Magazine article CRM Magazine

JetBlue's Service Flies South: Accepting Responsibility Is a Key Component of Staying Aloft during a PR Nightmare

Magazine article CRM Magazine

JetBlue's Service Flies South: Accepting Responsibility Is a Key Component of Staying Aloft during a PR Nightmare

Article excerpt

Valentine's Day 2007 felt more like a nightmare than strawberries-and-chocolate bliss for JetBlue Airways and some of its customers. After years of acclaim as a traveler favorite, the seven-year-old airline's standing as a customer service luminary was pounded when in February its reactions to a storm on the East Coast left hordes of fuming customers stuck aboard grounded planes for up to 11 hours. The fiasco brings a renewed focus on the need for effective crisis management.

JetBlue's troubles began when a February 14 ice storm severely affected its New York operations at JFK International Airport. Rather than cancel more flights sooner and reschedule once the weather cleared, JetBlue pressed on; but the storm displaced many of its pilots and flight attendants, and the company was short of trained staff needed to reroute these employees. JetBlue's reservation system couldn't keep pace with the incoming customer call volume. Callers phoning JetBlue often faced lengthy hold times or were unable to reach a live rep altogether.

"Obviously, [with] the events of the past week that have been well documented in the press ... this is the most difficult time in our history," David Neeleman, JetBlue's founder and CEO, said in a JetBlueCorpComm video on YouTube. "I want to assure you as the CEO of this company that the events that transpired last week and the way that they transpired will never happen again." The storm could cost the carrier $30 million or more.

About 1,100 flights were cancelled over a six-day period and thousands of customers were stranded. Genevieve McCaw, one of the thousands, considers herself a JetBlue "hostage." McCaw and her boyfriend, passengers on JetBlue flight 351 from JFK to Los Angeles on Valentine's Day, were stuck on the tarmac for about half a day. She started a blog, jetbluehostage.com, which includes JetBlue information and comments from the public. "Nothing says I love you like being held hostage on a frozen plane with the man you love, 99 strangers, four other people you happen to know, four screaming babies and three rambunctious kids running about, nothing but chips and soda for sustenance, faulty power, unreliable DirecTV and [an] overfilled sewage system for 11 hours," she writes.

"JetBlue demonstrated that it's an adolescent in the airline industry and that it has a lot of learning and growing up to do," says Liz Roche, managing partner at CRM research and consulting firm Customers Incorporated. …

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