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JetBlue’s Customer Bill of Rights: The Big Loophole

jet blue rightsThe past two weeks have been a publicity disaster for Jet Blue and a travel nightmare for passengers after hundreds of flights were still being cancelled days after a snowstorm passed.

To its credit, the company quickly admitted its errors and embarrassment, and pledged to do better in the future. Rather than a hollow promise to improve, the company put its money where its mouth is, and unveiled a “Customer Bill of Rights.”  It will pay people rather generously for their inconvenience when flights are delayed or cancelled — up to the price they paid for their ticket. Compensation increases as the time of the delay increases.

However, the airline will generally only provide these benefits when the cancellation or departure delay is a result of a “controllable irregularity.”  Nowhere in the policy is that term defined. So, our trusty mouse went to work, and ferretted out the definition from the company:


“A controllable irregularity is something that is within the control of JetBlue, such as staffing issues, technology issues, maintenance issues, etc. It essentially includes most everything except weather, air traffic control constraints, or airport conditions beyond the control of JetBlue.”

So, potentially the thousands of passengers stranded in airport lobbies around the country over Presidents Day weekend would not have been compensated a penny had the new policy been in effect at that time. No doubt arguments would have broken out over whether the problem was the weather or mismanagement.

Only passengers held captive on airplanes on the runway would clearly be covered because the “controllable irregularity” language does not apply to the “ground delays” section of the policy.

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10 thoughts on “JetBlue’s Customer Bill of Rights: The Big Loophole”

  1. So far this is the first article on mouseprint where I had to wonder why it is here. The definition of a controllable irregularity given by JetBlue is something that any sensible and sane company would do: pay for their own mistakes. I do not know what happened on the Presidents Day weekend, but I really do not see any problem with their statement, except that it is not a 1000 pages long, with examples of what is, and what isn’t a controllable irregularity. My guess is that once people start actually complaining, the company will have to make something better definied since there will be ambiguity.

  2. Voja,

    This post is in Mouse Print* because we are about exposing the strings
    and loopholes in advertising, in contracts, and on labels.

    When a key term in a policy is not defined, and has the effect of
    limiting the promise made, then it is exactly something Mouse Print* would investigate.

    Remember, Mouse Print* is NOT about illegal behavior, but hidden restrictions.

  3. Last weekend my girlfriend was stuck for 6.5 hours on a Southwest Airline flight out of
    Chicago due to weather. They were attached to the gateway but not allowed to get off the
    aircraft. After people stated complaining they allowed them into the gateway but not the
    terminal. Finally they were given the option to leave the aircraft but they would not be
    able to get another Southwest flight without paying for another ticket. Under Jet Blues
    I am wondering if this would be considered a “controllable irregularity”.

  4. I think you people are mixing your controllability factors here! The fact that someone was delayed for six and a half hours due to whether is beyond control the airline. The fact that the airline made passengers stay onboard with no relief from a stuffy stale airplane, no bathroom priveldges, etc. is absolutely due to the airline’s neglect, and well within their control.

    I think Jet Blue’s new policies and the constraints placed on them are clear enough for any reasonble and sane individual to understand. But, as they say, the proof is in the pudding! If Jet Blue has truely re-dedicated itself to providing superior customer service, there will be no debate over the minute little details of its new policy and what does and does not constitute a “controlable irregularity” . . . instead, there will just be satisfied customers.

  5. I think this policy is a step in the right direction, but I’d like to see the airline terminals apply a similar policy.

    When an airplane moves out the runway and gets stuck there for 2 hours, whose fault is it? This is typically controlled by the air-traffic controllers, although sometimes an airline moves a plane away from the gate to make room for an incoming plane, knowing very well that the plane cannot take off because of weather conditions elsewhere. How can the consumers determine where to place the blame? (And is two hours sitting on the runway enough to get compensation? How about if you miss a connecting flight because of it?–actually the airlines are usually very good about this.)

    And if the airplane is at the gate and decides to let people off the plane, they will have to re-check everyone to get them back on the plane, which is a very time-consuming process so they will typically not let you leave unless they know the delay will be a long one (more than an hour.)

    (I’ve learned all this from the consumer side.)

    Anyway, I guess the whole airline industry is going to try to balance the level of inconvenience against the level of angry customers.
    I’ve personally found that when they keep people informed on a regular basis, most of the anger is alleviated–it’s almost all about communication. (If they don’t tell you anything, you get frustrated after 30 minutes; if they tell you about WHY they are delayed and give you updates then 2 hours seems tolerable.)

  6. The biggest problem I see here is that Jet Blue is doing this in direct response to the fact that people were stuck on a plane for 10 hours and not compensated.

    To me, it seems like the company is capitalizing on the publicity to push a new system that would not have helped the passengers on whom the publicity concerns.

  7. Best way to deal with connecting flights when you are delayed is to let the flight crew know what flight number your connection flight carries. I have had delays announced before my plane left the runway, I informed the flight crew, and they had another connection set up for me by the time the plane landed. The main things to remember is that what ever the problem your having with the airline: 1) It is NOT the flight attendant’s fault, yelling at him or her will not make you want to help you more. 2) If you don’t let them know you are having an issue, they can’t help you. Fight Attendants do not stop to check every passenger for connecting flights, they do not have esp to know that are in desperate need of some water, or a trip to the restroom. You will be amazed what a polite question or two will accomplish, epically in an Industry where there is normally so much hostility directed at the staff.

  8. Chris, it’s true that being more vocal will help most situations like these, but there are some that should be obvious to anyone in the industry. Since probably 90% of all flights go through hubs (and therefore probably have connecting flights) it seems reasonable that the flight crew would EXPECT connection problems. And if you’re on the runway for more than 30 minutes, it seems quite reasonable that people want to know what’s going on, even if the answer is simply, “we have not been informed why we are being delayed here by the airport.” (Of course, the next step is to find out and report the information ASAP.)

    These things are simply standard public relations. If you’ve worked at the front line of retail, you’ve probably learned these things–frustrated people feel better when you keep them informed and help them to find a solution.

    For example, “we are stuck in the airport due to a major storm coming in and will not be flying for 5 hours. Those who want to take a bus to nearby cities can contact us for details.”

    This solves several problems/questions:
    1) why are we stuck here
    2) how long are we stuck here (can I take a nap? should I go eat?)
    3) is there an alternate way for me to get to my destination?
    4) how do I get this alternate information?

    Failure for “officials” to act during a crisis creates anxiety.

  9. Obviously the whole point was to make people feel like they already have a bill of rights, so that they won’t go out and get a real bill of rights. It was not actually supposed to be a real bill of rights that helps consumers.

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