JetAmerica delays launch, blames Newark

The story started last night, when Jaunted reported that startup airline JetAmerica would not let you book tickets in July on their website, even though their reported launch date is July 13. "There is a problem with our server," said a JetAmerica employee when Jaunted phoned the reservations number. "[The website] is only booking flights for August and September... IT says all should be fixed by end of day tomorrow." Cranky Flier, meanwhile, has warned potential passengers to stay away from JetAmerica, at least until they're in the air.

But just a little while ago, the airline released a press release that stated that it was "self-imposing a thirty one day delay of the launch of its first flights," which are now scheduled for August 14. JetAmerica said that "unforseen complications with landing and take-off time slots at Newark Liberty International Airport" were to blame for the delay.

"In February 2009, the Federal Aviation Administration advised us, through an intermediatiary, that our operations at Newark could be accommodated," said Brian Burling, JetAmerica's VP of Operations, in a press release. "However, at about the same time JetAmerica started making national news with its $9 non-stop fares; when JetAmerica announced 60,000 website visitors and sales in excess of 20,000, the FAA re-clarified its policy, telling JetAmerica we would need to obtain slots." He added, "The delay is not as unusal as it sounds... Historically, many of the world's most successful airlines and charter services have had to delay their launches."

“We feel terrible for the folks who booked with us for travel during the July 13 - August 13 timeframe, but the FAA's change in the slot policy for indirect air carriers is beyond our control," said CEO John Weikle. "We are working hard to obtain all the slots we need as soon as possible.”

According to the press release, the airline will also be e-mailing 6,486 passengers to alert them that their credit card accounts will be fully refunded, and that the refunds should appear "on e-statements within 7 to 14 days." The airline will also offer those inconvenienced passengers "special incentives to rebook on future flights," including waiving the $10 reservations 'convenience fee' and the seat assignment and first-checked piece of baggage fee. (Those who are affected can call 727-451-3970 for more information.)

Burling says that the airline has "no immediate plans to change our flight schedules," saying that "initially, JetAmerica planned to fly 34 weekly flight segments starting on July 13, 2009. On August 14, 2009 the number of flights is still slated to expand to 40 per week." And, as if to try to head off any ensuing negative press coverage, he said: "People should not be quick to jump to negative conclusions about JetAmerica. I am particularly referring to internet bloggers and naysayers who are predicting the worst."

Well, I'm not predicting the worst, but this means that JetAmerica's start is shaky at best. I'm no expert in airport slots, so I'm not sure if their excuse is plausible (I assume it is), or if JetAmerica is experiencing other problems, but blaming everything on 'server problems' and then switching to another explanation looks anything but professional. Weikle and Co. are going to have to put their damage control response into overtime to have to deal with this - and even if they do get in the air next month, it remains to be seen if passengers will continue to have confidence in the carrier.

Edit: In a statement to The Airline Blog, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority CEO Michael J. Stolarczyk, had this to say about the delay: "We are disappointed to hear about this situation, and our first priority is with our customers here in Toledo. We need to embrace and support JetAmerica and we sincerely appreciate the support of our community. The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority is also trying to mitigate their inconvenience as much as possible. We will see JetAmerica fly in August and beyond."


dpb said...

I think the airline and Port Authority folks might be saying what people want to hear. Since JA is going into smaller airports, this is just as big for the airports as it is for the airlines.

I hope they take off on Aug 14th, but I am not holding my breath.