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They'll give JetBlue one more chance

Pleased with the upstart airline's reconciliation efforts, many of its passengers are willing to forgive the mistakes.

February 20, 2007|Walter Hamilton and Adrian G. Uribarri | Times Staff Writers

NEW YORK — Ramiro Augusto came to John F. Kennedy International Airport on Monday expecting the worst, but breathed easier after learning that his JetBlue flight to Vermont was scheduled to take off on time.

"I figured I might get stuck here, but so far so good," the 23-year-old student said.

Five days after a stew of operational glitches forced JetBlue Airways Corp. to cancel dozens of flights and strand scores of passengers around the country, operations at its huge JFK terminal seemed close to normal Monday.

And for the most part, passengers here and at Long Beach Airport seemed willing to forgive the upstart airline -- provided that JetBlue never suffers a repeat of last week's breakdown.

"They apologized and they're trying to make up for it," said Donna Martiny, 41, who works at a nonprofit agency in Buffalo, N.Y. "But they really need to fix the problem and not have it happen again."

For many passengers, JetBlue's debacle caused more than headaches: It ate into their mid-winter vacations.

Martiny was supposed to fly from Buffalo to New York City on Friday night, but didn't get out until Saturday morning on a flight that itself was delayed an hour and a half.

She took the episode in stride, but her father, Ron, wasn't as forgiving.

"For a company that started so nicely, I don't know how it deteriorated so much," he said as he waited to ensure that his daughter got out on time.

Several passengers said they appreciated that JetBlue had publicly apologized and taken responsibility for its operational flaws.

"Everyone makes a mistake, but they owned up to it and tried to solve it," said Ruth Cohen, a 64-year-old teacher from Rochester, N.Y. "They've said all the right things."

Still, there was no way to recover vacation time that was lost, especially for families whose children were off from school for only a week.

As they waited patiently in the JetBlue terminal, Phyllis Hauser and her three children said they were trying to salvage what was left of their California vacation.

Last Friday, the family got to Kennedy airport at 6 a.m. and, after waiting outside in frigid temperatures to check their bags, found out their flight had been canceled.

"I had two crying children and a whiny teenager," said the 40-year-old physical therapist from Long Island, N.Y. "I was really frustrated."

The family had planned to go to San Francisco and Los Angeles. The delay forced them to scotch the San Francisco leg and go only to L.A.

Hauser said she would fly JetBlue again -- if there are no more problems.

"I'd give them another shot and that's it," she said. "I couldn't disappoint my kids again."

At the Long Beach airport, most flights were departing and arriving as scheduled. Several passengers said they bore no ill will toward the airline.

New York accountant Mandeep Singh lost several hours on Friday when JetBlue canceled his flight from JFK to Long Beach. He sat at the airport for three hours until he was rerouted to Burbank, where he wasted more time sitting in rush-hour traffic on a drive to Long Beach.

By Monday morning -- when he caught a return flight home on JetBlue -- the 44-year-old frequent flier was not only ready to forgive and forget, but to book more trips on the beleaguered airline.

One customer service agent was so friendly on the telephone, Singh said, "she made me forget all my troubles."

Some consumer travel experts agreed that the cancellations would not have a lasting effect on JetBlue.

"We have a really short memory in this country," said Terry Trippler, an airline expert with MyTravelPassport.com. "The people will be back. We've had so many airlines that have had so many problems ... eventually people just forget about it and they go back to booking."

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walter.hamilton@latimes.com

adrian.uribarri@latimes.com

Hamilton reported from New York, and Uribarri reported from Long Beach. Times staff writer Kimi Yoshino contributed to this report.

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