Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
I resisted going to the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas this year.
Last year, I endured something of a travel nightmare. It happened to be on JetBlue. It happened to involve a restroom that was allegedly inoperable, causing the flight to be delayed for many hours because calls had to be made to JetBlue's head office (at least that's what we were told).
It could have happened on any airline.
I was moved, however, to reminisce when I read another tale of the JetBlues related by famed tech writer Paul Thurrott.
Thurrott is a much-traveled man, yet even he says he's never seen anything like this before.
After traveling to Vegas, he decided to leave before the weekend. This is wise. Too many nerds congregating for a weekend in Vegas can permanently damage the eyes, as well as the soul.
Thurrott booked himself on a red-eye to Boston.
When things go awry with airlines, it often begins with something slight. Then it drifts into uncomfortable premonition before turning into a flaming snowball of despair.
And so it was for Thurrott. At first, there was just a gate change and a minor delay.
But 11:13 p.m. became midnight.
You know what's coming, don't you? Midnight became 1 a.m. Then 1 a.m. became 2:30 a.m. I imagine Thurrott became Thurrottly annoyed.
It seems the JetBlue gate agent was flustered. He began, says Thurrott, to use excuses that suffered from a lack of essential believability.
Thurrott was then told by the agent that a new crew was being flown in. But was it? And when? This didn't seem entirely clear.
Suddenly, a concrete announcement. The flight wouldn't leave until around 9 or 10 a.m.
Ah. Oh. Ugh.
Thurrott was lucky. He still had his hotel room booked for that morning. So he could at least return there (the Vegas airport is close to the Strip) and get a little sleep.
Wise, though, to check with the agent first. Was Thurrott's plan acceptable? The agent said it was. Come back at 7:30 a.m., he said.
So our intrepid traveler went back to his hotel and set his alarm for a conservative 5 a.m. Well, there might be some new notifications from JetBlue.
Who knows, the flight might have been delayed for, oh, another couple of days.
Please imagine Thurrott's innards when he woke up at 5 a.m., squinted at his notifications, and discovered that his flight had left at 3:50 a.m.
Here's how he described his reaction: "That gate attendant had had no idea what he was talking about. And what he did was completely f@#k over those people who actually did have a place to stay overnight. He told us it was OK to come back at 7:30. And he even told us to ignore the JetBlue app notifications, as they were automated and inaccurate."
Except this one was accurate. The plane had gone.
I contacted JetBlue for its reaction, and will update should one be flown in. I contacted Thurrott, too, and will add any enlightenments he can offer.
At the time of writing, he still hadn't gotten home, as he raced to book a flight with another airline that might, just might, leave at the promised time.
I fancy that many people reading this will have an even worse airline story.
What could have gone wrong here? One can speculate that the gate agent was being fed inaccurate, incomplete, or even incomprehensible information.
But to send passengers back to their hotels and then leave without them seems an exalted level of contemporary airline insult.
What might be at the heart of all this? Perhaps it's that airlines accept such slim margins of error that once one thing is out of sync, larger parts of the system experience uncontrolled, uncontrollable conniptions.
Or perhaps it's that the only margin that drives them is the profit margin.