JetBlue Cancelling Flights Instead of Risking Delays

One month after a Valentine's Day snowstorm brought the airline to a standstill, JetBlue announced the cancellation of almost all of today's flights out of New York City's Kennedy Airport because of another winter storm.

"We canceled approximately 400 flights systemwide, about 160 from JFK," said JetBlue spokeswoman Jenny Dervin. "And the forecast doesn't look promising."

After 13 JetBlue flights departed from JFK this morning, the airline announced at midday the cancellation of all remaining flights out of its main airport, as well as the rest of the day's operations in and out of two other area airports, LaGuardia and Newark International.

"The weather is just not clearing up," Dervin said, "and we just don't want to inconvenience customers any more than we already have."

The airline canceled 28 Saturday flights and advised passengers to expect more cancellations as the storm hits Boston.

"Boston is expecting heavy snowfall, and we may have to cancel flights," Dervin said. "That's a pretty big airport for us. As of noon, we had canceled 12 Boston departures and that number is very likely to go up."

JetBlue was not the only airline to report cancellations. Delta Airlines canceled about 250 flights in the Northeast.

"Yesterday we made the decision to proactively cancel flights for today," said Delta spokesman Kent Landers. "Those cancellations have a heavy impact on the New York area. We've learned that proactively canceling flights in advance allows us to accommodate passengers and get back on schedule faster. We think it's the right thing to do to work with them as early as possible."

Landers said as part of standard Delta policy all cancellation and charge fees for inconvenienced customers had been waived. The airline hopes to be back on schedule by midday Saturday, added Landers.

US Airways was forced to cancel 206 mainline flights, as well as 812 express flights, said spokesman Andrew Christie. He added the majority of cancellations were "coming from and going to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and LaGuardia."

United Airlines canceled 185 flights and shut down all operations at the three New York City area airports, said spokesman Jeff Kovick.

American Airlines announced 265 cancellations, with spokesman Tim Wagner calling the cancellations "significant." As of mid-afternoon, the airline had also shut down operations at all three New York City area airports, as well as Philadelphia.

JetBlue's advance cancellations are an attempt to avoid the extensive delays, controversies and widespread criticism in the days after the Feb. 14 ice storm. JetBlue left passengers stranded on planes at JFK for up to 10 hours and canceled numerous flights because of misplaced flight crews and an overwhelmed communications system.

"Our first real test following Feb. 14 was Feb. 26 when the snowstorm hit New York," Dervin said. "We did a lot differently. We have made a lot of internal changes. A lot has changed for the better, not just for the airline but for our customers. The reliability of the airline is in much better shape."

JetBlue has instituted a customers' bill of rights in an effort to compensate customers experiencing long delays. Wagner said American had its own policy for affected customers.

"We put in a customer comfort policy that allows [customers] to make changes without any change fee," Wagner said. "This allows people to say, 'OK, we want to hold off and wait for the weather to clear' without paying a change fee."

American is also attempting to win back customers after it too was embroiled in winter controversies that generated widespread criticism of the airline industry. American left passengers stranded on a plane on the Austin, Texas, tarmac for 10 hours over New Year's Day weekend.

The recent incidents prompted Congress to get involved. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., announced plans last month to introduce a federal passengers' bill of rights to ensure air travelers were not unnecessarily held on planes or deprived access to food, water, and hygiene.

In 1999, the airlines avoided congressional action, agreeing to improve customer service on their own, adopting a 12-point pledge, including the promise to "meet customers' needs during long on-aircraft delays."