Can JetBlue Recover?

February 19, 2007

The ultimate question of crisis management and crisis communication has to do with recovery. JetBlue has given itself a monstrous black eye. And now, they are in the middle of the traditional media ‘black hat” spin cycle. Can it recover?

The basic rules for response when things have gone wrong are:
1) Accept responsibility
2) Apologize and make restitution if possible
3) Clearly identify the changes that will be made to prevent recurrence
4) Identify how future reports on progress will be made

Oh, yes, and do this all in the first few hours after the event–or as soon as is feasible given the distribution of the bad news in the instant news world.

So, how is JetBlue doing. Here is today’s New York Times report (thanks Neil!). http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/19/business/19jetblue.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper&oref=slogin

1) Accept responsibility. Yes and No. Neeleman’s quote that he was humiliated and mortified is good–very good even. But he blames management. Who is management? Ultimately, he is. He certainly doesn’t go as far as Johnson and Johnson executive in charge of the foreign divisions who accepted full responsibility and resigned–even though he was not aware of the problem. I’m not saying that Neeleman needed to resign–but acceptance of his own level of responsibility for not putting in place the management that he now says is missing is a problem.
2) Apology and restitution. Yes and No. He said he would announce a compensation system tomorrow. Too bad not today. There certainly sounds like genuine repentance in there, but until tomorrow comes, we don’t know. And that’s a problem, because the judgment is being made today in many people’s minds. Tomorrow, the plan will have to better than what it would have been if announced today.
3) Clearly identify the changes to be made. Mostly No. While Neeleman identified the problem as communication and lack of trained staff, the solution presented is to train 100 corporate office staff to help do the resource allocation work that was missed here. I don’t know about that. I think I would have been more comfortable with something a little more substantive addressing specifically the lack of staff, or inadequate training, or inadequate communication infrastructure than just saying we have to train some more corporate staff.
4) Report back. No sign of promise about future communication on this.

Mr. Neeleman did make an interesting comment: “We will be a different company because of this.” As I learned recently from Lynne Doll, president of The Rogers Group and one of the nation’s best crisis communication experts, every organization is a different organization coming out of a crisis. In fact, a crisis can almost be defined as an organization altering event. So, Mr. Neeleman spoke the truth here, even if it is a somewhat obvious one. What is not completely clear–and needed to be to come out of this with a higher likelihood of regaining credibility and confidence–is whether it will be a better company. Mr Neeleman and his communication team still have some work to do to convince the public and passengers of that in my opinion.

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3 Responses to “Can JetBlue Recover?”

  1. Paul Brunato Says:

    Here is a Jet Blue letter “from the CEO” that hit my in-box today. I thought it was the correct tact to take:

    Dear JetBlue Customers,

    We are sorry and embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry.

    Last week was the worst operational week in JetBlue’s seven year history. Following the severe winter ice storm in the Northeast, we subjected our customers to unacceptable delays, flight cancellations, lost baggage, and other major inconveniences. The storm disrupted the movement of aircraft, and, more importantly, disrupted the movement of JetBlue’s pilot and inflight crewmembers who were depending on those planes to get them to the airports where they were scheduled to serve you. With the busy President’s Day weekend upon us, rebooking opportunities were scarce and hold times at 1-800-JETBLUE were unacceptably long or not even available, further hindering our recovery efforts.

    Words cannot express how truly sorry we are for the anxiety, frustration and inconvenience that we caused. This is especially saddening because JetBlue was founded on the promise of bringing humanity back to air travel and making the experience of flying happier and easier for everyone who chooses to fly with us. We know we failed to deliver on this promise last week.

    We are committed to you, our valued customers, and are taking immediate corrective steps to regain your confidence in us. We have begun putting a comprehensive plan in place to provide better and more timely information to you, more tools and resources for our crewmembers and improved procedures for handling operational difficulties in the future. We are confident, as a result of these actions, that JetBlue will emerge as a more reliable and even more customer responsive airline than ever before.

    Most importantly, we have published the JetBlue Airways Customer Bill of Rights—our official commitment to you of how we will handle operational interruptions going forward—including details of compensation. I have a video message to share with you about this industry leading action.

    You deserved better—a lot better—from us last week. Nothing is more important than regaining your trust and all of us here hope you will give us the opportunity to welcome you onboard again soon and provide you the positive JetBlue Experience you have come to expect from us.

    Sincerely,

    David Neeleman
    Founder and CEO
    JetBlue Airways

  2. Rich Klein Says:

    David Neeleman has focused much attention in recent days to combat the barrage of negative media coverage. But all the media appearances, Client Bill of Rights, etc. will fall on deaf ears if JetBlue fails to fix its internal communications engine ASAP. I was concerned that passengers were stranded on airplanes and that many people had their flights cancelled. But I was more concerned to hear Neeleman say his people didn’t know how to communicate at the onset of this crisis. That has to be on the top of his priorities if JetBlue wants to regain public trust — particularly in a post-9-11 world.


  3. […] never experienced their crisis myself, but compared to that itchy blog post… Hello, at least “they” have a dedicated blog […]


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