Jet Black and Blue!

Yes, they took it on the chin. They’ve been hammered, mocked, criticized, and crucified. They’ve been brought to their knees and kicked while they were down. It’s been almost a week of relentless abuse from every aspect of our U.S. media community. Comedians have had a heyday dissecting JetBlue’s “Valentine’s Day Massacre.” And you know what … they deserved every bit of it.

Bloopers, blunders, poor choices, bad decisions, no decisions. You name it — they did it. It was almost as though everyone at JetBlue demonstrated a synchronized effort to do everything wrong. If so, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams!

Having been grounded myself in that same crippling storm, I can “feel the pain” and frustration of those 130,000 passengers who were stranded over the past week due to the cancellation of 250 flights. In a previous article, I joined the chorus of dissent regarding this escapade that is destined to live on for years to come. However, the point of my observation was to share my shock in discovering that this nightmare happened to JetBlue.

Until the “Heart Day” disaster, this young, aggressive airline was a highly respected, well-oiled operation that was constantly hailed for their customer focus and concern, cutting-edge technology, quality of service, and low prices. The bottom line of my article was to urge our readers to be proactive in their efforts to make certain that a similar situation doesn’t happen to them. If something this disastrous can happen to an industry leader such as JetBlue — an organization doing so many things right — it can happen to any company.

In that previous article, I noted many of the accomplishments that have led to the tremendous success of this highly respected airline — again emphasizing this chaos can strike even the best organizations at the most inopportune time. After what I have witnessed the past 24 hours, I think it’s time to add to that list!

I’ve always been a firm believer in the fact that it doesn’t matter what happens to you in life — it’s how you react to it that counts. Well, I have witnessed with great respect and admiration a very vivid example of true leadership during the past few days. Again, let’s agree … JetBlue’s team, at every level, experienced an operational meltdown, which affected more than 130,000 of their loyal customers. This fact can’t be argued. It happened.

I’m amazed at the fact that I have not seen the following things:

  1. Justification by leadership at shortcomings due to terrible weather conditions.
  2. Denial of responsibility due to the fact that conditions were beyond the control of JetBlue personnel.
  3. Excuses for a single mistake of judgment, poor decision, or lack of action.
  4. Refusal to deal with the many obvious consequences resulting from this experience.

I mention these behaviors because we have come to expect the above actions from the leadership of so many organizations which have failed miserably in so many different ways and been exposed in the glaring light of publicity. Look back over the past few years and reflect on what happened with such noted organizations as Enron, Arthur Anderson, WorldCom, HealthSouth, Tyco, Imclone, Adelphia, and so many more giants that invoked justification and denial.

This past week I’ve closely monitored the response strategy of JetBlue in light of the beating they’ve suffered since their unpleasant adversity. I’m not in the least bit surprised that their response has been immediate, honest, straight-forward, and reflective of the culture we’ve all admired since they entered the industry seven years ago. In less than a week since the anguish occurred, JetBlue responded as follows:

  1. They took full responsibility for everything that happened.
  2. They publicly apologized, expressing shock, mortification, and great disappointment.
  3. CEO David Neeleman created a public relations offensive, which included television interviews on all networks, a conference call with journalists, and a damage-control appearance on the David Lettermen Show the night after the popular host dedicated the majority of his opening monolog to roasting JetBlue for millions of his viewers. In each of these appearances, Neeleman accepted the blame for meltdown, pointed out that the airline has definitely learned a great deal from the experience, and had no plans to replace any members of their management team. He said: “This has been a big wake-up call for JetBlue.”
  4. The CEO then vowed to make immediate changes to prevent a repeat of what happened and followed that with a straightforward promise to the world that it will never happen again!
  5. To demonstrate their dedication to that promise, Neelemen revealed a “Passenger’s Bill of Rights” … something Congress has promised but failed to achieve after years of empty rhetoric. JetBlue did this within a week. The document addresses a monetary voucher program covering any and all future delays. You’re going to be seeing the details appear in most all magazines and newspapers in the coming weeks.
  6. JetBlue made their “Bill of Rights” retroactive to cover everyone affected by the Valentine’s Day misfortune. This action will cost JetBlue in excess of $30 million dollars!

Two very obvious thoughts emerge after witnessing the above actions:

First: What more could you possibly have asked JetBlue to do after what happened?

Second: When was the last time you saw any organization and/or individual
duplicate these efforts after their obvious misdeeds? Look back over the major organizations mentioned above that dominated headlines for months and even years. Did they publicly accept blame, take full responsibility, publicly apologize, offer immediate compensation to those affected, and create a strategy to avoid future recurrences? Nuf said.

It’s time for us to respond in kind. Accept what has happened. It can’t be changed at this point. Accept the very unusual admission of guilt, apology, and promise for immediate action. We must now stand back and offer JetBlue the opportunity to keep their promises. We must also hold them accountable with promises of severe consequences should they fail to keep their word. However, you might also throw some admiration and recognition their way for responding to an unfortunate fiasco in a very unique and refreshing way — like no one has done in the past. Good luck to JetBlue and their loyal staff as they embark on their journey to regain their credibility and lofty status in an industry which defies such attempts.

About Harry K. Jones

Harry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars, keynote presentations, and consulting services. Harry's top requested topics include change management, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork, and time management. For more information on Harry's presentations, please call 800-886-2629 or fill out our contact form.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *