An Open Letter (and photos) to United, Jet Blue and Newark Airport

5 years ago

Most people who come to this blog know that I'm an enthusiastic and frequent traveler but my last trip really tested my nerves. It all but left me wanting to become a recluse and never venture out again.

Folks, the skies are no longer friendly and, worse yet, they really don't give a s**t once you've paid your money. Downright incompetence and mistruths reign.

Dear United, Jet Blue and Newark Airport:

How can you operate so inefficiently? 3 of 4 flights I took last week (in and out of Newark airport) were delayed beyond any reasonable explanation. Worse, the delays were badly and inhumanely handled with no respect for passengers who were stranded. Had we not paid good money to get somewhere within a fair amount of time? I guess I should be "grateful" that I was stranded in the airport and not in the aircraft on a runway as many others passengers have experienced. Seriously, what has happened to the state of air traffic in this country?

The First Leg

At 8:30 a.m. on July 20th, my sister and I met 9 of our travel gal pals in Newark Airport for a 90-minute flight (United #4440) to Quebec. It was to be a mini vacation (more mini than planned). My group came from several different locations so we were delighted to see each other when we all gathered at the gate for our 10:05 flight.

The joy was soon dampened when we noticed the first of many postponements. Flight 4440 was subsequently delayed all day long -- from 10:05, to 11:45, to 12:30, 1:30, 3:00, 3:30, 4:15, 5:07, 6:15 and finally left at 6:45. During the wait, we were moved from gates 28, 27, 20, 26 and back to 20 while they tended to "mechanical" difficulties; first on one plane and then a second. During the interim, they periodically couldn't find the mechanics and then, intermittently, the captain, first officer and crew! Ultimately, the second plane was removed from the gate while they then looked for yet another plane. 

When passengers began to show frustration, the agents reverted to the old  'weather-it's-not-our-fault' excuse, which was just a patent lie (one to be repeated on the next two legs as well).

The PA system was ineffective and the ground staff were uninformed. United belatedly offered a $10 food voucher, many hours after most people had bought something to eat at their own expense.

Going towards evening, they gate agent finally called a meeting of all passengers on flight 4440 to inform us they could not find a plane, the crew had timed out, and that we had no choice but to wait for the same flight the following day -- or take a bus to Laguardia with a flight from there, also going out the following day.

This was a choice no one wanted -- and as we discussed the alternatives, miracuously, we got a message that they found a plane and we would leave at 6:15. Of course, that was delayed and we finally left at 6:45.

We arrived at our hotel in Quebec at 10:00 p.m., checked in, and with suitcases in hand went directly to the bar for food and booze!

Total time expended: 10 hour flight delay and 13 hour total travel time for a 90 minute flight.

To Readers: Because it is a short distance, I assume they fly at a lower altitude and I did get to see see some spectacular sights as we flew between the clouds.

And this very welcome sight too!

Next Day

Photo taken on our first morning in Quebec.
(Should have been our second morning.)

4 Days Later

We arrived at Quebec airport at 3:30 for a 5:00 p.m. flight back to Newark and were informed the flight was cancelled. Three of my group had gone on to Montreal so we were a group of 8 at this point.

They told us it was weather-related in New York. NOT!

Aside from our group, we saw only 4 other people who were scheduled for that flight. I can't help but think that no matter what the excuse, the flight was cancelled because it was not full.

We were offered the same flight on the following day but ... using the weather card, NO hotel accommodation OR food allowance.

Alternatively, they would put us on a flight to Montreal with a flight out the following morning at 6:00 a.m. but, once again, it would be on our dime!

Neither suggestion was acceptable and who could trust United that we'd actually get out?

We pushed for something to get us home without an overnight and an iffy United flight. We finally got space on a U.S. Airways flight #4077 into Philadelphia. But they (United) could not connect us from there to Newark where our cars were.

It still seemed like the better choice, at least we were on the move and we were rid of United.

Hello, Philadelphia, I didn't expect to see you.

With the help of a very nice ground transportation agent in Philly, we found the most economical(?) method to get to Newark airport -- $458 (with tip) for a van.

About a 4+ hour delay and extra $$$.

Several Days in NYC and ...

We're back to Newark Airport at 1:30 on July 28 for Jet Blue flight #509 leaving for Fort Lauderdale at 3:12 p.m. Or so we thought.

Do you see the "delayed" on the sign? That was one of many.

This time it was due to a "runway closure". Props to Jet Blue, however, for continually updating passengers in a clear and seemingly caring manner (not so United), although the news was equally bleak and unfathomable.

The excuse went from runaway closure due to construction to the old fallback 'weather'. Our aircraft was coming in from West Palm Beach and we were told it was on a 'ground hold' till the weather cleared in Newark. It was cloudy, a little rainy perhaps. But not classifiable as 'bad weather', plus what happened to the original excuse of runway closure due to construction?

It was frustrating, tiring, and anger-inducing. People missed cruise connections, mothers ran out of food for infants, family vacations were delayed, one family missed a funeral, the 2 paltry restaurants closed, the newsstand closed, people slept on the floor.

Jet Blue brought out small bottles of water and cookies midway through the fiasco, but did not offer food vouchers which is totally unacceptable when you've been holding passengers for so many hours. There were so many families with children, not to mention hungry and grumpy adults like me.

The Saga Continues

We finally got word that the aircraft left Palm Beach at 7 p.m. and our new scheduled departure from Newark was 10:39 p.m. (a 7-1/2 hour delay). But, no, it was not to be. :(

At 10pm, the expected arrival time of that flight in Newark, they announced the plane was diverted to JFK for fuel and it would take a "good 40 minutes or more" because there was a lot of traffic on the ground.

What? Excuse me? That plane sat in West Palm all afternoon. Could it not have been fueled there? Why would they send it up without sufficient fuel? Could they have not flown a different flight pattern to get it directly to Newark without a sidestep to JFK? It just doesn't compute!

And if that wasn't bad enough ...

Of course, the plane that was supposedly being refueled in JFK never appeared and the crew timed out. Again.

"We are looking for a new crew to fly the plane to Newark".

[Seriously, readers, I could not make this stuff up.]

A couple of hours later, past midnight, they finally cancelled the flight as we knew they would. And then began the angry queue of passengers as each was dealt with individually to find out what their travel options were. It was scarey. They were talking 2-3 days for availability on another flight.

I moved rather quickly and was near the beginning of the line when we learned another delayed flight just arrived. It was scheduled to turn around and go to West Palm Beach and they had empty seats. At this point I didn't care where it was going, I would have hung from the wing just to get the hell out of Newark!

Wheels up 2:40 a.m., 13 hours after we arrived at Newark airport.

We arrived in West Palm at 5:30 a.m. at what was now 16 hours.

You might think it ends there. It does not.

We were in West Palm Beach and although we were assured our suitcases were being transferred to the flight we took, they somehow managed to go to Fort Lauderdale.

From twitter, one day later:

Joan Nova Just received luggage. 13 hours after I arrived and 31 hours after I last saw it!

And that, folks, is why I'm never flying United or Jet Blue again, especially out of Newark airport! And neither should you!  I cannot help but think that Newark Airport has some culpability, perhaps even the lion's share, as the 3 flights involved were either in or out of Newark.

And another thing, we, the traveling public, need more electric sockets in airports!

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