Where does JetBlue get its programmers?

Here’s an interesting Labor Day example of laboring in the Web development mines. Trying to book four tickets on JetBlue.com:

After multiple retries, I called the 800-number and the automated system said to expect a 2-minute wait, but suggested going to jetblue.com/chat to resolve the issue and save $25 per person in telephone service fees. After about 20 minutes into the 2-minute wait, I decide to try it. Here’s what happens when you click to “start the conversation” in a Google Chrome browser on Windows:

(the chat window never populated with any text or UI)

Given the importance to an airline of being able to sell tickets, how can this happen? I tripped over at least three bugs in three different systems while attempting one transaction. Did Amazon hire away every programmer capable of building and maintaining a functional ecommerce site? And, if JetBlue can’t keep a competent programming staff together, what hope is there for smaller companies?

The number of people majoring in computer science is up, but is the number of people who can write a functionally correct program going up? How many of today’s fresh CS graduates will actually be working as programmers 5 years from now?

(I eventually got the tickets after a 46-minute phone call. The agent who finally picked up promised that the four of us would be together in one row, charging an extra $250 for the privilege, but booked 3A, 3B, 3C, and 4E. She insisted that 4E was an aisle seat and that it was directly across the aisle from 3ABC (contrary to SeatGuru and my lived experience on JetBlue). Even if we accept the row misalignment, that raised the obvious question “Where is seat 4D if 4E is the aisle?”, but, perhaps due to her not being a native English speaker (thick Spanish accent), I couldn’t get an explanation of her thought process. She dropped Senior Management’s known traveler number on the floor. Although I had given her my TrueBlue number, she left the required mailing address and phone number fields of the reservation blank. I spent about 15 minutes on the “Manage Flights” part of the JetBlue site correcting the known errors, leaving only the unknown errors. If we count the 15 minutes that I spent trying to get the site to work to buy a ticket, the whole process took about 75 minutes. Maybe it worked better in the good old days when U.S.-based prisoners handled the phones for airlines (NYT, 1997, whose headline is weak compared to “Booking the Penthouse From the Big House” (LA Times, 1998)).)

25 thoughts on “Where does JetBlue get its programmers?

  1. I’m not sure about the org structure of an airline, but unless you have engineering reporting directly into the CEO, you’ll end up with this. If software development is seen as a sales or marketing or ops activity—even if it is—you are doomed. Plan B: outsource it to a company structured as described above.

  2. Maybe I should go code for them, but JetBlue is failing in so many ways that I have completely abandoned them. Once upon a time, they were a bright upstart in the industry and I thought (and they were) quite wonderful. I think over the last few years, SouthWest (which I flew perfectly fine in early June from Boston to Louisville and back, with connecting flights through Midway) has maintained a distinct edge in overall quality and performance over JetBlue, although a lot of flights for all airlines are being delayed (many of which are probably not the fault of the airline itself?). However, JetBlue is the delay winner this time: https://www.traveloffpath.com/u-s-airlines-with-the-most-delays-and-cancellations-this-month/

  3. I think it’s quite obvious that no one at Jet Blue cares about IT or their web presence. Just google “jet blue”. The first match is jetblue.com with the title “Jet Blue: Please upgrade your browser”.

    It’s not the only company like that in the travel industry. Rental car companies are just as bad, especially Hertz.

  4. You’re getting a little fussy. I thought most people used priceline or whatever the modern equivalent is.

  5. It agrees with my recent JetBlue experience. I used to love them, but now they are so bad compared with the large airlines. At least at United or something, someone will pick up the customer service line, but calling JetBlue customer service is a nightmare with the long wait. You want them to hire programmers, but it sounded like their programming quality is in line with the quality of their service agents.

    • AA: I’m not shocked that a company would have problems delivering the service that they took money for, but if a Web-dependent company has trouble taking the customer’s money to begin with then I get curious.

  6. This simply illustrates software development becoming a mass profession (25+ million coders worldwide). This by necessity drives the average IQ and aptitude of the practitioners down to average in general population (i.e. barely above that of cabbage heads, judging by the fact that majority of people still watch TV).

    Basically, most modern software “engineers” are stupid enough to fail to understand detrimental effects of complexity. Hence, proliferation of truly moronic “frameworks” and web sites designed on top of these for no good reason whatsoever. There is absolutely NOTHING on the airline web pages which requires million lines of JavaScript to function. In fact, all of that could be done with a thousand lines of plain HTML (backwards compatible to 20 years old browsers) generated server-side in Java or something.

    • Interesting. I just tried it with Edge Version 105.0.1343.27 (Official build) (64-bit) which is the latest and it works fine, pops up the Chat window and populates it, etc.

      I ask because I am still intermittently experiencing the “browser freezes when attaching a file using Gmail” in both Edge and Chrome. Yes, Virginia – the most basic function of attaching a file to an email message *hangs the browser.* Both browsers have been updated to their latest versions. When one of them does it, the other one *also* does, like a pair of evil twins, which suggests to me that the real problem is deeper. You click the paperclip, both browsers try to open the “Open” Explorer window so you can pick your file(s), and both hang exactly the same way and send a problem report to Microsoft.

      Then, after a few days the behavior mysteriously vanishes. This has been an intermittent issue with Windows 10 for at least several years now, but the “forums” have been totally unhelpful, I’ve tried everything, including uninstalling/reinstalling Chrome, etc., etc., etc.

      In some ways these issues remind me of the “browser war” cross-browser compatibility issues that web developers suffered through decades ago, using scripting to detect the browser, sending back the appropriate things, etc., etc.

  7. I would be surprised if JetBlue has any progammers. Most companies outsource IT work. Partly because they are paid more than organic staff.

    • Donald: IT is core to an airline’s operation, so I’d be surprised if any airline completely outsources it. Remember that American Airlines, in partnership with IBM, developed the pioneering SABRE system (although, on the third hand, they eventually spun it out!).

    • @Donald, @phil: I wonder, though: with all these new STEM grads (now STEAM – it’s now Science, Technology, Engineering, ART and Mathematics) why there’s such a big reason to outsource any “mission critical” programming? After all the STEAM I’ve seen in the past five or six years, I don’t understand why we don’t have thousands of new, competent programmers and web designers who can do these things right here in the good ‘ol USA.

      For example, in a small town near mine, I knew a woman who more than five years ago gave up her Town job as the Director of the Senior Center to take a higher-paying teaching job in a larger MA city high school teaching STEAM, with an emphasis on girls who identified as girls. Where are they?

      It’s a mystery to me!

    • For example, here are some Indian restaurateurs who work days making buttery omelettes while presumably toiling away at night, writing code our technology companies. Can’t we find enough STEAM programmers in this country to at least let them get a good night’s rest?

      500 GRAMS BUTTER Omelette | UNLIMITED BUTTER Loaded Egg Dishes | Indian Street Food

    • @Alex: “…teaching STEAM, with an emphasis on girls who identified as girls. Where are they? It’s a mystery to me!”

      I would have thought all the “Girls Who Code,” “Black Girls Code,” and all the other “girrrrl power!” and tech outreach to girls would have sufficiently boosted the supply of female programmers. But I guess not. Why not? It’s more than a mystery!

    • As the Google heretic pointed out, not many girls like to code.

      We’ll have to take away choice if we want equity.

    • philg, I’m retired Delta but that was a different era. JetBlue started up with a new fleet but very little legacy infrastructure. Just guessing but I doubt they have a large IT staff. Your experience seems to confirm that.

  8. Phil G: “How many of today’s fresh CS graduates will actually be working as programmers 5 years from now?”

    I made it four years after graduating, BSCS, Summa Cum Laude before going back to school for the MBA and never programming ever again.

    • Here you go ! That’s the answer. If talented people like you become part of the ever expanding managerial parasitic layer, remaining talentless peons do what they can producing software garbage.

    • Ivan, do not worry, programming will get exported to India, some of the higher level software design will go places in EU like Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, Bulgaria. In North America the talentless peons with CS degrees can become influencers, the more talented ones will get MBA’s and mange the programmers in India. Computer Science and Engineering in North America are seen more as vocational degrees than professional degrees.

  9. The absolute pile of crap that JS frameworks are, has in part led to this. Infinitely nested statements that require huge amounts of stack, garbage like Angular etc. all serve to make a mockery of the criticism that previous generation frameworks such as those done in Perl, TCL, even C/C++ received. The JS frameworks are heavy, overwrought, unmaintainable and un-testable. Previous site frameworks had urls you could test, e.g. post/02/10/2022/ . New frameworks hide all that, so using a regular web request framework for testing results is not possible.

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