The video of David Neeleman, CEO of jetBlue, is getting a lot of play online. It’s posted on their corporate web page. I’ve seen some commentary as well. I thought I would weigh in since I’ve had some interesting, if not completely charming, experiences on airlines in the last couple of years.
First, I cannot imagine how those people trapped on that plane on the runway were feeling. This kind of thing is happening all too frequently and some higher authority needs to step in and make sure it doesn’t happen again. I understand the need to have some control over planes and passengers on the runway. But there should be a time limit on planes sitting on the runway and people being without food and facilities. I really don’t think that the airlines should make this decision. It’s a public safety issue. At some point you are holding people against their will and negative impact of that outweighs the inconvenience of having to taxi back to the terminal. Please.
So as far as how this has been handled since the situation, I have to give David and jetBlue a lot of credit. I saw one person say what they really needed to actually hear “I’m sorry” from him (sorry, forgot where I read that). I just think back to my own little boondoggle. What I needed from the airline (not jetBlue) was a remedy, not an apology (the apology was nice but means nothing if you aren’t going to fix the problem). “I’m sorry” is easy and we give it so much weight. “I’m sorry” sounds like what they think you need to hear to let them off the hook. “I’m sorry” doesn’t begin to cut it. That’s just my opinion. As a customer, I’d wonder how they would make it up to me and how they would ensure that it never happened again. But “I’m sorry” from a person who doesn’t know me? Of course he’s sorry. His company is getting trashed in the news. Is being sorry that big of a surprise? Oh, and by the way, I’m sorry. Seriously, it’s nice, but it’s pretty much assumed. Their “I’m sorry” letter is posted on their web page.
So David seemed noticeably nervous in his unrehearsed video. I think that this kind of humility, lacking a bunch of spin and polish, would make people feel better about the company. Can you not tell that this guy feels horrible about this? Could he have foreseen the consequences? Who knows. Regardless, the guy is shaken. If I were a customer that was stuck either on a plane or in an airport, watching him squirm a little online would have helped me feel a bit better.
I liked that he gave very specific remedies in the video as well. It wasn’t any of this “we are sorry, we are going to fix it” fluff. It was real. By putting that out there, he’s allowing the public to hold jetBlue accountable. That will allow them to retain many customers. It helps us take him seriously. It shows us how much of a priority this is to the company.
As far as crisis communications go, I think jetBlue has done pretty well (I’d be interested in hearing what kind of communication has happened with the people impacted by the canceled flights and runway debacle). The communications were swift, they were transparent and they were specific.
It will be interesting to see when their crisis communications fall off their webpage and they just get back to the business of being jetBlue.