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Long Beach Responds to JetBlue, Blames Blogger

The tension between Long Beach International Airport and its primary tenant, JetBlue, has taken a surprising turn since I last reported on it. As you may recall, JetBlue CEO David Barger sat down with Brett Snyder, author of the Cranky Flyer, and said that he was disappointed with the slow pace of facility updates at Long Beach. This touched off a firestorm of speculation that JetBlue may leave Long Beach in favor of Los Angeles International (LAX).

According to most Long Beach officials, JetBlue has every right to be frustrated. Said Long Beach Vice Mayor Val Lerch, “We’re a city that made a commitment. We’re a city that made a promise and shook hands and wrote a contract with a business that wanted to operate in this city … After nine years, it is time that we start building the enhancement to the terminal … it is time that we had adequate parking … it is time that we send a message to other business enterprises that we are a city that keeps our promises.”

While this is the general consensus coming from Long Beach, there is clearly frustration with JetBlue’s choice to make its position known publicly rather than privately. Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster pleaded with the airline to “conduct ourselves as real partners, as real professionals” and asked, “If you have a problem, if you have an issue, bring it to my office or bring it to a council member’s office, don’t do it in the press.”

But as Ben Mutzabaugh points out, the Mayor took this a step further, blaming Snyder himself—and blogs in general—for the fiasco. “We should not take blogs as professional journalism,” he said, “and the professional journalists should take that as well.” The Long Beach Press-Telegram reports that Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske “seemed to indicate that because city management and the council hadn’t heard about Barger’s concerns, the blog interview shouldn’t be taken seriously.” It’s worth noting that Snyder, the blogger in question, is a Long Beach resident.

As a blogger who considers himself a professional, I’ll put my personal feelings aside for a moment. The real situation here is that rather than engage in constructive, forward-thinking conversation about fixing the airport, Long Beach officials seem inclined to slap themselves on the wrist and blame the media. In the meantime, passengers are funneled through temporary terminals into an airport long overdue for upgrades to its baggage claim and parking facilities—upgrades that were promised nine years ago. Taking all this into account, Long Beach’s claims of regret over the situation seem more like political lip service than a genuine admission of accountability. And all the while travelers are subjected to substandard facilities.

Consumers these days are better informed than ever. I see it every day as readers write in with sharp industry observations and savvy tips for finding deals. This is, of course, due in part to the proliferation of highly professional industry blogs such as Snyder’s, Mutzabaugh’s, the Wall Street Journal‘s Middle Seat Terminal, and the Dallas Morning NewsAirline Biz blog. To suggest consumers should dismiss an interview with the CEO—CEO—of JetBlue, is both arrogant and absurd.

And here’s the real tragedy: Despite all its faults, people like Long Beach. It’s less crowded than LAX and largely free of the snarled traffic one encounters when driving to L.A.’s main hub. It also happens to be JetBlue’s fifth-busiest airport. With so much to its advantage, the City of Long Beach should focus on improving its facility rather than pointing fingers. But as Snyder observes, “watching the mayor and some of the councilmembers throw barbs hardly instills confidence.”

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