This week’s winter storms disrupted air travel – big time. Record low temperatures played havoc with air travel in the United States. Every airline got hammered and estimates are that air travel disruptions cost the industry over $1bn. Yet jetBlue seems to have been singled out for criticism.
jetBlue is a “new age” airline. It burst on the scene in 1999. Bringing a fresh approach to air travel, the airline quickly caught on with its novel offerings like in-flight TV. This was followed with in-flight Internet access and today the airline is rolling out the fastest in-flight Internet access. It even provides blue potato chips as snacks. It is not a stretch to say jetBlue moved the service dial up, even as its competitors were trying to shrink their service levels.
The came a winter storm in 2007 that saw operations in chaos. Its policy of not canceling flights left thousands of passengers stranded. Estimates are this debacle cost the airline $30m. But the cost is only one factor – the experience seared its staff and crews with an unforgettable scar. This experience was so bad, with passengers sitting on planes that couldn’t get to gates for hours that new regulations were drafted. Here was a company that was so service oriented, yet overwhelmed by circumstances it did not expect or plan for. It is important to understand what this event did for the airline’s psyche when another monumental storm came along.
This week we saw such a storm, and jetBlue reacted in the other direction, with caution. “Every operational decision we made specifically to cancel flights despite the number of customers in the airport was made for safety reasons, but the inconvenience to our customers was still significant,” said Rob Maruster, jetBlue’s COO. Not wanting another situation with thousands of unhappy passengers stranded in airports, the airline canceled flights across the US northeast. Its full social media staff were online to help handle the expected deluge of messages and queries. jetBlue tried to be transparent and true to its service oriented culture.
The hammering jetBlue has had to weather is unfair. Every airline was disrupted. jetBlue should be cheered because it tried to do the right thing – whatever the outcome, the decision was made out of concern to not repeat the 2007 chaos and concern for its crews and customers. Air travel has become a source for endless jokes and complaints. Pundits who have no experience running an airline, especially during disruptive weather on a huge scale, should back off.