Thursday, April 9, 2009

The overlong JetBlue story

Is a promise a promise? Only if an airport owner means it.

In the long-running saga of JetBlue Comes to Long Beach, see if you can tell who's in the right.

The airline's CEO says nine years is too long to wait for Long Beach to live up to its promises, and the company might move its flights to LAX. Long Beach officials say the airline's CEO should have aired his recent complaints at City Hall rather than in an online interview, that the city is moving as fast as possible, and anyway, those promises weren't in writing.

So both sides are right, factually. But this isn't about facts so much as feelings. Former Councilman Mike Donelon gets it right, in a letter to the editor elsewhere on this page, when he says the city has treated JetBlue like a wet dog. The current councilman from North Long Beach, Val Lerch, also got it right Tuesday when he said "... it is time we send a message to other business enterprises that we are a city that keeps its promises."

No, the promises weren't in a contract, but they were promises. And yes, the JetBlue CEO could have been more deferential toward Long Beach, but why should he? And yes, JetBlue could move its flights to LAX if there were a strong business reason, but no, that time isn't now, because its Long Beach flights are heavily booked and its Long Beach passengers, despite the jerry-rigged temporary facilities, love flying out of Long Beach.

Is there any more to say? Actually yes, Long Beach needs to be cautious about raising fees to pay off loans to finance airport expansion and a new parking structure. But even that is overstated, since Long Beach fees are a bargain compared to elsewhere (and when was the last time you heard a passenger complain about an airport fee?).

A lot of people are being defensive here, except of course for JetBlue's plain-spoken CEO, Dave Barger, who has no need to be. As Lerch and Councilman Gary DeLong have said, it's time to get past the excuses and get on with the project. Even the most ardent foes of airport expansion prefer JetBlue and its relatively new and quiet jets to the odd assortment of airlines that have come and gone, including a fair number that are gone for good.

Enough verbiage. More action, please.

Of course City Hall first has to dispose of an appeal by the Long Beach Parent- Teacher Association of a misguided lawsuit that likely will produce nothing more than still another delay.

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