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Friday, May 25, 2007

Back in February, JetBlue flight operations were shut down by a winter ice storm and a series of bad decisions. Some passengers stewed inside airplanes for 11 hours as the planes were stuck on the airport tarmac. Baseline tells the story of the JetBlue meltdown through the eyes of CIO Charles Mess.

There are more than a few interesting software stories inside the article. For instance, the checked baggage of enraged passengers was piled to the ceiling inside the JFK airport. JetBlue had no software in place to match passengers to their luggage. Time to call in the .NET developers:

A technology team … was dispatched to the airport to help out with the effort.

Over three days, programmers cobbled together an application using a Microsoft SQL database and handheld devices from Symbol Technologies that could scan a bag tag and identify the passenger. Agents could then access the database to provide passengers with information on the location of their lost luggage.

Isn't this a developer's fantasy? There you are, wallowing in code for the weekly TPS reports. Suddenly, you are whisked away into a riot scene and told to build something real quick for operation "Save the Samsonite". I wonder if "dispatched" means "flown by a sleek black helicopter with jet turbines on the side", because that would be like totally Tom Clancy.

Later in the article we find out that one of JetBlue's new initiatives is to:

Enhance the new lost-bag tracking system so it can become a core application.

Ah, this proves one of the fundamental laws of software development: It doesn't matter what constraints were in place when you cobbled the code together – it will end up in production for at least 5 years.

Eric D. Burdo Friday, May 25, 2007
As I was reading this, I was thinking... "I bet this system goes into production".

And it looks like it will. And I am also willing to bet that they don't start over... they just take what was cobbled together and patch it. :(
Karthik Friday, May 25, 2007
Thats pretty bad. I'm also sure the dev leads completed the project and informed management that what they've done is only going to be a temporary solution.
Sahil Malik Friday, May 25, 2007
LOL, I love it :). This is so damn true, and "Save the Samsonite"? ROFL!!

Man you should write a "Scott's funnies" book! Seriously.
Mitch Wheat Friday, May 25, 2007
I wondered where my luggage was!

It's so true, I can't decide whether to laugh or cry...!

Is the CIO's surname really Mess?!?
Anonymous Sunday, May 27, 2007
Since I was JetBlue IT person at the time, I much rather not reveal my identity. There are a couple of things that I would like to add:

1) Having IT people in the airport was a complete bummer. Most of us had zero skills to deal with the customers and amount of misinformation that was given by us to the customers only made matters worse at times.

2) The baggage tracking system was not put into production - it was developed ad hoc for a given scenario. They are looking to get a real baggage tracking system but I'm not sure when that is slated to happen (was on tap for the past 2 years).

3) Most of senior staff in IT department has either left the company since February mess or on their way out. I would not be surprised if IT gets outsourced eventually since I don't believe JetBlue has bandwidth to invest into world class IT department:-(
Anonymous Thursday, May 31, 2007
As another ex-staffer, I have to agree with the poster above. It really seems like they either have no bandwidth for good IT, or they don't know how to handle it correctly.

Karthik above mentioned dev leads informing management of the ad hoc nature of the solution. This statement shouldn't amuse me as much as it does. Dev leads? Management? What structure! Ad hoc is just the way things go most of the time, undermining execution on any strategic planning.

One positive thing to note is that even though office IT at the airport wasn't ideal, we did drink the Blue Kool Aid, and had a very strong showing with real commitment to help customers. That I'm proud of.

Welcome to the airline industry. Save the Samsonite!!! Oh, and support it for the next decade.
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