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You're grounded

July 26, 2009|CATHARINE HAMM

Question: I recently booked and printed the boarding pass for a JetBlue flight from Long Beach to Sacramento to depart at 9:15 a.m. on July 1. At 1 a.m. on July 1, I received a recorded message saying the flight was canceled. I incurred nearly $400 in additional costs I think JetBlue should reimburse. If I miss a flight, whether it's my fault, there is no forgiveness. But if the airline does it, it's OK. Do I have any options?

Don Brown Long Beach

Answer: Maybe, depending on whom you're listening to.

Sebastian White, a spokesman for JetBlue, said the flight was canceled because of a weather-related (thunderstorms) delay on an earlier flight "so the crew could meet its federally mandated duty rest."

"As a weather-related cancellation, this flight was not eligible for compensation under our Customer Bill of Rights," White said. "In these events, JetBlue provides a full refund or accommodation on the next available JetBlue flight." Brown's problem: JetBlue's next flight wouldn't get him there in time, and "JetBlue doesn't have ticketing arrangements to move customers between carriers when a flight is canceled," White said.

"I would encourage this specific customer to contact us through the Speak Up section of ( /speakup) to voice their concerns. . . . Our Customer Commitment team looks at every inquiry individually -- there may be other factors involved in this case that you or I miss but that they'll be able to research, and that could affect compensation."

For another perspective, I asked John Lampl, a spokesman for British Airways, what his airline would do in such a situation. "We will do everything to get a customer to a destination," he said. When a recent flight to Atlanta was grounded by thunderstorms in Charlotte, N.C., British put passengers on buses to get them to Atlanta. One passenger even rented a car and drove, and BA picked up the tab, although, Lampl noted, the passenger had elite flier status. Or, said another way, keep the loyal customers happy.

And finally, there's the advice from Al Anolik, a travel rights lawyer in the Bay Area, who is a frequent proponent of small-claims court. "If they cannot take off because of weather -- if it was because they didn't have extra crew -- they are responsible for breach of contract." Anolik said if other planes were taking off at 9:15, Brown has a better case.

If I were Brown, I'd use some combination of the suggestions here: I would talk to (or e-mail) JetBlue's customer service folks, join JetBlue's frequent flier program so I'd be considered elite and I'd make the argument that other flights took off (if, indeed, they did). I'd leave small-claims court as the court of last resort, but it's still a good tool to have in the travel bag.

Above all, when making your case, stay calm, present the facts and stay calm again. The key is always to be well-reasoned, even if the airlines aren't.


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