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JetBlue's flight operations were pretty much back to normal yesterday, after about a week of canceled flights and unhappy, confused customers. The lower-priced airline apologized at every opportunity - uploading a video on the Internet on Monday, issuing a customer bill of rights yesterday, and apologizing in newspapers today. But we did wonder about some sort of "air craft disturbance" that was reported yesterday in the late afternoon.

2007_02_jetblueanimal.jpgIt turns out that an "unruly pet owner" delayed a flight from LaGuardia to Fort Lauderdale. Apparently the woman refused to put her dog in its carrier and Flight 381 was delayed for 15 minutes while she was escorted off. We wonder if the other passengers clapped. JetBlue spokesman says the woman was booked onto another flight, but didn't know if she did take it.

The next few weeks and months will be critical for JetBlue as it tries to rebuild customer - and investor - confidence. Many people have mentioned that in spite of these problems, they would fly JetBlue again. After all, relatively speaking, all airlines have their problems. But a reader shared a letter she sent to JetBlue (after an experience she had last Friday. While not as harrowing as being trapped on a grounded plane without power for 11 hours, being stuck at an airport for hours with many mixed signals can seriously change how you feel about an airline. We suspect that because JetBlue has been so different and usually so great compared to other carriers, being disappointed by them is much more damaging.

I’ve been flying regularly on JetBlue Airlines since 2002. A native New Yorker who’s recently moved to the West Coast, I flew ten times between Burbank and JFK in 2007 alone. I’ve signed up for the American Express JetBlue Rewards card and every time I pull it out at a restaurant, the conversation evolves into my full-fledged endorsement of the airline and its True Blue program: “You earn great rewards! Comfy seats! Reasonable prices (provided you book well in advance)!”

I hate that after all this time, I’ve finally got something to complain about. Something to be furious about, in fact. My experience this past weekend with JetBlue left me feeling disgusted and even somehow betrayed by my longtime friend who has gotten me back home so often this last year.

I was not locked in a plane for 10 hours, thank goodness. I was not kept anywhere for ten hours in fact (though I fear the other passengers on Flight 358 Friday, February 16, 2007 may not have been so lucky). I gave up and called a cab at 1:00 am, after four hours of waiting, because at that point still no one could tell us when (or if) our flight would take off that night.

But Flight 358’s long delay was not due to the icy runway at JFK, nor to any unforeseen weather on the West Coast. The plane we were to board landed at our terminal almost on schedule at about 9:00. Only at 10pm did the flight attendants announce that they were looking for the pilots to take us to New York. A mere hour after our scheduled take-off time, this strange announcement was met with bewildered chuckles from the passengers. “Look under the seats!” “I’ll fly the plane!” Somehow we stayed in good sprits, though I’m sure many were asking the same, frightening question; “What kind of airline doesn’t know where its pilots are?”

Another announcement followed, some time later. “We are very sorry, but we have yet to locate pilots to take us to NY. We cannot reach anyone. Unfortunately, the pilots who flew this plane in from JFK are required by law to take a mandatory rest period before they fly again. But the flight attendants are ready to take off as soon as we give word!” Her words almost implied that it was not JetBlue’s fault that there were no pilots to take us back- it was those darn federal regulations! But of course there is a mandatory break required; I would be terrified to fly if there wasn’t. And of course this is not a new regulation, so the questions still remain: Who were the pilots scheduled to fly this plane at 9:00? Where were they? And why can’t these “managers” contact ANYONE?

Another hour or so passes. Another announcement: “We have located pilots to take us to NY! They were scheduled to fly out of Ontario, but their flight was cancelled. They should be here in about an hour and a half.” This is, naturally, met with a collective gasp from the passengers trying their best to get comfortable on dirty carpets and hard seats. But we sit and wait. And wait. And wait.

Two and a half hours pass, well longer than it takes to travel from Ontario to Burbank. The “manager” makes another announcement, conceding that she has no idea where the pilots were. She can’t reach them. She hopes they are still coming. Is there anyone we can call? Anything we can do? Is the flight cancelled? Can you tell us anything, please?

But of course, she cannot. She only tells us that JetBlue will happily rebook any passengers who would no longer like to wait. We are all urged to go to the ticket counter on the other side of the airport, and speak with the two attendants who have been stationed at the otherwise closed reservations counter. Eager to cancel my flight and head out, I hurry over to the counter to find, as promised, two attendants standing there. But they are confused, complain that they have been working 24-hours shifts, and frankly, they have no idea what is going on. But after several failed attempts to contact the other attendants still at the terminal, they agree to move ahead with cancellations and rebookings.

Until they realize their “computer system is down.” These two overwhelmed, miserable agents apologize profusely, but the system shuts down at the same time every night for maintenance and updates. Of course. We are invited to leave our boarding passes on the counter and they will cancel our flights for us when the network is back up. In the meantime, we are told to call 1-800-JetBlue to cancel.

This is the point when I leave the airport. It is about 1:00 am, and I head out, call a cab, and then dial the toll-free customer service number. The phone call does not merit the painstaking detail I have provided in these past few paragraphs; it should suffice to know that after one hour and fifty-eight minutes of a heated cell phone next to my ear, I was told that a supervisor would be needed to credit my account, and could I please call back at a later date?

My story ends there, at 3am, when I can finally fall asleep. I will not wake up in New York as I had planned, but I am comforted to know that I won’t have to set foot in a JetBlue terminal anytime soon.

-Flight #358, Seat 9C

Photograph of JetBlue passengers checking into JFK Airport yesterday by Rick Maiman/AP