DEJA BLUE: A Jet Blue Family Travel Tale

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Two small kids + terrible weather + twelve hours at JFK = a flight that never happened.  One mom’s family adventure to nowhere.

I could feel it that day when I woke up at home in CT. Ice pellets were bouncing off the skylights and there was a light coating of snow and ice on the ground.  The phone was ringing — it was the phone chain of moms calling to say that school had been canceled that day. Just the kind of day I like to travel with my two small kids:  when the weather is so bad that even school is canceled.

Travelers are a commodity, and we are treated like just so many bags of chicken feed or cans of cream soda…

It was February 14, the infamous day that JetBlue suffered a major communication meltdown and left thousands of passengers stranded, some for up to five days, because the airline didn’t have crisis plans in place.

That day, to make a long and oft-told story short, we went to the airport, knowing full well that our flight to Florida would be canceled. But due to the airline’s greedy —  and I believe enslaving — policies, we had to show up and check in or risk losing our tickets and the money we’d paid for them. So we braved treacherous, accident-strewn roads, got to JFK, checked in, went to our gate, and settled in for what we knew would be a long wait for a flight cancellation. And sure enough, five hours later, the announcement was made over the loudspeaker. So we went to baggage claim, spent three hours waiting for our luggage, and finally, at midnight, we drove home.

For the next four or five days we delighted in the public bashing the airline got for this miserable performance of duty, for the lack of preparation and the confusion among passengers and crew. We felt lucky that our day was only a 12-hour ordeal; many others spent much more time than that trying to get from one place to another. We weren’t even surprised that other airlines were flying when JetBlue’s planes were still grounded. But we were somewhat sympathetic to JetBlue; they were optimistic that they might be able to get at least some flights off the ground that day. Other airlines have a much more arrogant view toward bad weather.

The first time this happened to us was seven years ago, when my oldest child had just turned 1. We were flying back from a trip to Los Angeles. It was a Thursday morning, and we had planned our flight for early that day so that we could spend Friday preparing for my stepdaughter’s Sweet Sixteen party, to be held at our house on Saturday.

When we got to LAX the scene was complete chaos. All flights to the East Coast were delayed or canceled due to thunderstorms. But with the flying time and the time difference, we figured that at some point in the day our flight would be rescheduled. But no: United simply canceled every flight.

 
Long ago I resolved myself to accept that the days I travel will be lost days; “Don’t ask. We’re not discussing it,” was the attitude from the ticket desk. We followed the sage advice of calling the airline’s 800 number rather than standing in line at the ticket counter, to no avail; they couldn’t book us on flights that had been canceled. They could tell us, in that happy unhelpful tone, that they could rebook us for Monday or Tuesday — since the
weekend flights were already oversold.

I’ll forego the full tale of the hellish 14 hours we spent at LAX that day, baby in stroller, slogging our bags from concourse to concourse trying to find pay phones, concession stands and hopefully, a helpful ticket agent with
a flight bound for New York. But finally, with the help of a wonderful travel agent (John Murphy at Carlson Wagonlit) we got the last seats on the last flight out of the airport that day — a Delta flight to Philly, where we rented a car and drove home Friday morning.

Luckily our daughter was a good-natured baby and wasn’t too cranky during the ordeal. Luckily for us, too, we only had the one child; each additional child multiplies not only the misery at the airport, but the difficulty of an
airline rebooking you. As it was the red-eye flight we finally took, my daughter sat on my lap that night.

We have all had to come to the sad realization that travelers are a commodity, and we are treated like just so many bags of chicken feed or cans of cream soda.  As outrageous as that may be, it’s what we have to deal
with when we book a flight.  

 
Long ago I resolved myself to accept that the days I travel will be lost days; I don’t include them as part of my vacation, nor do I expect that they will be easy.  I assume that they will be troublesome and tiring, and I’ve found that often a rough day of travel at the start can ruin the first few days of a family vacation, and a bad day of travel at the end can erase a trip’s restorative effects. So, I follow my own list of rules designed to save the trip and ease any pain we encounter.  They’ve worked very well so far.

 
Scotty Reiss, journalist, author and mother of 2 lives in CT. 










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