By letterhead | May 14, 2008
OK so JetBlue has managed to dive head first into another vat of boiling passenger resentment. But after the Arabic t-shirt fiasco, and the O’Reilly fiasco, and the 25-hour FtLauderdale-to-NYC flight fiasco, and on and on… you’d think that their PR team would be a little better prepared this time around.
Certainly better prepared than to simply give a “no comment” when queried about whether the pilot made a passenger sit on the toilet for three hours during a cross-country flight — a violation of federal regulation. Need we say”serious” violation, or is that an unnecessary redundancy?
The buddy-pass freeloader could, of course, have lined the walls of the loo with sanitary pads to create a little padded nook for himself in case of turbulence. But wouldn’t it be nicer to have a seatbelt?
How about JetBlue simply saying: “We’re investigating the alleged incident. Passenger safety is our highest priority. Any safety infractions will be dealt with quickly and severely.”
How about getting out ahead of the story? OK so you may have to sacrifice a pilot on the alter of remorse. But how does it look that you are stonewalling and protecting him instead of the people who pay you to fly them places? How about some concern for what customers might think?
When JetBlue launched back in 1999, it was with a decidedly consumer friendly brand image. Hip. Young. Open and straight forward. And even a bit cheeky. The uber-trendy NY-to-Miami route (Ft Lauderdale actually) was one of its first and most successful products. The company took great pains to identify with the mindset and lifestyle of its target customers.
And it’s just the kind of brand that takes a direct hit when the company does not live up to those attributes in its communications style.
We Know Why You Take a Flyer
Maybe they are taking a page from the American Airlines deer-in-headlights communications strategy.
American knew as early as March 26 that its MD-80 fleet needed updated inspections and that the inspections required flight cancellations: it canceled 200 flights on March 26 and 132 more on March 27.
But then, when a deluge of THOUSANDS of MD-80 flight cancellations came a couple of weeks later (April 8 to 14), American Airlines was totally speechless. Mute. Dumbstruck. Mum. Toungue-tied…
As each day passed, and the situation grew worse and worse, they took no opportunity to present the larger picture, frame the scope of the inspection problem, work to manage customers perceptions and expectations.
Each night, evening newscasters all over America would, in tones of shock and surprise, inform viewers of “More cancellations tomorrow!” And the same would happen the next night. And the next… Each night, as the surprise grew to shock, and then to fury, the problem appeared to be growing more and more out of control.
But American Airlines knew all along what the problem was, and what the SCOPE of the problem was, and what the scope of IMPACT could be. But it made absolutely ZERO effort to communicate this. For fear of lawsuits perhaps?
Well, do you think they got sued anyway? And isn’t it better to acknowledge a problem and communicate a plan for fixing it than to look like bumbling idiots who are completely out of touch with the company they are supposedly running?
Is the latter approach supposed to give customers added comfort???
The American case is a great example of why PR people should be involved in EVERY aspect of running a company. It provokes key questions like:
After more than 300 cancellations in late March, why didn’t they anticipate the possibility massive inspection-related cancellations?
Were the PR people asleep at the switch, or did the operations people keep them out of the loop?
Or did senior executives order the PR folks to keep mum on the scope and cause of the problem? Was it the lawyers?
And once the first wave of cancellations hit (on 4/8), how could you NOT know that thousands more were pending?
And who was the bloody genius who thought it would be a good idea NOT to tell anyone?!
A Recommendation to JetBlue and American Airlines
Your PR people are not doing much to help your public image. They’re wreaking havoc, actually. And in the event that the problem is decent PR people being sidelined by controlling sr. executives and lawyers, the end result is the same.
So why not fire the PR people and hire more baggage handlers instead. Getting passengers’ luggage off the plane more quickly will do a hellofalot more for your reputations than paying a crew of PR wallflowers six-figure salaries to say “No Comment.”