Delayed but Undeterred

>> Monday, January 4, 2010

Flying back to New York on New Year's Day, we arrived at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport with kids & bags, ready for a not-so-long winter's nap on the flight to JFK. We had everything figured out perfectly: a full day of sun & pool & food for kids to have them asleep shortly after we pushed back from the gate. As soon as we got out of the car, we realized even the best laid plans get waylaid.

"Sir, your flight has been delayed. The new departure time is in 4 1/2 hours, at 3AM."

There's a saying that when you take a vacation, 'they get you back' -- which usually means you get gang-tackled the moment you get back to the office, or find you pipes have burst when you return home, or whatever. But I don't think I've ever received the 'retribution' as early as the flight home.

But what happened next was very interesting. We flew JetBlue because the price was right, but really because the television screens keep the kids quiet & occupied on the flight. And all of us like their service experience. At that hour at the Phoenix airport, everything was closed -- even the cleaning people had been & left (as I found out when I walked face first into a glass wall that was so clean I couldn't see it, the only thing blocking me from the latest issue of Vanity Fair and bottled water). With nothing to do in the terminal, we headed towards the gate in the event that if we all fell asleep, some good samaritan would wake us up before the plane left the gate.

But JetBlue had it figured out. They had cookies & sodas & waters for the people who hadn't made the stores before they closed. Free wireless access kept the computers powered on the both kids occupied as the hours dragged on (my wife Teresa was more tired than occupied and slept on the floor like a college student out of money traveling Europe). And they kept everyone informed of where the incoming aircraft was and what they were doing to expedite the turn-around and departure.

In the end, JetBlue turned the flight around in record time, welcomed the incoming passengers with good humor (and free movies and drinks for anyone who could keep their eyes open) and we left 30 minutes earlier than expected (2:30AM! a miracle!) and lifted off eastward to JFK.

On the flight to Arizona a week earlier we had arrived an hour ahead of schedule. Upon pulling up to the gate, the pilot said "Happy we got you here this early, and we hope you'll remember this the next time we're late." We won't forget the hassle of being stuck, but we will remember how the JetBlue service experience was carried over into a terminal even when they had a plane full of passengers waiting until the wee small hours of the morning to get home. I'm going to guess that experience will inspire more loyalty among the crowd left waiting than defectors.

Be well -- Ned.


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