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.


Comments (22)

  1. Remco says:

    What JetBlue does really well in their crisis-communication is giving a corporation a human face. It’s the right thing to do, because as humans we have it in us to forgive a human (the ‘he is only human’ reaction) but not to forgive an large faceless entity.

    I’m sure there are others floating around, but I really liked Matt’s (37Signals) witness write-up of the ordeal:

  2. eR0CK says:

    Nice to see you brought-up this topic.

    I’m a fairly patient person, but eight hours in a jet on the runway and no clear idea of when I’d be getting off or what’s going on would probably break my patience barrier.  That being said, I’m surprised no passengers forced themselves off the airline.  

    It’s hard to say what I would do in that situation, but after eight hours on the runway, forcing my way off seems like a completely logical thing to do.

    What say you?

    On the other hand, aside from this incident I’ve heard nothing but good things about the company.  Considering the CEO’s apology and the measures they’ve taken to ensure this problem never happens again, I can honestly say I would have no issues flying with JetBlue and probably will do so in the future.


  3. Jason Alba says:

    I hate getting stuck on a plane but have never had to be (stuck) on one for that long.  I think its really commendable what JetBlue is doing and hope to see other airlines step up to the plate.  Amazing that this hasn’t been resolved before.

    (I heard on the radio that there are some loopholes to the peace offerings… it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.  But if they continue in the spirit that they seem to be in right now, the loopholes will be non-issues.)

  4. HeatherLeigh says:

    Remco – thanks for the link. It sounds like they did a lot of things right while all of this was going on. I’m not sure I understand the root cause still. I understand that flights were canceled because planes weren’t where they needed to be. Was it a computer error? Human error?

    eRock- eight hours in and I would be a head case. Understand though that I travel with Atavan (sp?) for anxiety. SO I would probably be in a little better place mentally. I’ve also heard good things and when David Neeleman says he’s sorry, I do believe him. I’ve never flown jetBlue but I would defnitely still consider it. With all the public scrutiny, I believe they will fix this stuff.

    Jason Alba – loopholes?

  5. Patblue says:

    I was stuck on an American Airlines plane at DFW for 6 hours on the runway as thunderstorms and tornados passed through the area.  We were 22in in line for take off when I did almost finally lose it.  The woman next to me was offering nicroette gum and people were trying to remain calm, but the flight staff wouldn’t even give us water as it was for use ‘in flight’.  I was much younger then and much more tolerant, these days I have a feeling they would have seen Client Serivce expert Pat go a little crazy.  JetBlue is an amazing company and a smart company, I think they hit a rough patch with this.  I think it is compounded by the media and the sheer number of planes this occured on.  This called attention to an escalating problem around the country on every airline.  I think JetBlue is trying to make this right…much more so than one of the other larger carriers would do, hiding behind the bankruptcy curtains..  Sometimes ‘Sorry’ should suffice as it would with me in this case (but only one time :-).

  6. Tim says:

    This is weird, but I’m not sure I believe him. I’ve never heard him speak, but it looks strangely "rehearsed unrehearsed". Or am I just skeptical?

  7. HeatherLeigh says:

    Patblue – I wonder how many hours on the tarmack before a black market would develop for that Nicorette. In your case, you could blame the weather. I agree that they will turn this around. Heck, I may even fly jetBlue to give them the opportunity to earn my business. If my luggage arrives without some baggage handler having pawed through my things, I’d say they deserve a shot at my business.

    Tim – Hmm, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because one would think that someone would at least do a couple of takes and polish it up before putting it out there. The medium could be different now because of the availability of video web publishing tools. I guess what I am saying is that perhaps your skepticism comes from the fact that before recently, companies would have hired some PR types to do that video and make it all shiny and minty fresh. Instead jetBlue did it themselves. I think this is also due in part to the fact that they needed to respond as quickly as possible. Maybe we need to get used to this type of thing. I could see where the lack of polish may draw some doubt.

  8. Tim says:

    Well, working in Hollywood for so many years makes me naturally distrust most people appearing on camera.

  9. HeatherLeigh says:

    Yeah, I know. I spent my early dating life there. Yuck!

  10. He was nervous- about his job and the future of his company.  Lots of "he should he be fired" was floating around….

    The problems were foreseeable- this event was no accident.  JetBlue runs on razor margins and one way to do that is pack as many flights as possible into as small a window of space and time as possible.  

    In their case, EXTRA care would have been needed when a known giant of a storm is ripping in.  

    They took a gamble, but even worse, they did it with a ‘free rider’ mentality: other carriers made the decision days ahead of the storm to reduce flights and take the dollar hits involved.  That’s why its called a weather FORECAST.  Knowing that, JetBlue thought there would be enough ATC and physical bandwidth to keep a full schedule.

    The gamble failed in a spectacular cascade- and people suffered for it.  Nobody died, which is a good thing…but who knows what might have occured in a worst worst case.    

    No passenger in the post 9/11 world is going to pop the door of an aircraft and slide to the ground out in the middle of an airport- they know they would end up in a cell for a lot longer than they could be on that plane, but people can go nuts when situations get extreme like this.  

    JetBlue has done a great job passing this off as a mistake and something that could have happened to any good company.   Hooray for their crisis communications.

    But dont be fooled- it was a rational decision with everday people expected to be the losers if it went bad.   The boss was nervous because his ass was unexpectedly on the line…I doubt he was faking it.

    JetBlue is going to mean "airline screwup" for a long time to come.  Remember ValueJet ?  Same thing- one screwup (costing lives in that case) doomed the brand.   This event involved JetBlue alone- and thats what people will remember.  

  11. This time JetBlue decided not to take the chances it decided to take last time:

    From CNN: "JetBlue moves quickly to cancel flights this storm

    Low fare carrier cuts 40% of JFK flights nearly two weeks after stranding passengers there on the tarmac for hours."

    Accidents are random and could happen to anyone, mistakes are non-random and happen to those without good systems to avoid them.

  12. Bad_Brad says:

    When I worked in the airline biz, we were terrified – mortified – of Jetblue.  Southwest Airlines had been the new upstart for the past couple of decades, but most of us majors had learned to co-exist with Southwest, since really, Southwest was after a slightly different market than we were (Southwest flew primarily to cheaper, peripheral airports at big cities, and also had less frequency, and also had a lot more leisure destinations).  They had a low cost model, but we didn’t see them as a big option for the business traveller.

    Jetblue, on the other hand, cherry-picked a few of the biggest east coast business markets.  They had low costs (very junior employees with low pay scales and no expensive pensions, single fleet type in the Airbus A320 although they have since added an Embraer, point-to-point model, etc) but they also had the key service differentiators of leather seats and DirecTV service.

    What’s funny about Jetblue is that they were the media darling (along with Southwest) and the politicians absolutely loved them.  That’s funny because politicians like to run their mouths about "no more offshoring of US jobs" and "no more war on the middle class", while at the same time they supported Jetblue, who had only non-Union labor, bought only European airplanes, outsourced their maintenance to Mexico, outsourced a large part of their reservations to India, and had no employee pension plan and almost no employee medical benefits.  Somehow, I always found that ironic.

    Nice to see Jetblue finally get some egg on their face.  Welcome to the airline biz, Jetblue.  You’re not quite ready for the big time just yet.

  13. HeatherLeigh says:

    Martin – if it all happens again, we were forewarned, I guess. Still, I thikn they will do what they can to ensure that it won’t happen for me. Low price fares/razor thin margins/gambling. At least you know what you are getting into when you book a flight with them. I have a friend who does the Boston-Seattle non-stop frequently and thinks they are great.

    Bad_Brad – yowza…tell us how you really feel : ) Gotta love that competitive spirit!

  14. Frequent Flier says:

    Hello, everyone knows that all of JetBlue’s reservations are either booked on-line (not in India, the servers are in New York) or taken by home reservationists in Utah (not in India, Utah is located very securely in the US.)…This is a fabulous company, I know because I have done A LOT of research into it.  I know that the original business plan is a heck of a lot different than the current business plan.  So, that shows adaptability to the current market.  This is a company that is fully exposed, they will tell you if there is a mess up.  They will tell you if your flight is delayed, they even CALL YOU if your flight is canceled.  When was the last time Delta did that?  Speaking of Delta, they left customers sitting on the tarmac in Aspen for over 5 hours a few days ago, did you hear an apology or even an acknowledgment?  I didn’t.  Delta has done far worst to me personally than I could ever imagine from JetBlue and not even provided an explanation, compensation or apology.  When you call, you get someone that actually LIKES their job and you can hear the smile on their face.  Maybe it’s because they are nice and cozy at home, curled up next to a blazing fire with a cup of coffee instead of in a cold florescent-lit office.  I honestly don’t care why they are so happy, I am just glad that they answer and they answer quickly.  I saw an immediate turn around with this latest storm…yeah, when they CALLED ME yesterday to let me know that my flight for today had been canceled, they were very nice, professional and booked me on a flight for first thing tomorrow.  They even gave me an isle seat and apologized for the inconvenience of interrupting my day?!  Please, interrupt my day to make my life easier!! JetBlue is GREAT! I will fly them if they are going where I am going, especially now, I know they are going to be honest with me.  And they are going to be NICE!!  What a dang shock!

  15. Theresa says:

    My family and I were 6 of hundreds of people stranded in the orlando airport on feburary 17th. What a god awful expeirence. The treatment we recieved from jetblue staff was to say the least INHUMANE! Our flight was cancelled 3 days prior, however jetblues phone information line told us otherwise.  We were talked to with the utmost disrespect. The options we were given were  #1-spend 3-4 days in the orlando airport and hope and pray that a flight MAY become available. #2- take a much later flight to boston(our destination was maine) and be stuck there. After several ungodly hours playing the phone game with jetblue, I was told we would be provided transportation from boston to maine. We get to Boston, guess who doesn`t get transportation to maine? WE WERE TOLD IN IN THE RUDEST MANNER THAT WE WERE ON OUR ON. so over $1600 for plane tickets, over $200 to feed everyone while we were stranded in orlando and to top it all off  $150 in bus tickets so we could get home to maine.  JETBLUE NEVER EVER AGAIN. I`LL PAY THE EXTRA MONEY NEXT TIME FOR AN AIRLINE I CAN TRUST!!

  16. Paul says:

    There are some scary angry customers posting on this blog, and that’s very unfortunate for JetBlue.  No matter how good a job they do henceforth, a tremendous amount of damage was done to the brand, and there’s a good chance it won’t recover.  It probably isn’t as bad as what happened to ValuJet, but then nobody died — they just felt like they were going to.

    The entire airline industry has a well-deserved bad reputation for treating customers as "filled seats", rather than as people with needs.  I thought JetBlue was trying to do better, so I was shocked to hear about this dismal service nightmare.  But as we all know, entire companies can be sunk by the bad judgment of an ordinary middle manager or flunky employee, not just the mistakes of a CEO.  Was this a disaster waiting to happen (not enough planning and bandwidth to accommodate the scenario), or the result of a really stupid and insensitive pilot who didn’t want to go back to the gate and lose his place in the takeoff line?  It’s hard for us to know.

    Either way, JetBlue has learned a very costly lesson, and the CEO’s response, while not quite exemplary, was very good.  The passenger Bill of Rights is a good idea, but even it doesn’t go far enough. It only promises compensation if you sit on the tarmac for at least 3-4 hours, and a voucher equal to the amount paid for a future trip if longer than 4 hours.  Hell, by the time I’ve sat in a clautrophobia-inducing metal tube for that long with moving or without food, water or other immediate form of compensation, no free ticket is enough to pay me off.  What it really does is say that it’s alright to sit locked up for that long, because there is a defined compensation for it. I’d rather they acknowledged that more than 2 hours for any reason is unacceptable, because it is.

    Imagine a diabetic sitting on a flight that they expected to be of 1-2 hours duration, but waiting on the tarmac for 8 hours before even getting off the ground.  That’s at least 2 missed meals, and inability to control for sugar levels, no matter what precautions they’ve taken.  No one plans for that kind of contingency, and no service provider has the right to screw with people’s health that way.  And, it doesn’t take anywhere near 8 hours for that sort of problem to occur.

    At least there is finally recognition that it can’t continue.

    Good post Heather.  I agree Neeleman needed to do this (not the PR department), and he did an OK job, just not quite good enough.

  17. HeatherLeigh says:

    Yeah, Paul, I totally agree with you. With my experience with Alaska (which was different…I don’t know how to compare my situation with those of the passengers in jetBlue), I also felt like that free ticket was at least an acknowledgement that something bad happened and they were doing *something* to try to fix it. It’s hard to say what the right something is, in my situation (which just happened to one person) or the jetBlue situation.

    I agree that more needs to be done. I think that the airlines are looking at it as an "inconvenience" they are compensating for whereas the passengers feel, I don’t know, kidnapped. It goes beyond inconventience to a loss of control. If they established a rule that an hour on the tarmac required a return trip top the terminal, would that cause problems for the air traffic controllers and potentially negatively impact even more people?

    I don’t find the complainers scary (I just remember how I felt after my "incident"…kind of on edge and maybe a little paranoid), just angry. Sheesh, I remember how I felt while my kitchen was being remodeled which pretty much occurred without incident…scary wasn’t even the half of it and I could have left any time I wanted! People don’t like that loss of control feeling…or am I jut talking about myself?

  18. Paul says:

    Sorry, I think I confused you with the word ‘scary’.  I didn’t mean the passengers were scary (although they could quickly get that way, and maybe they even were).  I meant that it’s scary how angry they are.  Pent up frustration is a nasty thing, and of course we all feel maligned and abused by the TSA before we even get to the gate.  It’s a sensitive thing, toying with your customer’s emotions and goodwill that way, and there is no amount of operational efficiency or cost saving that can justify mistreating customers.

    I agree that loss of control is probably 80% of the problem.  But it isn’t the whole problem.  When I spend that kind of money for something, I want recognition that the provider isn’t "entitled" to my business, but has an obligation to earn it and treat me with respect.  We’re all Rodney Dangerfields when it comes to airlines.  No one gets any respect, and it’s a standing joke (remember the Saturday Night Live "Buh-bye" routines), and they don’t care.

    I don’t control the weather, but if you take me back to the terminal so I can get some food and beer, at least I can tolerate the inconvenience.  I still won’t be in control, but neither am I being held prisoner.  Is that too much to ask?

  19. HeatherLeigh says:

    Ah, I got it….it was more "scary-angry" than "scary, angry". I agree that part of it is how you are treated. I heard mixed reviews which, i am sure, depended on who at jetBlue the person dealt with.

    Also, I think the anger festers when you are with so many people going through the same thing. Sadly, beer and a TV could make a big difference.

  20. Paul says:

    Yes.  A shared bad experience is amplified many more times than a shared good experience.  We humans, versus the hapless sardines the airlines think we are, love to commiserate.

    But, I’m not sure why it’s sad that a beer and some comfort would make a big difference.  Is it because it’s so easy to think of and do, but so rarely considered?

  21. HeatherLeigh says:

    It’s because it’s so little and mundane a thing that would improve the experience. How bad does it have to be that a TV and a beer make a BIG difference? Pretty bad.

  22. Chris says:

    Hello everyone I have pictures of some jetblue accidents that go unreported in the media. Check out my site and email me I can send you some more. I am a former crewmember.