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JetBlue Cancels More Flights Into Monday; Founder 'Mortified'

Low cost fares, quirky blue potato chips and even a mea culpa from JetBlue Airways' founder may not be enough to ease passenger anxiety as the airline braced for another day of disrupted flights Monday.

The company said it would be canceling almost a quarter of its flights, but hoped to be fully operational Tuesday, almost a week after a Feb. 14 snowstorm created a meltdown for the airline.

David G. Neeleman, the company's founder and chief executive, said he was "humiliated and mortified" by the breakdown in the airline's operations, The New York Times reported Monday. He promised that in the future the company would pay penalties to customers should they be stranded on a plane for too long, the report said.

Neeleman blamed the crisis on poor communications and a failed reservation system. He said the ice storm had left many of the airline's 11,000 pilots and flight attendants a great distance from where they could operate the planes, the report said. He added that JetBlue lacked trained staff to coordinate the flight crews. The reservation system had also been overwhelmed.

The airline had scheduled 600 flights for Presidents Day, more than the 550 to 575 flights on a typical Monday. Of those, 139 flights have been canceled, JetBlue announced late Saturday night.

JetBlue Airways spokesman Sebastian White said headway was being made Sunday, but that the cancellations Monday were needed to make sure all flight crews had gotten the legally mandated amount of rest before taking to the skies again.

"Canceling one more day's operations will really help reset our airline," White said.

All flights on JetBlue were canceled in and out of 11 airports: Richmond, Virginia; Pittsburgh; Charlotte and Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; Austin and Houston, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Nashville; Portland, Maine; and Bermuda.

White said the airline had tried to warn passengers through phone and e-mail of flight cancellations over the past couple of days, and was in the process of doing so for Monday's flights. JetBlue has been trying to reduce the backlog of passengers through a number of methods including flying charter flights, adding flights in certain sectors, rebooking passengers who had some travel flexibility to later dates, and booking seats on other airlines, White said.

The cancellations followed hundreds of other canceled and delayed flights since Wednesday, when a snow and ice storm grounded jets at John F. Kennedy International Airport through the weekend.

Passengers scrambled to deal with the disruption of their plans.

"Oh my God, horrendous," Maria Arbelo, a teacher from New Haven, Connecticut, said of her experience. "It's been a terrible ordeal, I tell you. We've been from line to line."

Arbelo and two companions had been ticketed for a JetBlue flight to Houston on Saturday morning to begin a Caribbean cruise. That flight was canceled, as were all flights to Houston on Sunday. The airline put the three women up in a hotel for the night, and placed them on a Sunday evening flight to Cancun. From there, they would have to find a driver to take them on a four-hour trip to meet their ship.

Arbelo said JetBlue staffers had been nice, but seemed confused about what to tell passengers. "I laugh about it because there's nothing we can do," the teacher said, resigned to losing two days of her vacation.

Luggage Piles Up

Baggage handlers also struggled with the mountain of luggage returned to the terminals because of the cancelations. Some passengers complained that they couldn't leave the airport, even after their flights were canceled, because no one could find their bags.

White said the airline had teams out in New York City and Long Island on Sunday delivering luggage to customers.

JetBlue's service hot lines became overwhelmed by people trying to rebook flights.

Affected customers may receive refunds or rebook their flights, the airline said.

The airline said it initially tried to get its system back to normal by selectively canceling flights Thursday and Friday, but long delays continued as a result of constraints that included a one-runway operation at JFK on Thursday, and flight crews burning through the number of hours they are legally allowed to work before taking a rest.

Prior to the current crises, JetBlue was overwhelmingly popular, offering affordable fares, in-flight snacks of blue potato chips and satellite TV.

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