After a drastic reboot of its flight schedule, JetBlue Airways made its first moves toward rebuilding its tarnished reputation, saying it would introduce a customer bill of rights and new procedures for handling operations disruptions.
The airline said it would detail the bill of rights program, as well as improved procedures for crew members and reservations, on Tuesday, nearly a week after a weather-induced travel meltdown hobbled the carrier.
JetBlue canceled almost a quarter of its flights on Monday but said it planned to restore full operations on Tuesday.
The onslaught of angry and disgruntled travelers at JetBlue's terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport, its New York hub, appeared to ease on Monday as service desks functioned more smoothly. Customer calm prevailed despite the cancellations of 139 of 600 scheduled flights at 11 other airports.
Last week's snow and bitter cold temperatures froze equipment and grounded the company's planes at Kennedy, stranding passengers inside them 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 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 other than where they were needed.
Monday's cancellations gave the airline time to get equipment to the proper places and helped make sure all flight crews had legally mandated amounts of rest before flying again, JetBlue spokesman Sebastian White said. Planes were being repositioned on Monday to be ready to go on Tuesday morning, he said.
When the bad weather struck Feb. 14, JetBlue didn't have a system in place for many stranded flight crews to call in to be rerouted, something the airline is working to rectify, company founder and Chief Executive Officer David G. Neeleman said. The service breakdown "was absolutely painful to watch," he said Monday.
One travel expert suggested the airline had brought the crisis on itself by trying too hard to accommodate its passengers.
"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," said David Stempler, president of the Washington-based Air Travelers Association.
Stempler said the fast growth of airlines such as JetBlue can create demands that are beyond their capability, especially in crises.
"JetBlue tried to do their best - tried to keep the system rolling," he said. "Their heart was in the right place, but their head was not."
Monday's cancellations affected flights at airports in Richmond, Va.; Pittsburgh; Charlotte and Raleigh/Durham, N.C.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Austin and Houston, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Nashville; Portland, Me.; and Bermuda.
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