Inside JetBlue’s Incredible ‘Makeshift Costco’ in Puerto Rico
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While there’s still quite some time to go before regular service resumes, some flight operations are underway at San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, with cargo and passenger planes delivering goods from the mainland throughout each day.
And while the airport’s air conditioning is running, restaurants are open and there’s even a pocket or two of connectivity at SJU, from what I’ve heard from airport employees on the ground, relief still hasn’t made its way to some of the island’s more remote inland communities. In a nutshell, Puerto Rico’s a mess and it needs your help.
Wednesday night, I noticed that there were loads of open seats on a United flight from Newark on Thursday morning and back to Houston in the evening, and decided that there was finally an opportunity to visit the airport without taking away seats from customers who need them. So, as a result, I’m spending Thursday at SJU — my first stop was JetBlue’s incredible Care Center.
As the largest carrier at SJU, with more than a dozen destinations, JetBlue has a sizable staff presence in San Juan. Like most of the people living in Puerto Rico, the airline’s employees have been affected significantly by Hurricane Maria.
The carrier quickly sprang into action, sending its employees on shopping trips in Boston, Fort Lauderdale, New York and Orlando. Several times each day, JetBlue’s A320s have been flying to Puerto Rico loaded with passengers and supplies, allowing the airline to build out what I can only describe as a “makeshift Costco” in a ballroom at San Juan’s in-terminal hotel.
Open from 10:00am until 5:00pm everyday and staffed by JetBlue employees from Boston, Fort Lauderdale, New York and Orlando, the airline’s “Care Center” distributes necessities directly to SJU-based employees. During my visit, JFK-based flight attendant Joe Perez was in charge, having spent the week in San Juan as the center’s Care Teamleader.
Security officers keep watch around the clock, and a wall of boxes (below) separates the ballroom from the hotel — this is very much an improvised “warehouse store.”
Inside, employees can grab whatever they need, and everything is free, from a large variety of non-perishable food and snacks to cots and household supplies.
Water is the only item that’s rationed — each employee can take two cases per day.
I’m not going to cover everything, but I do want to point out some of the highlights to give you an idea of the lengths that JetBlue went to, not only to make sure that employees and their families don’t go hungry or thirsty, but that their individual tastes are taken into account as well.
There are loads of varieties of cereals, including Trix, Frosted Flakes and Cheerios.
Cereal and granola bars are on offer as well.
Then there’s stacks and stacks of apple sauce.
A small mountain of fruit cocktail, and more.
Lunch and Dinner
For lunch, how about some Campbell’s tomato soup?
Or a peanut butter sandwich — assuming you can supply the bread.
Nutrition shakes and vegetable juice can help tide you over, too.
As can the junk food, from chips to Cheez-Its.
There are also items for little ones, including formula, wipes and treatment for diaper rash.
Pets are accounted for as well, with both wet and dry food on offer.
Heavy-duty trash bags, paper towels and toilet paper are available…
…as are high-output generators to power a home…
…and gas cans to keep them full.
With 95% of residents still without power, batteries are in very short supply in Puerto Rico.
There were several varieties available, including AAs and 9 Volts.
Friendly Care Team members even provide curbside service.
Volunteer drivers are also available to make deliveries, which could be necessary for larger items, like generators.
I was almost in tears after my visit to the Care Center. I hadn’t heard a peep about it until my visit, but I don’t know why JetBlue would want to keep this under wraps — it’s incredible what the airline is doing for its employees.
After countless relief flights and visits from JetBlue’s Puerto Rico family, there seems to be a surplus of supplies at the moment. Once employees have what they need and can source items elsewhere, the Care Center will be shuttered and all remaining items will be donated to the community. Well done, JetBlue!
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