JetBlue canceled almost a quarter of its flights on Monday but said it planned to restore full operations Tuesday, nearly a week after a snowstorm created a travel meltdown for the low-fare airline.
The six-day siege of angry and disgruntled travelers at JetBlue's terminal at Kennedy International Airport, its New York hub, appeared to ease Monday as service desks functioned more smoothly and customer calm prevailed despite the cancellation of 139 of 600 scheduled flights at 11 other airports.
Last week's snow and bitter cold froze equipment and grounded the company's planes at Kennedy, stranding passengers inside for up to 10 1/2 hours. JetBlue, which prides itself on low fares and great customer service, said it waited too long to call for help in getting the passengers off the planes because it hoped the weather would let up and the flights would be able to proceed.
The bad-weather delays and cancellations led to customer questions and complaints that overwhelmed the company's reservations system, and many of its pilots and flight crews wound up stuck in places they weren't needed.
Monday's cancellations gave the airline time to get equipment to the right places and helped ensure that flight crews had the legally required amounts of rest before flying again, JetBlue spokesman Sebastian White said. Planes were being repositioned Monday to be ready to go Tuesday morning, he said.
When the bad weather struck Feb. 14, JetBlue didn't have a system in place for so many stranded flight crews to call in and be rerouted to their next assignments, something it was working to rectify within a few weeks, company founder and Chief Executive Officer David G. Neeleman said.
The service breakdown "was absolutely painful to watch," he said Monday.
While JetBlue was making its own analysis, one travel expert suggested the airline had brought the crisis on itself by trying to do the right thing for its passengers despite the wintry weather threat.
"Most airlines don't try to operate when there is an ice storm problem - they've learned that it's better to cancel all flights at the outset and then try to get back to normal operations as quickly as possible," David Stempler, president of the Washington-based, member-supported Air Travelers Association, told The Associated Press on Monday.
On Monday morning, Dawn Colonese, of New Haven, Conn., arrived at Kennedy with her husband and two daughters - on their way, they hoped, for a Florida vacation.
Trying on Sunday to confirm the flight, Colonese said she first got a recorded message saying the system was overloaded, then was disconnected. Finally she was able to record a complaint, and an apologetic airline representative returned her call five hours later.
Even though the terminal was orderly on Monday, Colonese said that because of what had happened, "I don't think I would fly with JetBlue again."
Some passengers, like Sarah King, a Connecticut resident returning from Portland, Ore., said she didn't think the weeklong debacle would hurt JetBlue in the long run.
"I think they offer a unique service. ... We'll definitely fly them again," King said while waiting to leave the terminal, from which reporters and TV news crews had been banned by JetBlue officials.
Apologies had been the order of the day - the week, in fact - for JetBlue.
JetBlue sent departing flights to anti-icing stations where they waited for takeoff clearance, while incoming flights parked at the terminal and could not be moved as the storm worsened. That left the departing aircraft, filled with passengers, trapped - unable to return and unable to take off - for hours.
White said JetBlue has tried to reduce the backlog of passengers by using charter flights, adding flights in certain sectors, rebooking passengers to later dates, and booking seats on other airlines.
Monday's cancellations affected 139 of 600 scheduled flights, at 11 airports: Richmond, Va.; Pittsburgh; Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Austin, Texas; Houston; Columbus, Ohio; Nashville, Tenn.; Portland, Maine; and Bermuda.
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