ORD to NYC: How jetBlue Won My Business (and ATA Lost It)

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(Photo: The really friendly skies. Credit: TechLiving.)

Friends of mine in the airline biz always turn their collective nose up at even the mere mention of NYC-based discount carrier jetBlue. I haven’t the foggiest idea why. Having spent most of this summer shuttling back-and-forth between Chicago and New York City, I’ve spent a lot of time on the great blue marvel and its main discount rival Southwest. Er, better make that “on this route we’re really just our crappy codeshare partner, ATA“. (Can you see where this post is headed?)

Sure, jetBlue tends to serve snarky gates and marginal airports (last time I flew them to Long Beach, CA, I half-expected a horse to pull the plane to the terminal). True, they’ve been renovating their longtime soon-to-be-new terminal at JFK since the Nixon administration. And certainly, no one’s flying them for the (nonexistent) meals.

But have you checked out the 36 personal video channels lately? What other carrier offers such a tranquilizing benefit to otherwise anxious flyers between Chicago and the Big Apple? Certainly not the route’s pretend-Southwest, ATA. Now all other things being equal, both the great blue wonder and pretend-Southwest offer similar low fares between the two cities (very sub-$200 round trips, anyone?). However, all things aren’t equal between these two carriers–well, except perhaps for the crappy gate assignments.

For one thing, jetBlue has never lied to me. During one rain delay in June, an ATA gate agent made an enormous fuss about my inability to change my full-fare ticket without paying a penalty. (He was wrong).

For another, jetBlue has never cursed me out. During another of the summer’s numerous weather events, I witnessed a different ATA employee answer an obviously distraught flyer’s query with, “I can’t reseat you because I’m a bitch! I am a bitch today, okay?!” (She was right).

And I certainly never had ATA bend over backwards three times in the same week to rebook and/or reseat me at no cost because of weather-related cancellations, even though by the book they didn’t technically have to do so. (By this point, I felt jetBlue was really starting to over-gild the lily of 36 channels, but I did not complain).

Granted, jetBlue doesn’t promise the moon, just low fares and a comfortable trip. There are no Southwest-esque singing cabin crews, to be sure. But that’s the crux of the problem for ATA out of Chicago. Being Southwest’s codeshare partner, you have a right to expect a certain level of customer service–a level that in my experience has been craptastically unmet by them.

Living downtown as I do, I’d prefer the shorter Orange Line ‘L’ trip to Midway, which ATA serves, rather than the slow-zone laden Blue Line slog out to O’Hare for jetBlue. But the extra transit time at least offers the promise of 90 minutes of TV Land from takeoff to landing.

And I’m pretty sure neither I nor anyone else is going to be publicly dissed by a gate agent.

Besides, ATA serves LaGuardia from Chicago, and unless you enjoy feeling like you’re about to land in the East River followed by perilously slamming down onto the runway, who wants that? Give me the somnolent TV goodness of a jetBlue flight (on a brand-spanking new plane), followed by a quick, $5 trip on JFK AirTrain.

You see ATA, that’s how I like to be treated as a paying customer. Well, that is. Let me know once you get that point. When it really seeps in.

Until then, don’t expect me to help you pay that bitch’s salary.

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