19 January 2009
Lawsuit leaves airline feeling blue
Tom Johansmeyer Jan 18th 2009 @ 1:00PM
Bill Baker was mad. This crotchety blogger was so pissed at JetBlue that he took the airline to small claims court. On January 16, 2009, victory was sweet, to the tune of $494. The money, he says, will be donated to charity.
Clearly, one lone nut blogger can make a difference.
JetBlue delayed Baker's red-eye flight from Portland, OR to New York for five hours, before announcing the cancellation of the flight. The passengers were offered flights out three days later. Meals, accommodations and earlier flights were not offered. So, Baker took JetBlue to Connecticut small claims court. He asked for damages of $722.50 (per his blog, $687.50 per the court record). The airline apparently took the lawsuit seriously, actually sending a representative to the hearing. This was not enough, however, to sway the events to JetBlue's favor.
The airline has developed something of a reputation for canceling flights and pushing passengers days into the future. When I went to the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, JetBlue canceled my flight and simply said that I wouldn't be able to get into JFK for another two days. I pushed, asking about the many other airports in the New York area – small spots, like LaGuardia and Newark. Finally, I got them to put me on a flight for the next day. Like Baker, JetBlue offered nothing to make my trip easier.
I just sent a letter to JetBlue, which garnered a very weak response from the airline. Baker aimed high, and it worked.
Litigation was not his first choice. In fact, he offered to let JetBlue donate the $722.50 for which he was suing to the ASPCA or the Humane Society of America. The airline did not respond to his offer. They did offer some vouchers as compensation, which he refused to use. But, the judge seemed to consider them in his final award, as they account for the difference between the damages requested and those rewarded.
I guess the moral of this story is that airlines should realize that even the smallest complaint can snowball. I found out about Bill Baker's story on his blog, which was linked to his Twitter account, went to his blog and was entranced. That's all it takes, sometimes, for one company's bad news to gain a hell of a lot of attention. One person cruising a series of links at the right time can turn a small story into a big one.
For travelers, the message is that we need to continue to talk to each other. Start your own blogs. Use sites like Twitter. As we saw earlier this week, with the use of the Hudson River as a runway, citizen journalism has become a powerful force. Let everyone know about the best and worst you see on the road. We're all in this together. Also, the airlines and hotels are starting to pay attention. One tough tweet will be noticed.
And, Baker leaves us with his battle cry, "Ask not how airlines can screw you; Ask how you can screw the airlines back!"
Read about Bill Baker's lawsuit against JetBlue >>
View the official results of the Connecticut Small Claims Court >>