Watching the media this week, one might think JetBlue is going the way of most of the legacy carriers – becoming a haven for bad customer service and employee discontent. This advertising blog believes that the disaster for JetBlue may instead save the company. Here’s why:
Last week was by all accounts the worst week in the seven year history of JetBlue. The company which has long been a media and Wall Street favorite dismayed consumers, investors and management last week. Jetblue stranded thousands of flyers in a cascading series of flight cancellations apparently caused by poor management decisions around an ice storm in New York on Valentine’s Day. The worst complaints against the airline from disgruntled customers centered around planes that were kept on the runway for up to 11 hours with overflowing toilets and without food as well as swamped customer lines and an apparent lack of a system to reschedule thousands of flight crews during a major weather event.
JetBlue CEO David Neeleman who has been in the media spotlight all week today detailed a new “Customer Bill of Rights” which he believes will move JetBlue to the front of the industry in crisis management and consumer responsiveness. The JetBlue Customer Bill of Rights includes the following:
- Notifications – JetBlue promises to give customers prior information when it learns of delays, cancellations or diversions and their true causes.
- Cancellations – If JetBlue cancels a flight more than 12 hours in advance, customers can opt for a full refund instead of rebooking. If JetBlue cancels within 12 hours, customers get a roundtrip voucher as well as rebooking.
- Departure Delay Compensation – (For “controllable irregularities”) JetBlue will give customers $25 vouchers for 1-2 hour departure delays, $50 vouchers for 2-4 hour delays, 1-way flight travel vouchers for 4-6 hour delays and roundtrip flight vouchers (for the amount paid for the delayed trip) for delays of six or more hours.
- Denied Boarding Compensation – JetBlue will pay customers $1,000 for denied boarding
- Ground Delay Compensation – JetBlue will give customers who experience an arrival ground delay compensation identical to the #3 above. JetBlue will give customer who experience an uncontrollable (i.e. weather or air traffic) departure delay $100 for 3-4 hour delays and roundtrip travel vouchers for longer delays.
This ‘Bill of Rights’ is a huge step forward in an industry which seems intent on doing the minimum for the consumer at all times. Firstly, it treats the customers time as something of value – a concept no other airline currently embraces. Secondly it seeks to set up a direct value trade for unexpected wastes of the customers time. Third, it addresses the awful industry practice of overbooking in a way that is certain to satisfy customers and deter over-ambitious airline revenue management programmers. Finally, it shows that JetBlue is taking responsibility for the mess it made last week and owning up to some of the bigger flaws not just in its sub-industry-grade performance last week but in the state of the industry at large.
This is a blessing at a time when JetBlue needed one. It may be exaggeration to say the bloom was off the rose at JetBlue, but increasing departure delays, soaring fairs and more consumer complaints last year opened the question of whether JetBlue could stay special as it became a large, mainstream carrier. Just as with the frog who will sit in a pot of water as it is slowly raised to a boil, JetBlue seemed indifferent to these individual issues because it could not perceive the entirety of the effect on the consumer experience viewed from the outside.
The New York ice storm and the weaknesses it revealed in the command and control systems at JetBlue as well as training gaps were akin to dipping the frog in boiling water from the outset – JetBlue now seems intent on jumping out of the pot.
To be sure, the performance has not been perfect. JetBlue CEO David Neeleman seems harried and unfocused in his video message to consumers. Some of his media performances were good but in others he seemed defensive and vague, as in his call-in session on NPR. CEO’s ought to be taught that every good media appearance during a crisis begins with a specific act of contrition – you need to state exactly what your company did wrong and what the effect was on consumers. This shows that the company is taking responsibility and that the CEO has empathy for the consumer. Then the CEO must explain what mistakes the company made beyond weather and uncontrollable events and detail a plan of action. Only then can the CEO get into the nitty gritty of arguing over whether the government should step in with regulatory action or what compensation consumers should receive.
On the whole, though, we think JetBlue has taken an important step forward. Other media darlings should examine themselves in the cold light of day to see if they are still fulfilling the brand promise. If they don’t, a JetBlue disaster may be their worst nightmare – and their only chance for redemption.