You know the drill. You pay good money to be stuffed in a crammed seat that you need a shoe horn to fit into. But no matter how little leg room your row has, you’re happy to sit because you just participated in a re-enactment of the Oklahoma Land Grab, desperately trying to secure space in an overhead bin for your carry-on. (You know you’ll want to bolt out of the airport at the end of your trip. You don’t want to wait for luggage that didn’t make it on the plane because it was too busy frolicking with a set of golf clubs it met in security at your departure airport).
There you sit for a leg numbing long time, first waiting to pull away from the gate because those who weren’t as quick are still trying to squeeze their stuff in the overhead bins. Then you wait on the tarmac for take off. You’re unfed (no “meals” anymore & they’ve even taken the peanuts away), with screaming & kicking children surrounding you (or was that just a very short & short tempered adult?). Even Edgar Allen Poe couldn’t dream this up. And the airlines wonder why they’re loosing money?
But I got to fly jetBlue on my last trip. Not only is it a better experience, they’re profitable. I was observing the secrets of their success, some obvious, some, well, read on.
My flight, going from Ft Myers, Florida to New York was boarded from the front & back of the plane. The gate was near stairs that enabled passengers to walk on the tarmac & board from the plane’s rear door. Even with the overhead bin dash, the plane was boarded in record time.
A big part of jetBlue’s success is their flight attendants, especially one who was on my flight. They’re allowed to have personalities & joke around. Maybe it just comes with knowing you don’t belong to a union like other personnel in the industry. Darren was British, which is a synonym for funny. Southern Florida is hot & humid this time of year (I bet you knew that already). The clash between the humidity outside & the A/C in the plane’s cabin made the air coming out of the vents look like white vapor or smoke reminding me of liquid nitrogen. When asked what was coming out of the vents, Darren said it was laughing gas.
After everyone was seated, Darren announced, “this is flight number,eh, whatever number ya’ like - headed to Boston. If anyone on this flight isn’t headed to Boston, raise your hand.” Some people laughed, some where very confused and raised their hands. “Ah, just kidding. We’re going to JFK, New York. Our flight duration is scheduled for a very short one hour and 85 minutes.” Darren just warming up.
He got the job of reading the safety procedures while the pilot pulled away from the gate. He stuttered a bit and apologized, using the excuse that the instructions were in “American” (not his native tongue). He only knew metrics. “We’ll be ascending to… hmmm.” Darren started over, “we’ll be flying very high and very fast. Please take this time to familiarize yourself with the safety instructions…”
As he went on, I familiarized myself with the in-flight entertainment, besides him. There was a little TV attached to the back of the seat in front of me. I plugged in my earphones and discovered another one of the airline’s pleasantries: TWO cartoon channels! It’s too bad that laughing gas wasn’t coming out of the vents. What could be better than unlimited cartoons and laughing gas to occupy the children (and most adults) on the flight?
As we taxied towards the runway, the captain came through my headset with a deep southern drawl, in contrast to Darren’s cockey. “Ladies & gentleman…we’re number one for takeoff. We should be arriving in New York a little early.” I could almost hear a few “yippees!” rippling through the cabin.
I started thinking. Who decides which plane gets to go first? I found out. It sounded like the captain left on the PA system. I could have sworn I heard him talking to the pilot of the Delta flight behind us. He was being accused of cheating in poker. That’s it!! In the pilot’s lounge, they play poker to decide who gets to takeoff first.
When the TV sound came back, I resumed channel surfing. There was your standard cable TV fare: news channels, business news channels, home improvement, and also a few channels tailored to flying. One was a constant picture of billowy clouds with new age music playing in the background. It was the aviation industries’ answer to the Yule log that networks run on Christmas Eve. There was another channel that was a map of the Eastern Seaboard with a computerized plane in Florida. The top of the screen said “Mapquest”. Aha!! I discovered how jetBlue saves serious dough. When the cockpit PA was left on I heard some mumbling about Mapquest. The pilots use Mapquest to navigate. They use a free internet service to figure out how to go. And I thought they used OnStar!
As I was flicking the channels, it occurred to me that we hadn’t taken off yet. The captain came back on the PA with a somber tone. “Ladies & gentleman…due to weather conditions, all flights heading to New York are being delayed half an hour. Damn! Our early arrival in NY was vaporizing like the laughing gas coming out of the vents. I bet there was no “weather condition” up North. Someone in the JFK control tower lost a poker match to our captain as well and wasn’t happy. I’d bet on it. Quick, find the weather channel.
But then, the captain was back. “So we don’t loose our #1 position, we are changing our flight pattern. Flight crew, prepare for takeoff.” I bet that’s the last time he’ll cheat at cards. I also bet that jetBlue has a premium Mapquest subscription so they have the flexibility to change course, if need be.
So off we went into the wild blue yonder. Its always fun watching cable channels that you don’t have at home. I was happy to find one; The Game Show Network. But it turned out to be a letdown. The old game show I wanted to see wasn’t coming on until (hopefully) after we landed. So I dozed off.
When we were about a 30 minutes away from New York, the captain came back on. I sensed a little disappointment in his voice. “Ladies & gentleman, due to a foreign plane that couldn’t get out of our flight path, we’ll have to circle JFK and will be delayed another 15 minutes.”
The only reason he mentioned that it was a foreign flight was because it would be lower on fuel than us and therefore got priority to land. However, I was sure there were passengers saying to themselves, “damn foreigners!”.
But all I could think was that this foreign airline didn’t use Mapquest & therefore wasn’t as nimble as our crew at navigating the friendly skies. I wanted the name of that airline.
We did land late. Darren was about to announce the time in New York but instead said, “Well I don’t want to tell you what time it is in New York because we’re, eh, behind schedule. Please stay seated until we pull up to the gate. As you’ll notice, the tarmac here is a little bumpy. I apologize, though it’s not my fault….its not the captain’s fault either. It’s the asphalt”…
That’s all for now from your flighty friend.
Next blog: bad dates make good blogs. When I'm asked which was the worst date I was ever on, I ask for me or the other person?