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An Open Letter (and photos) to United Airlines, Jet Blue and Newark Airport

July 31, 2012 by Joan Nova in Florida, Travel | 33 Comments

Most people who come to this blog know that I’m an enthusiastic and frequent traveler but my last trip really tested my nerves. It all but left me wanting to become a recluse and never venture out again.

Folks, the skies are no longer friendly and, worse yet, they really don’t give a s**t once you’ve paid your money. Downright incompetence and mistruths reign.

Dear United, Jet Blue and Newark Airport:

How can you operate so inefficiently? 3 of 4 flights I took last week (in and out of Newark airport) were delayed beyond any reasonable explanation. Worse, the delays were badly and inhumanely handled with no respect for passengers who were stranded. Had we not paid good money to get somewhere within a fair amount of time? I guess I should be “grateful” that I was stranded in the airport and not in the aircraft on a runway as many others passengers have experienced. Seriously, what has happened to the state of air traffic in this country?

The First Leg

At 8:30 a.m. on July 20th, my sister and I met 9 of our travel gal pals in Newark Airport for a 90-minute flight (United #4440) to Quebec. It was to be a mini vacation (more mini than planned). My group came from several different locations so we were delighted to see each other when we all gathered at the gate for our 10:05 flight.

The joy was soon dampened when we noticed the first of many postponements. Flight 4440 was subsequently delayed all day long — from 10:05, to 11:45, to 12:30, 1:30, 3:00, 3:30, 4:15, 5:07, 6:15 and finally left at 6:45. During the wait, we were moved from gates 28, 27, 20, 26 and back to 20 while they tended to “mechanical” difficulties; first on one plane and then a second. During the interim, they periodically couldn’t find the mechanics and then, intermittently, the captain, first officer and crew! Ultimately, the second plane was removed from the gate while they then looked for yet another plane. 


When passengers began to show frustration, the agents reverted to the old  ’weather-it’s-not-our-fault’ excuse, which was just a patent lie (one to be repeated on the next two legs as well).

The PA system was ineffective and the ground staff were uninformed. United belatedly offered a $10 food voucher, many hours after most people had bought something to eat at their own expense.

Going towards evening, they gate agent finally called a meeting of all passengers on flight 4440 to inform us they could not find a plane, the crew had timed out, and that we had no choice but to wait for the same flight the following day — or take a bus to Laguardia with a flight from there, also going out the following day.

This was a choice no one wanted — and as we discussed the alternatives, miracuously, we got a message that they found a plane and we would leave at 6:15. Of course, that was delayed and we finally left at 6:45.

We arrived at our hotel in Quebec at 10:00 p.m., checked in, and with suitcases in hand went directly to the bar for food and booze!

Total time expended: 10 hour flight delay and 13 hour total travel time for a 90 minute flight.

To Readers: Because it is a short distance, I assume they fly at a lower altitude and I did get to see see some spectacular sights as we flew between the clouds.

And this very welcome sight too!

Next Day

Photo taken on our first morning in Quebec.
(Should have been our second morning.)

4 Days Later

We arrived at Quebec airport at 3:30 for a 5:00 p.m. flight back to Newark and were informed the flight was cancelled. Three of my group had gone on to Montreal so we were a group of 8 at this point.

They told us it was weather-related in New York. NOT!

Aside from our group, we saw only 4 other people who were scheduled for that flight. I can’t help but think that no matter what the excuse, the flight was cancelled because it was not full.

We were offered the same flight on the following day but … using the weather card, NO hotel accommodation OR food allowance.

Alternatively, they would put us on a flight to Montreal with a flight out the following morning at 6:00 a.m. but, once again, it would be on our dime!

Neither suggestion was acceptable and who could trust United that we’d actually get out?

We pushed for something to get us home without an overnight and an iffy United flight. We finally got space on a U.S. Airways flight #4077 into Philadelphia. But they (United) could not connect us from there to Newark where our cars were.

It still seemed like the better choice, at least we were on the move and we were rid of United.

Hello, Philadelphia, I didn’t expect to see you.

With the help of a very nice ground transportation agent in Philly, we found the most economical(?) method to get to Newark airport — $458 (with tip) for a van.

About a 4+ hour delay and extra $$$.

Several Days in NYC and …

We’re back to Newark Airport at 1:30 on July 28 for Jet Blue flight #509 leaving for Fort Lauderdale at 3:12 p.m. Or so we thought.

Do you see the “delayed” on the sign? That was one of many.

This time it was due to a “runway closure”. Props to Jet Blue, however, for continually updating passengers in a clear and seemingly caring manner (not so United), although the news was equally bleak and unfathomable.

The excuse went from runaway closure due to construction to the old fallback ‘weather’. Our aircraft was coming in from West Palm Beach and we were told it was on a ‘ground hold’ till the weather cleared in Newark. It was cloudy, a little rainy perhaps. But not classifiable as ‘bad weather’, plus what happened to the original excuse of runway closure due to construction?

It was frustrating, tiring, and anger-inducing. People missed cruise connections, mothers ran out of food for infants, family vacations were delayed, one family missed a funeral, the 2 paltry restaurants closed, the newsstand closed, people slept on the floor.

Jet Blue brought out small bottles of water and cookies midway through the fiasco, but did not offer food vouchers which is totally unacceptable when you’ve been holding passengers for so many hours. There were so many families with children, not to mention hungry and grumpy adults like me.

The Saga Continues

We finally got word that the aircraft left Palm Beach at 7 p.m. and our new scheduled departure from Newark was 10:39 p.m. (a 7-1/2 hour delay). But, no, it was not to be. :(

At 10pm, the expected arrival time of that flight in Newark, they announced the plane was diverted to JFK for fuel and it would take a “good 40 minutes or more” because there was a lot of traffic on the ground.

What? Excuse me? That plane sat in West Palm all afternoon. Could it not have been fueled there? Why would they send it up without sufficient fuel? Could they have not flown a different flight pattern to get it directly to Newark without a sidestep to JFK? It just doesn’t compute!

And if that wasn’t bad enough …

Of course, the plane that was supposedly being refueled in JFK never appeared and the crew timed out. Again.

“We are looking for a new crew to fly the plane to Newark”.

[Seriously, readers, I could not make this stuff up.]

A couple of hours later, past midnight, they finally cancelled the flight as we knew they would. And then began the angry queue of passengers as each was dealt with individually to find out what their travel options were. It was scarey. They were talking 2-3 days for availability on another flight.

I moved rather quickly and was near the beginning of the line when we learned another delayed flight just arrived. It was scheduled to turn around and go to West Palm Beach and they had empty seats. At this point I didn’t care where it was going, I would have hung from the wing just to get the hell out of Newark!

Wheels up 2:40 a.m., 13 hours after we arrived at Newark airport.

We arrived in West Palm at 5:30 a.m. at what was now 16 hours.

You might think it ends there. It does not.

We were in West Palm Beach and although we were assured our suitcases were being transferred to the flight we took, they somehow managed to go to Fort Lauderdale.

From twitter, one day later:

Joan Nova Just received luggage. 13 hours after I arrived and 31 hours after I last saw it!

And that, folks, is why I’m never flying United or Jet Blue again, especially out of Newark airport! And neither should you!  I cannot help but think that Newark Airport has some culpability, perhaps even the lion’s share, as the 3 flights involved were either in or out of Newark.

And another thing, we, the traveling public, need more electric sockets in airports!

NOTE: Some recipes found on FOODalogue are offered without ingredient quantities. They're meant as a guide to food pairings and techniques to be experimented with … in your own kitchen … to your own spice and taste levels … to your preferred portion sizes … and to however many people you’re cooking for. A perfect meal has multiple levels of flavor and textures, bright colors and tastes, and healthy(ish) choices. It's all about enjoyment. Enjoy the process, the presentation and the just rewards...eating!

33 Comments

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  1. Oh how horrible! I hardly ever fly anymore, the cost for the five of us to travel by plane is astronomical. And the sad thing is that I’ve heard the same complaints about the airlines from others, too. It’s not getting better. My hubby flew out to Montreal yesterday on United with a layover in Houston for business. His luggage didn’t make it. It’s 24-hours and he still doesn’t have a change of clothes. Well, I’m sure you are happy to be home!

  2. OMG !!! What a nightmare! The problem is that airlines seem to believe they can always be excused! Somebody is responsible for that !!!as you say, not the weather…Good idea to write about this “on our air”
    Hope you have a better time next flight !! (please, don’t take Aerolineas Argentinas ;D

  3. Vicki says:

    What a terrible experience!
    Airlines are finally making money with all the extra fees they charge you think they could use some of that cash to accommodate passengers. We go to Ontario all the time to visit family, it is a 7 1/2 hour drive or a 90 minute flight.
    We drive!

  4. What a nightmare! I thought my last Paris-Morocco trip was bad, with 5 major flight changes that ended up costing me two extra hotel days and $600 cash difference in tickets that weren’t covered by the airlines because I had two separate tickets which were each affected by changes in the other.
    Then an additional 6-hour layover in Houston after a long international flight, putting me back in Mexico very late at night when I would rather not be on the road. Sigh. Un-fun. There is no other word for it. Un-fun. And it seems to be all of the airlines that I deal with. All of them.

    This was quite a tale. Puts a pall on the trip, I am sure, though no doubt good Quebecois food and fun people made up for some of it!
    Flavors of the Sun recently posted..Easy Mediterranean Appetizer SpreadsMy Profile

  5. Joan says:

    via facebook

    Leila Gaines Wow – Joan – what a disgusting experience

  6. I know I lived it through you. I hope you get compensated and send this blog to each airline and you should find a flight newspaper and send it to them. I am sure they have them. I will avoid those airlines also….Boycott, Boycott, Boycott!!!!!!!

    Well written and great pictures….
    Platanos Mangoes & Me! recently posted..LOUKANIKA – GREEK SAUSAGE WITH ORANGE PEEL AND A HINT OF OUZOMy Profile

  7. bellini says:

    It really threw a cog in the wheel of many vacations and lives that’s for sure. The quality of service has really gone down over the years from having to pay for each suitcase you check in to purchasing crappy food on the airplane. I will be flying KLM when I head on vacation and I have heard it is a good airline..but that is also what was said about British Airways.

  8. Liz says:

    There must be a word that is worse than nightmare but I don’t know what it is. As II sit in a hotel at de Gaulle airport, I have to believe my flight to Miami tomorrow will be better.
    Well written and I hope the airlines react and clean up their acts!

    • Joan says:

      Good luck with your flights but as I said before, my experience with international flights has always been better than domestic.

  9. Joan, it sounds like it would have been faster to drive from your home in Florida and much less hassle! Too bad you had to begin and end with the same frustration.
    sandra axelrod recently posted..Our Week in New Orleans and a Giveaway Winner!My Profile

  10. Buela says:

    Maybe this will spark a new career for you Juana…someone needs to take on the airlines
    And the airports….and please
    Fix it before I fly in November :(

  11. I think we should go on strike on some of these airlines and airports. They not only give extremely bad service but are nickel and diming us for it. I try to stay away from certain airlines and airports if at all possible. Our flight to Atlanta was at 10:30am and we left at 3:30PM with United last week. In Europe we drive everywhere because between the strikes and service we usually get home before the planes do. Can’t do that here!
    Patricia Durr recently posted..Patricia TuroMy Profile

  12. First off, I am so glad you took the time to write this post Joan. And I get it. I can’t stand United either because they are rude even on a good day! Oh how horrible for you!

    And the lies they feed on a regular basis like everyone around them is daft. Sorry you had to go through this but I am sure Montreal more than made up for it. Did you eat tons of poutine? :))

    chow! DEVAKI @ weavethousandflavors
    Devaki @ weavethousandflavors recently posted..Fruit Picking & Deliciously Fuss-free, Equipment-free & Pectin-free Golden Plum JamMy Profile

  13. Marie says:

    OMG, I have a United flight in sept!
    Marie recently posted..Windowpane Pasta for a Celebration!My Profile

  14. This is exactly why I always choose to drive whenever I can. My husband likes to fly but I prefer to have control of my schedule, even if it takes a bit longer to get there. Of course, that’s not always feasible (I’m flying to both Portland and Alaska in a few weeks) but I do it when I can.
    kristy @ the wicked noodle recently posted..greek chicken pitas with tzatziki & fetaMy Profile

  15. Joan says:

    More from a thread in Facebook:

    Michael Rubinate ‎@good comment Joan NOva.. humantity and compassion are important. I really feel bad for these passengers who get stranded.. and I have been one of them a number of times !
    18 hours ago · Like

    Graciela Rogerio Norma, Joan needs to continue putting pen to paper. All 9 women should be on the phone and email to the presidents of those airlines, to the FAA, to their newspapers, to their newstations, to their congressmen, to anyone who allows this or is in a position to have a say. This is unconscionable but screaming at the right people may make a difference. Sadly, it is still a matter of the squeaky wheel getting attention.
    10 hours ago via mobile · Like · 1

    Michael Rubinate After being in this industry for almost 27 years now.. I ONLY travel in the fall, spring, maybe winter… at least with a blizzard , an airline can plan and rebook in advance because the snow storms are easy to track, as opposed to thunderstorms which pop up out of nowhere.

  16. Joan says:

    And this not surprising tweet … The problems seem to be rampant.

    Lane Gold ‏@lanegold
    Joys of merger MT @airlinewriter: S&P downgrades @United #stock to “Hold” from “Buy” because of problems combining United & Continental.

  17. OMG, I simply cannot believe what you went through. I read your post and made me tired, and I can’t imagine how tired and frustrated you were! My husband travels on business and he flies with United, so we got mileage and use for traveling sometimes. My experience was not nearly like yours yet I’m not a big fan of United… Thank god it’s star alliance so we use it for International tickets instead. Their food is horrible (on international) and worst part is their service. They pass food like we’re in jail or something… worse than restaurant service. All they seem to care about is to serve quickly, clean up quickly, so they can rest in the back (I’m still talking about international). If you ask something, they seem like they are doing chores….or do I expect too much? Other airline crews seem a lot nicer, respect customers, and polite because I am not sure if they care about customers during emergency… LOL. Thanks for posting this. I’m going to share your experience with my husband!
    Nami | Just One Cookbook recently posted..Smoked Baby Back RibsMy Profile

  18. Joan says:

    from twitter

    SFLFoodandWine ‏@SFLFoodandWine
    @foodalogue @United launched 2nd fare hike w/in a month http://lat.ms/RdXUd9 via @latimes guess they’ve been too busy to respond to you

  19. Erica says:

    Wow! That is horrible,Joan!I’m sorry..I can’t imagine how tired and angry you were…What a trip!
    Erica recently posted..Ensalada de Salmón y Aguacate (Salmon and Avocado Salad)My Profile

  20. Hotly Spiced says:

    I’m in Australia and things are bad here too with domestic flights but I keep hearing about the situation in the US and it seems so much worse than here. It’s all got so much worse since they introduced budget airlines. Since then, all standards have been dropped, most significantly, the way passengers are treated. That is a horrific story and I’m sure for your next vacation you’ll just do a road trip xx

  21. Katie says:

    What an absolute nightmare, Joan! Flying anywhere these days has become a true exercise in patience. Good for you for calling out the airlines–doing business like this is just unacceptable.
    Katie recently posted..Estofado de carne | Beef RaguMy Profile

  22. Lori Lynn says:

    Miserable. I’m so sorry for you and all the other passengers. What a nightmare. I’ve only flown into Newark a couple times, both without incident, but I will re-think next time.
    I understand “weather’ and mechanical problems, but poor Customer Service, there is no excuse.
    LL
    Lori Lynn recently posted..A Lesson in Butchery and CookingMy Profile

  23. sippitysup says:

    Now I feel like I’m in hell too. YIKES… GREG
    sippitysup recently posted..Pickled Okra for Hot August NightsMy Profile

  24. Leigh says:

    I get your frustrations on the level of customer service you received, because that is controllable. But I feel like more airline passengers need to understand how aviation works. When it’s what you call “cloudy” in Newark, they are usually one of the first airports to go into a ground stop or ground delay set by ATC. Low ceilings or low visibility makes it so the aircrafts need to be spaced out further than usual- add that to one of the busiest airspaces in the world and you see major delays. Add in a runway closure and the effects are doubled as there isn’t enough space to handle incoming aircraft- not a fault of any airline. I think it is obvious from your story that the airport was on a ground delay because of the runway closure and operating with a less than usual number of runways, then it also added a ground delay for weather and visibility. I worked for an airline years ago and it is funny how many people think that the “weather” reason is an excuse. Weather, in aviation sometimes is more than a rain storm or snow storm – high winds, low visibility, en route weather, a patch of storms along the approach to the airport- all things that significantly impact air travel. I agree that it is horrendous how delayed everything can get – almost unfeasable, and especially Newark has the biggest problems of them all, but a little research would tell you why. Go to FAA.gov the next time you are delayed for airport weather it will tell you how many hours air traffic is holding planes from their departure point. Also the comment about why an airplane could not get enough fuel to get all the way to Newark? Airplanes take on more fuel than needed for each route for safety reasons, so if your airplane came from the south and had to divert to a city north of Newark then the airplane certainly would have been holding for Newark, but air traffic wouldn’t have let them in – hence a diversion only when needed. It is a little silly to imply that an airplane didnt take enough fuel from where they came from or didnt fly a direct enough route, these things are determined by weather and air traffic management. Like I said I understand your frustration but I needed to interject some aviation education into the parts where your reasoning lacks sense. As far as airline customer service – if they try to be honest, kind, and keep you in the loop that’s all they can do – if they weren’t then that is basis for complaint to the airline.

    • Joan says:

      Thank you for taking the time to add to the conversation here. I know some of my comments may seem as being uninformed and coming from a place of frustration. Perhaps, in part, they were. However, my point was more that they only pulled the ‘weather’ card after hours of saying something else. Whatever. Newark, United, July = the perfect storm!

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  1. [...] A delightful reunion and getaway, despite all the travel frustrations (details here). [...]

  2. [...] that I’ve whined about my travel experience on my recent trip to Quebec City, I feel better so I’m happy to share some of the [...]

  3. [...] and drive. After reading Joan Nova’s post, or should I say rant, today on her wonderful blog Foodalogue I am reminded why we prefer to drive. Let’s just say that she could have driven from her [...]

  4. [...] … And then, after a brief walk on the Highline, I headed to the airport and had another awful airport experience that brought me home at 3:30 in the morning instead of 6 hours before. No more NY in July – that’s 2 years in a row! [...]

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