I wrote to Pete Buttigieg this week. I thought that the head of the U.S. Department of Transportation should know what’s up.
Last week, Secretary Buttigieg announced some $600 million in fines against the airlines for bad behavior during the continuing pandemic.
It’s a start.
Apparently, the airlines took billions of bailout dollars, and failed to pass on the goodwill or the big bucks to their customers. In fact, they canceled or delayed oodles of flights and didn’t refund the fees to passengers. Sometimes — and this took chutzpah — they rebooked folks on other flights without finding out whether those new bookings were good for the travelers.
I hate to pick on JetBlue, but I must, because that’s the only airline I’ve flown recently.
But let’s back up the plane. My bias is that my airline experience began when flying was a special treat. When we went on our wedding trip in 1968, we flew Eastern Airlines to Bermuda. I wore a matching coat and dress, white gloves, high heels and a hat. The “stewardesses” wore perky outfits and heels and little chapeaus, and they were all super-attractive and into providing excellent service to the customers.
Seen through today’s lens, it was sexist and white and stiffly formal. We enjoyed tasty little meals served on individual trays, even in coach, and the crew happily did all the heavy lifting. We have fallen out of the sky, in terms of standards for passengers and crew.
Two weeks ago, I flew JetBlue back and forth from New York to Florida. While I was waiting for my flight, an announcer at the gate said that the flight before mine, on the same route, would be turbulent, passengers should expect to stay seated, and there would be no bathroom breaks. This is bad, I thought. I’m about to get on this flying tube to ride 1,500 miles at 600 mph at 36,000 feet into a hurricane. I nearly bolted, but I talked myself down.
Turns out, we were on time, and there were no violent outbursts by passengers or inappropriate behavior by crew members.
But that’s a low bar, right? The crews are nice enough, which isn’t nice enough. No crew member offers a hand to help place a suitcase in the overhead bin. Then they try to sell you stuff. You get your drink when the wagon rolls by, and a dismal choice of snacks. Heaven help us, the Terra Blue potato chips, basically the most compelling reason to fly JetBlue, are gone.
Supply chain issues? The airlines got a gazillion dollars from the government. Open a damn potato chip factory!
My real and serious issue is with the JetBlue website and its reservation process. In recent months, the website has been buggy. The fees for “extras,” like being able to bring a carry-on in “basic blue,” are excessive.
When I needed to change my flight on the return, it took two hours online to book the change and pay for a seat. Then I got a message that I had the flight but no seat. I tried to call. It was a 90-minute wait to speak to a person, and I was informed that booking or changing or canceling a flight on the phone with a human being would cost me $25.
That’s when I decided to write to Buttigieg.
First, no customer should have to wait 90 minutes to speak to an agent. If they can’t run the airline better than that, with all the money they got from us, they should shut down and turn the planes into affordable housing.
Second, how dare they charge $25 to speak to someone to book a flight? I know many people, especially older folks, who don’t use computers. They don’t know how to book a flight online. They need to talk to a real person, and they can’t wait 90 minutes on the phone. This is unfair to fliers who don’t have the necessary technology skills. Why should they be penalized with a $25 fee for what should be a basic service to a paying customer?
Years ago, I wrote to JetBlue in the name of my dog, requesting frequent flier points for her even though she traveled under the seat. They had a sense of humor. They said they couldn’t offer points, but they did give Zoe and me a free flight. Just like that. Goodwill.
JetBlue needs to drop the $25 phone fee, hire enough agents to reduce the phone wait time, and please, please, bring back the Terra Blues.
Copyright 2022 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.