The Indianpost

Traveler’s Aide: New York to D.C. via California?

After I refused to accept the 12-hour trip, the agent actually said he would be willing to drive me home.

I was also told that I could rent a car. At no time was any effort made to try to rebook me on another carrier; as far as JetBlue was concerned, they were sending me home via California.

My final recourse was to ask for a refund for the unused portion of my ticket. JetBlue did refund that $165. However, this did not solve my problem of how to get home. I incurred about $400 of out-of-pocket costs to get home, with a taxi to Penn Station from JFK, an Amtrak ticket, then a taxi to Dulles to retrieve my car where I had left it.

I later called JetBlue and was told that its customer bill of rights does not allow cancellations due to weather. At no time when I checked in was I told that the flight was canceled or that there were weather issues. I was told only that the routing had been changed. I would like JetBlue to refund the full fare to cover my $232 train fare, and if they really cared about customer service then they would graciously refund my taxi fare of $165.

—Susan Howard, Washington, D.C.

Answer:  Howard’s July 8 JetBlue flight was canceled when widespread thunderstorms and hail pelted the Northeast. The weather chaos meant that getting her on a new flight in a timely manner might be tough—but did JetBlue seriously expect her to head home via a 12-hour connection through California?

Not really, as it turns out. When JetBlue makes a change to an existing flight schedule, its booking system automatically reassigns affected passengers onto new JetBlue routes or flights. The system tends to be accurate in choosing convenient alternatives for customers, according to JetBlue representative Allison Steinberg. However, as an added precaution, the airline’s customer support team prints the flight lists out to comb for any one-off situations that might be less than favorable, she says.

“In the rare instances when a schedule change, as in this case, means an unreasonable connection, our crewmembers will manually rebook the customer on the next available flight that does make sense,” says Steinberg. “The case of Ms. Howard was an unfortunate anomaly.”

Apparently an update to JetBlue’s booking system accidentally activated a function that is supposed to be used only in extraordinary circumstances when a passenger needs to get somewhere any way possible. This feature is generally kept off, but was turned on in Howard’s case, which is why she was rebooked on an itinerary that was clearly ridiculous.

The function was quickly turned off, says Steinberg. JetBlue couldn’t say whether other passengers were offered similar roundabout itineraries or whether anyone actually accepted them.

Howard’s cross-country itinerary was a double anomaly, then, since she was offered an unreasonable routing and JetBlue’s agents failed to notice it. Make that a triple: The wisecracking check-in agent in New York didn’t attempt to find another option.

“Out of respect for the privacy of our customers we won’t comment on the details of a specific instance, but in general we encourage customers to contact us and we’ll do our best to accommodate them,” says Steinberg.

JetBlue’s Customer Bill of Rights spells out how the airline compensates passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled due to events within the carrier’s control with credits for future travel. The site even has a handy link so travelers can search to find out if their flight qualifies for compensation. But for the most part, travelers whose flights are canceled due to weather aren’t eligible for the airline’s vouchers since those delays are beyond the airline’s control.

Technically, Howard wasn’t eligible for any compensation beyond the refund of the unused portion of her flight, which JetBlue had already credited. I sent her complaint to JetBlue and asked about that 12-hour itinerary.

JetBlue contacted Howard to apologize for her experience. The airline issued a full refund for her $284 trip, including the inbound flight she completed which was not affected by the weather.

“We hold our customer privacy in the highest regard, so I’m not able to share with you additional details of the customer’s situation,” says Steinberg.

Howard shared what JetBlue wouldn’t: The airline agreed to reimburse her for her out-of-pocket taxi fares of about $165. That’s an unusual step for an airline; JetBlue went above and beyond to resolve this traveler’s complaint.

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