced a flight on 12/30 in which a flight attendant threw a couple off a plane because he had somehow concluded that they didn't belong in the exit row, based on grey hair. The nearby passengers rebelled and insisted that, since they were willing to change seats, there would be no problem, but he called security who had no choice but to remove them. The other flight attendant was mortified but couldn't stop this from happening. It was disgraceful.

I agree that apologies don't cut it. Offering one free fare doesn't cut it either. We have basically been offered nothing except a credit on Jet Blue for a trip that we didn't get to take. I could have gotten the same thing simply by cancelling on my own minus change fees and, often, the CSRs will waive these.I wrote a complaint letter, got one phone call when I was out, was given a number to call, and then got that message that they were overloaded. Am now playing phone tag with them.

My big question, whenever there are long holds on the tarmac, is why the passengers didn't open the emergency door and try to get off the plane.That 5 days of operation have been affected by a storm of relatively short duration makes no sense at all. Nothing Jet Blue has said about the circumstances makes any sense whatsoever.

I applaud your efforts with the blog and hope that they will be fruitful.

Ruth K

5 comments:

WrongVerbiage said...

I'd like to write something to respond to these blogs that I've read.

I'm a jetBlue flight attendant so I can't really talk to the media. It's against the rules of my flight attendant manual to make comments to the media. So, I hope I don't get into trouble.

But I'd like to comment as a citizen of the United States and not as an employee of jetBlue. I'm a fellow traveler, just like you.

I'd just like to say that I think it's terrible whenever anyone is inconvenienced during their travels... especially on my airline. It's not pleasant. I've had it happen to me on Greyhound, on Amtrack, on the old (now long gone -- sad to say) TWA, in L.A. traffic and even on my own airline. It's not pleasant and it's something that makes everyone frustrated.

HOWEVER, last year we all watched in horror as the events of Hurricane Katrina devastated an entire American city and destroyed the Ninth Ward. In 2001, we all watched (and cried) as the horrifying events played out that we'll all always remember. And you know what, jetBlue Airways was in operation during these times and in the case of Katrina, jetBlue crewmembers helped fly our fellow American "brothers and sisters" to shelters in other cities. When the lights went out in New York during the black out, jetBlue stayed in operation, using flashlights to direct our customers to their flights -- that left on time!

But we have a very short term memory in this country. One terrible day on the tarmac and seven years of good work is quickly forgotten. And now I'm to consider being stranded on a plane, or in the airport, equivalent to something like Hurricane Katrina???

When Katrina was happening, the media called those people left homeless by the Hurricane "refugees". I was shocked by this verbiage. Now, those individuals stuck on the jetBlue flights are being called "hostages". HOSTAGES! Do any of you have any idea what it is like to be an actual hostage? To be held at gunpoint by a terrorist? To be close to death because someone is pointing a semi-automatic in your face? If you were talking to someone who was trapped in a bank by robbers who could torture and kill them at an moment, would you feel comfortable telling them that you were stuck on a plane -- due to the fact that ice had frozen the wheels to the tarmac and JFK operations were not allowing jetBlue planes to return to gates... because there weren't any to return to and, on top of that, the APUs (those are the parts of the plane that keep the energy pumpin') were breaking down because of the stress to the plane and that's the reason for the technical debacle on the plane AND the driver's employed by JFK (not jetBlue) refused to drive on the ice to pick up passengers to bring them to a terminal that JFK operations stated was already overcrowded so jetBlue couldn't bring passengers to the terminal because JFK operations forbid them to... Does that equate to masked terrorist holding people hostage on a 747???

Were any of you bloggers who were inconvenienced on that day – that are now getting a full refund for your ticket – traumatized by a gun in your face, have no home to return to or did you lose your job? Is being stuck on a runway going to cause you to have nightmares or cause you to go to therapy for the next 20 years because the pain was so great?

When I'm stuck in traffic in Los Angeles on the 405 because of a car accident, am I a victim and should I sue the city of Los Angeles for making me miserable? Does the City of Los Angeles owe me money?

Some times we Americans – used to always getting our way if we complain enough, threaten law suits or contact the media… or write a blog – tend to think that when things don't go our way and we are put in an extreme situation that we – as privileged Americans – are entitled to have someone pay us for our pain. And even when someone says they will pay for our pain, we feel we should decide how they should pay us back for our pain.

Had you booked a ticket on Delta or American, your flight would have been cancelled and you wouldn't have gotten a refund. You would have had to fly at another time, but you wouldn't have been compensated for your delay -- at all... in no way. In fact, they wouldn't have apologized... at all... EVER!

What happened to all of you (including my fellow pilots and flight attendants that were stuck right along with you – and just as miserable as you were) was awful, not cool, uncomfortable, a huge pain in the ass and a really, really, really bad day.

That's about it though. See, when you travel it's like buying a lottery ticket: if you get to your destination hassle free -- you win! If you have issues along the way... that's life! But if you get a refund for your troubles... that's amazing! That's when you need to shut the hell up and move on with your life and call it even because you broke even in the situation.

Calling people on the jetBlue plane hostages is an insult to actual hostages the world over; just as calling victims of Hurricane Katrina "refugees" is deplorable.

I'm sorry you went through what you went through on Valentine's Day, and I want you to come back to jetBlue so I can give you the jetBlue Experience you've grown accustomed to and we do our best to deliver every day. But as a person who has had many nightmare travel experiences -- even some that were worse than what you went through on Valentine's Day (in countries like South Africa where nobody cared what happened to me nor did they apologize for my awful experience) I can't help but thinking, "We spoiled Americans. We think we're owed everything, don’t' we?" (Myself included).

And in closing, if you really want to be angry with someone, get angry at JFK airport because if jetBlue had gates to return to, none of this would have happened. You can yell and scream at jetBlue all you want, but JFK operations held jetBlue as an airline “hostage” as well. (Check out link below for further details).
http://ellipses.elliott.org/archives/002024airports_escape.php

Steve said...

Yeah, I'm sure JetBlue's goal was to hole up dozens of their customers on a jet for 11 hours. Right.

Planet eX said...

FAR 91.11 says it all in about one paragraph:

"No person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember's duties aboard an aircraft being operated."

Messing the emergency exit is considered to be interference. Also, mess with the emergency exit and you've essentially made the aircraft unairworthy.

Do either and say hello to the local constabulary.

WrongVerbiage said...

Dear Ruth,

And this is the last time I will respond to this page because it’s clearly a debate that could go on FOREVER!

I read through your very intelligent posting to my original posting (regarding the inappropriate and inflammatory usage of the term “hostage”) and couldn’t help thinking that you may have some sort of law background and it shows in your response to my posting because your prose are quite eloquent and thoughtful.

Yet, you mentioned the conditions in the Astrodome in New Orleans and that’s the reason I am writing this response. Those individuals in the Astrodome were not hostages nor were they "refugees." They were American citizens left without a home and without hope – at least at that moment.

The individuals on the jetBlue planes were placed in a situation that grew exponentially worse do to a breakdown in communication and a fear that greater harm would come to them outside of the plane than on the plane; which seems hard to believe, but is worth considering.

However, those individuals, when leaving the aircraft, still had homes to return to and would eventually either make their way to the terminal in a matter of time or they would be leaving on a flight later that evening either to their vacation destination or their home.

The individuals in the Astrodome were not presented with this scenario even weeks and weeks after the water finally drained from that wonderful city known as the Big Easy.

Also, simply because a gate is in viewing distance does not mean that it is a wise idea to pop open an aircraft door (thus deploying the evacuation slide), slide down a slide and run across an icy tarmac with the hope that an icy airstairs will be available to climb up in order to enter an already over populated terminal. In the same way that it may not be the wisest idea for a castaway, that sees land while on a life raft, to decide to disembark from the raft and swim in shark infested waters towards shore.

Also, from what I’ve witnessed, no one at jetBlue is passing the buck to JFK operations – I am. That’s all me. The reason that I am is because I fly almost every day of my life and most of the headaches I encounter usually begin with: “ATC has informed us…”

Airline flight attendants are trained to operate the doors of an aircraft and are qualified to do so by the FAA. Popping open one of those doors is a violation of an FAA ordinance and would result in a healthy fine, if not imprisonment, issued by an FAA agent to an already irate passenger.

I don't think that jetBlue wants to have one -- or many -- of its valued customers fined by agents of the FAA (or arrested). That would be a worse situation than being encased in the jetBlue aircrafts on the runway for an excruciatingly long period of time.

I read your argument and I sense by your tone that you feel justified in equating the conditions in the Astrodome to the conditions on board the jetBlue airplane. But again, in my humble estimation, you are insulting those that went through Hurricane Katrina when you make the comparison because those people lost their homes, saw their city devastated and some are now still trying to pick up the pieces of a shattered life after Katrina blew into town.

Do you really think that's the case for the individuals stuck on a runway for 11 hours? If so… could I introduce you to some people I know from New Orleans – that are also loyal fans of jetBlue – because they’d love to chat with you about it face to face.

WrongVerbiage said...

DEAR RUTH:

And this is the last time I will respond to this page because it’s clearly a debate that could go on FOREVER!

I read through your very intelligent posting to my original posting (regarding the inappropriate and inflammatory usage of the term “hostage”) and couldn’t help thinking that you may have some sort of law background and it shows in your response to my posting because your prose are quite eloquent and thoughtful.

Yet, you mentioned the conditions in the Astrodome in New Orleans and that’s the reason I am writing this response. Those individuals in the Astrodome were not hostages nor were they "refugees." They were American citizens left without a home and without hope – at least at that moment.

The individuals on the jetBlue planes were placed in a situation that grew exponentially worse do to a breakdown in communication and a fear that greater harm would come to them outside of the plane than on the plane; which seems hard to believe, but is worth considering.

However, those individuals, when leaving the aircraft, still had homes to return to and would eventually either make their way to the terminal in a matter of time or they would be leaving on a flight later that evening either to their vacation destination or their home.

The individuals in the Astrodome were not presented with this scenario even weeks and weeks after the water finally drained from that wonderful city known as the Big Easy.

Also, simply because a gate is in viewing distance does not mean that it is a wise idea to pop open an aircraft door (thus deploying the evacuation slide), slide down a slide and run across an icy tarmac with the hope that an icy airstairs will be available to climb up in order to enter an already over populated terminal. In the same way that it may not be the wisest idea for a castaway, that sees land while on a life raft, to decide to disembark from the raft and swim in shark infested waters.

Also, from what I’ve witnessed, no one at jetBlue is passing the buck to JFK operations – I am. That’s all me. The reason that I am is because I fly almost every day of my life and most of the headaches I encounter usually begin with: “ATC has informed us…”

Airline flight attendants are trained to operate the doors of an aircraft and are qualified to do so by the FAA. Popping open one of those doors is a violation of an FAA ordinance and would result in a healthy fine, if not imprisonment, issued by an FAA agent to an already irate passenger. I don't think that jetBlue wants to have one -- or many -- of its valued customers fined by agents of the FAA (or arrested). That would be a worse situation than being encased in the jetBlue aircrafts on the runway for an excruciatingly long period of time.

I read your argument and I sense by your tone that you feel justified in equating the conditions in the Astrodome to the conditions on board the jetBlue airplane. But again, in my humble estimation, you are insulting those that went through Hurricane Katrina when you make the comparison because those people lost their homes, saw their city devastated and some are now still trying to pick up the pieces of a shattered life after Katrina blew into town.

Do you really think that's the case for the individuals stuck on a runway for 11 hours? If so… could I introduce you to some people I know from New Orleans – that are also loyal fans of jetBlue – because they’d love to chat with you about it face to face.