JetBlue fiasco: A database could have made a difference

JetBlue fiasco: A database could have made a difference

Summary: It has been a tough week for JetBlue. Storms wreaked havoc on the company's systems and continuity plans to the point where it had to cancel 23 percent of its flights again on Monday to reset its operations.

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TOPICS: Data Management
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It has been a tough week for JetBlue. Storms wreaked havoc on the company's systems and continuity plans to the point where it had to cancel 23 percent of its flights again on Monday to reset its operations.

Could this mess have been avoided? Perhaps, if JetBlue would have had a database in place to better track its crew members and reestablish its operations.

For a brief recap: JetBlue attempted to recover from the Feb. 14 ice storm by selectively canceling flights on Feb. 15 and Feb. 16. But those moves still didn't do the trick because JetBlue couldn't line up well rested pilots and flight attendants with planes.

By Tuesday David Neeleman, JetBlue's CEO, unveiled a customer bill of rights, which will promise better service and refund money in future incidents. Neeleman says the final costs of the delayed flights could top $30 million.

In the end, JetBlue just wasn't prepared for the storms. As a result, Neeleman said the company is "beefing up the organization in headquarters. That organization to pair pilots and flight attendants was overwhelmed."

Eric Brinker, spokesman for JetBlue, said one reason the system was overwhelmed is that it lacked a better system to track crew members in an adverse situation. Typically, crew members call into JetBlue headquarters to give their status and location. That system works fine in normal circumstances, but when ice storms wreaked havoc JetBlue "had a lot of calling and was tripping over itself to take in the information," said Brinker.

As a result, JetBlue launched a new database on Monday to better track crew members. During the storm, the company relied on a manual system--essentially pen and paper--that didn't centralize the information for everyone to see.

It's likely that this work scheduling database will tie into JetBlue's SAP enterprise applications somehow. In 2005 and 2006, JetBlue collapsed its enterprise planning systems -- airline management software, payroll systems, materials management, financials and human resources--from disparate providers into SAP. JetBlue is primarily a Microsoft and SAP shop.

The company has also created a new bag handling database to better track baggage. JetBlue's delays have created a baggage mess. In an advisory on Tuesday the company said:

"As a result of recent flight delays and cancellations, we have numerous bags looking for their owners."

 By not having its baggage and crew databases up to snuff, customers couldn't get real time information from JetBlue.com. As a result it's no surprise that the company said Tuesday it will be "improving functionality on Jetblue.com to support customer needs and allow JetBlue reservations and central baggage to maintain low on-hold time for customers."

On the bright side, Brinker said JetBlue's technology systems held up fine during the storms, but processes will need to be reworked. Notably, JetBlue's customer service reps, which work from home instead of a centralized location, will need to be trained on all IT systems. "We will have a number of technology enhancements and part of that is getting our people in home offices up to speed," said Brinker.

Brinker is checking on further IT details behind JetBlue's customer bill of rights. But any technology enhancements will fall to JetBlue's relatively new CIO Duffy Mees, who had been CTO. Mees was named CIO in November and will report to Neeleman after Todd Thompson left to go to Starwood Hotels. Thompson didn't report to the JetBlue CEO.

Topic: Data Management

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18 comments
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  • They were probably using an access database...

    and it fell over with all of the updates.
    mrlinux
    • Either that, and/or ...

      they won't pay IT people more than 25 or 30K a year, and/or they offshore their IT, all to "save costs". Whatever they do, they are looking to "save costs" in IT, and look what it cost them. How much do you want to bet they take the lowest cost solution they think need to fix this?
      Taz_z
  • Glad to know they're a MS Shop. I'll never fly them.

    Scary to think that they are running an airline on MS software.

    And proud of it.

    Guess I'll stay away from them.
    ITGuy04
    • That explains the pen and paper,

      I guess given a choice they found it did a better job then Apple or Linux based solutions did, untill the MS database was completed...
      John Zern
      • not an MS database...and SAP database.

        Read the article again.
        nomorems
  • The whole fiasco is inexcusable.

    The idea that an airline can hold people hostage on a tarmac for 6 or 8 hours at a time, on a plane with no food and no working toilets is beyond comprehension. In my mind, anything above 2 hours is absurd. If I sit for 2 hours on a plane that is going nowhere I should be allowed to get off..... period.

    I honestly don't care what it costs the airline. I don't care who is inconvenienced. If someone wants to get off, then arrange to get them off. A person should not be allowed to become a prisoner simply because they bought an airline ticket.

    Then of course the Einsteins in Congress comment that they are hesitant to enact an airliner passenger bill of rights because they don't want to meddle in business. Yeah right! Guess what... IT'S YOUR JOB to meddle...dumbass! People are being treated like cattle and you don't want to meddle? Guess we know the source of a lot of campaign contributions (the airline industry ).

    A database is all good and well.... and who gives a crap who makes it? The bottom line is that it was humans who made the decisions to imprison customers and it was humans that made the decisions to not cancel flights that should have been cancelled. The computers and "databases" had nothing to do with it.
    shawkins
    • amen brotha!

      amen..
      Been_Done_Before
    • They should have fired all the crew members

      I totally agree. If I were CEO of jetBlue I would have fired the ENTIRE FLIGHT CREW on the affected flights for gross negligence - failure to communicate a problem, escalate it, get someone's attention. No database can fix a lack of common sense or initiative.

      Situations like this easily wipe out the effects of multi-million dollar advertising campaigns.

      It's also not good for the air travel industry as a whole. Flying has become much more of an inconvenience in recent years. If more people decide to take to their cars as a result of horror stories like this, guess what? - our oil consumption will skyrocket, meaning higher oil prices and increased dependence on the Middle East.

      The airline industry - and especially jetBlue - had better get their collective sh*t together.
      chas_2
      • It's all well and good to slam the flight crews

        The problem with slamming the flight crews is they were as much a victim as the passengers. First of all, the problem starts with the FAA granting clearance for the plane to leave the gate but not granting clearance for the plane to take off. Once the plane leaves the gate the flight crew has to get clearance to return to the gate which was refused by the FAA tower crew. Basically, the FAA said screw the passengers, screw the crews as long as they aren't in our way they can die of thirst, starve and sit in raw sewage. In fact in the worst case of the 12 hours on the runway the flight crew ran the risk of losing their flight credentials by ignoring the clearance denials and going to the gate anyway in violation of direct orders from the tower.
        maldain
  • Bull, it was greed and poor management.

    Lets see, leave passengers sit for 11 HOURS becuase just maybe the pane can take off and not have to refund tickets...
    No_Ax_to_Grind
  • oh come on....

    That is just so much stupid bias, because pretty much ALL airlines use MS. So don't fly then.
    ivanotter
  • They had a choice - and didn't take it

    Way back in 2001 prior to 9/11 I had the opportunity to discuss Macs as an
    alternative to run JetBlue with David Needleman and he declined the offer then.
    They had just sunk all kinds of money into a new fleet of planes and yes, their
    system is based on work-at-home answering services. Those home-based boxes
    also should have gone Mac.

    The Access app does not scale well (snarky remark).

    Personally I loved the non-Boeing Planes (I had just finished a stint with Boeing
    Computer Services a few years previous) and the low-cost telecommute from
    coast to coast using JetBlue. They hired excellent crews and wonderful folks who
    answered the phones. And David did some wonderful things for me personally. I
    just wish he had followed up on my strong suggestions regarding Macs instead of
    following the "prevailing wisdom" of the times. David innovated the airplane
    industry by cutting overhead costs and using better planes. He just needs to take
    that innovation into the CTO arena as well in Connecticut. It's not too late, Dave!

    The Achilles heel is the MS-based system though. Those recurring license fees will
    bankrupt just about any going concern. That is one of the main reasons why I
    went all-Mac.
    pritchet1
    • Why Stop at Mac?

      The reason that Macs don't get attacked by hackers is that it's not worth the effort. Why go after 15% of the market when you can go after the other 85%? If you really want security, just design your own operating system. Then you'll have 100% security.
      psomerset@...
  • Poor implementation w/ database = poor implementation w/ written notes

    A database isn't going to be a magical solution if the same poorly thought-out plan is given higher powered technology. C'mon, get real.
    ejhonda
  • A failure of common sense

    I don't think a database is going to fix this problem. The problem is much deeper.

    How is it that ANY WORKER on the stranded planes - from the pilots on down to the flight attendants - didn't push for returning the planes to the terminal after, oh, say, two hours? Was everyone so buried in their own little world that they failed to observe the obvious suffering that passengers were enduring?

    It seems to me that common sense should have told SOMEBODY at jetBlue that after two hours there was a serious problem ... bring the damn jet back to the terminal - or get some buses out to the plane to shuttle passengers outta there.

    The passenger's "bill of rights" on its way to Capitol Hill includes a provision saying after three hours passengers should be returned to the terminal. Forget that! I say NINETY MINUTES. And the penalty for offending airlines should be a million dollars per minute, per incident. (All penalties could go into a fund for the upkeep of the air traffic control system nationwide.) Does it take 95 minutes to get the very last passenger off a stuck plane? Five million dollars.

    Bet you'd see some hustling then!
    chas_2
  • jetBlue: We'll Let You Off After FIVE HOURS

    See if I EVER fly jetBlue after this!

    FIVE HOURS??? Some "bill of rights"!


    ***************************************************************

    Original URL:
    http://www.forbes.com/markets/2007/02/21/jetblue-merrill-loss-markets-equity-cx_rs_0221markets11.html

    Market Scan
    JetBlue Predicts Q1 Loss
    R.M. Schneiderman, 02.21.07, 12:35 PM ET

    In the aftermath of a full-scale operational collapse that resulted from an ice storm on the East Coast last week, beleaguered low cost-carrier, JetBlue Airways said Wednesday that it now expects a first-quarter operating loss.

    The Forest Hills, N.Y. - based company said it now expects a first-quarter operating margin of negative 4% to negative 2%, compared with its previous estimate of 2% to 4%.

    In general, when a company expects a negative operating margin, it's a sign that its projected sales are running behind its operating costs.

    Before the company lowered its guidance, Wall Street had been expecting an earnings-per-share loss of 9 cents.

    The airline, which targets cities with relatively high fares and specializes in point-to-point routes between underserved markets, also lowered its guidance for 2007.

    JetBlue Airways (nyse: JBLU - news - people ) now expects to report an operating margin of 8% to 10% for the year. Its previous forecast was 10% of 12%.

    In 2006, the company reported an operating margin of 5.4% and a loss of $1 million on revenues of $2.36 billion. JetBlue was also unprofitable in 2005.

    This year was supposed to be the break-out one for the company, as analysts had praised its efforts to cut-costs and raise passenger yields.

    Yet last week that was called into question as an ice storm struck the East Coast, freezing airline equipment and keeping JetBlue's planes at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on the ground.

    Some passengers were trapped in the planes for more than 10 hours. The storm left many JetBlue employees stranded, with the airline unable to locate them.

    The storm also led to a number of cancellations. And as passengers attempted to change their flights and ask the company questions, they overwhelmed JetBlue's unprepared reservation system.

    On Monday, six days after the storm hit, JetBlue still had to cancel roughly 25% of its flights.

    The company resumed its full flight schedule on Tuesday. The airline also took its first steps to mend its tattered reputation by announcing it will spend up to $30 million to revamp operations and introduced a customer bill of rights.

    Now, JetBlue will make sure to let passengers off a plane if a flight is delayed on the ground for five hours.

    If a flight is delayed or it lands but unloads its passengers in a tardy manner, customers will receive vouchers from $25 to the cost of the flight depending on the duration of the delay.

    And if JetBlue cancels a flight within 12 hours of when it was supposed to depart for reasons within its control, "customers may choose a full refund or a full credit, as well as a voucher valued at the cost of their original trip," the company said in a press release.

    Whether or not the bill of rights will help the airline rebound remains to be seen. On Tuesday, JetBlue shares plummeted on the same day that Morgan Stanley downgraded it to "equal weight" from "overweight" citing the expenses associated with fixing its operational problems (See: " Analyst: JetBlue Unlikely To Outperform. ")

    Yet on Wednesday shares surged, rising 4.5%, or 58 cents to $13.48 on the same day that Merrill Lynch upgraded the airline to "buy" from "neutral."

    "We think recent operational shortcomings will be addressed and will not side-track the company's return to profitability plan," said Michael Linenberg, an analyst for the research firm.

    "Also, the 22% sell-off in the shares since mid-January represents an attractive entry point."
    chas_2
  • No way would I sit that long.

    And I be damnned if anyone on the plane could make me. Oh my, your going to arrest me? Good, that means I get off the plane right?
    No_Ax_to_Grind
  • Is reading byond you?

    They run a SAP data base.

    Man, if you are this confused no wonder you can't use Access...
    No_Ax_to_Grind