WE ASK: Is JetBlue Following In The Footsteps Of ValuJet 592?

ValuJet DC-9

ValuJet DC-9, courtesy, Wikipedia. (creative commons license).

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL (BocaNewsNow.com) — The crash of ValuJet 592 is one of the major events in South Florida’s news history. It was a routine flight from Miami to Atlanta on the mainstay discount carrier of its time. But moments after takeoff on May 11th, 1996, smoke filled the cabin and cockpit. There was nothing the crew could do. The ValuJet DC9 crashed into the Florida Everglades. All 110 people on board perished.

It wasn’t cockpit incompetence that led to the crash. It was incompetence on the ground — old oxygen canisters were loaded into the cargo area of the plane in a cardboard box near a tire. The canisters combusted. The box and tire ignited.

That’s all it took.

Had ValuJet management implemented smart command and control procedures over cargo, Flight 592 likely would have landed safely in Atlanta ninety minutes later instead of plummeting into the Everglades.

Fast forward to 2016. JetBlue, one of the the mainstay discount carriers of present day, seems to be having a cargo oversight problem. Flight 1975 on November 19th left Fort Lauderdale without many of the bags checked in hours earlier for the routine, 90 minute flight to Cancun, Mexico. There had apparently been a ramp problem at JetBlue’s Fort Lauderdale terminal. Bags were overflowing from check-in counters as fliers attempted to check bags for JetBlue flights — flights to Boston, flights to New York, flights to Mexico, flights to Haiti. JetBlue staffers appeared overwhelmed, promising passengers there was no need for concern. Bags, they promised, would travel with passengers.

But they didn’t.

Passengers on Flight 1975 arrived in Cancun to wait for bags that never arrived. JetBlue, which clearly knew bags were not loaded on the plane, had no representatives in Mexico to help passengers. There were no forms. No promises of prompt deliveries. No answers as to where the bags were.

There was a complete breakdown in JetBlue’s command and control. Over the days that followed, JetBlue representatives in its “Central Baggage Service” acknowledged that the airline is not a part of a national baggage tracking system. Simply put: the airline had no idea where the missing bags were.

Here’s why this is of grave concern:

ValuJet 592 crashed well before the horror of September 11, 2001. The rules back then were loose, at best, about bags and passengers traveling together. That all changed when the Department of Homeland Security and TSA formed to become a part of every flier’s life. Bags and passengers — except in rare situations — must be together. JetBlue, however, appears to be playing by its own rules. The airline flew a plane on November 19th — and probably many — knowing that bags and passengers were separated. It then, by its own admission, lost track of the bags.

It’s not a stretch to suggest that an airline that loses control of bags checked hours early for a routine flight may have control issues over what is actually loaded on the plane. There is clearly a command and control issue when a plane is flown and its bags are left on the ground.  We reached out to JetBlue’s Executive Vice President of Operations, Jeff Martin, but did not receive a response. We also reached out to JetBlue’s Executive Vice President of Customer Experience, Joanna Geraghty, but also received no response.

To be clear: we are not suggesting that JetBlue is facing an imminent problem or that you should cancel your holiday travel plans. We are, however, suggesting that JetBlue has a serious management issue in Fort Lauderdale that is apparently being ignored. And here’s our concern: little things, when it comes to cargo, can become big things.

Commmand and control could have saved ValuJet 592 from Miami. Let’s hope JetBlue fixes its command and control issue in Fort Lauderdale.

 

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