Category Archives: JetBlue

Mainstream media comment on the risks of the instant news world–its about Time

I found this article about the new world of crisis management interesting. It’s what we have been talking about for years–as any frequent reader of this blog or almost any blog on crisis management knows. And the key points about the changing world and its impact on crisis management and communication were made in the first edition of by book Now Is Too Late. But, Time is reporting on “The New World of Crisis Management”, so it must be news.

Here is the key statement:

But 25 years later, crisis management is proving harder than ever. (Just ask Don Imus.) The biggest change comes from the demands of always-on news. Companies now have to sweat not only the morning’s headlines but endless blog postings and runaway video clips that can (and do) appear 24 hours a day. Even when there isn’t much new information, blogs can keep a crisis alive–and smart companies must pay as much attention to them as they do to the national media.

One more thing–Eric Dezenhall has an impressive press machine behind the launch of his new book, as can be seen by his strong coverage in this Time article. Thanks for the copy Mark Fortier.

Digital Crisis Management–evaluating Taco Bell and Jet Blue

Here is a very interesting assessment of two recent crises–Taco Bell and the rat problem and JetBlue’s customer service–and how each of these companies is responding on the Internet.

The point that Ed McLaughlin of SVM E-Business Solutions is making is a very important one. Your crisis communication plan had better have a very strong element of digital communication including YouTube, a crisis website, key search terms, etc. (I was especially intrigued in this article how Taco Bell co-opted negative search terms such as “taco bell rats.”)

Will JetBlue be better off after the crisis?

One of the most important lessons in crisis management is that you will change, your organization will change. Will it be for the better? The Chinese character for crisis, I learned some time ago, can be translated “risk” and “opportunity.”

It appears that the judgment of the best minds on crisis management is that JetBlue did very well and that they may very well come out ahead–with their brand enhanced around the position as the best in customer service. That seems a big statement given the excessive media coverage about their nightmare of Valentine’s Day. But, Richard Levick, one of the most well known and respected names in crisis communication gives an explanation as to why this may very well be the case.

Perhaps an even more interesting reference in this lengthy post is Levick’s take on BP after their year of troubles. Being close to many of these people and their situation I have been careful not to comment much about BP, but I am much encouraged by Mr. Levick’s comments about BPs recovery.

Aha, some hints as to why JetBlue did so well in crisis communication

Jonathan Bernstein’s outstanding email newsletter called the Crisis Manager is the “bible” more or less for many of us in crisis management. In this issue he interviews Sebastian White, head of corporate communications for JetBlue and the interview gives some important information useful for all crisis managers and communicators. To sign up for this newsletter go to

Incidentally, this same issue reprints the excellent white paper on media tracking during a crisis by Chip Griffin, CEO of CustomScoop–another reason to sign up for the newsletter.

The Letter from JetBlue CEO

I’m upgrading my evaluation of JetBlue’s performance in this crisis. I was a little tough on them before, but overall, they are doing pretty well given their situation. I say that in part because I have a great deal of respect for Shel Holtz and he is giving them pretty good marks. Also, because one kind commenter (thanks Paul!) on this blog today provided a copy of the letter sent DIRECTLY from CEO Neeleman to I don’t know how many.

Here’s the letter:

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.


David Neeleman
Founder and CEO
JetBlue Airways

There is a lot I like about this letter. The tone, the unqualified acceptance of responsibility, the information about what is being done, the compensation. But what I like best is that it is direct. I don’t know how many were sent. If I as JetBlue, I would want as many sent as who read the newspaper accounts. Not possible, but that means I would send it to any and all where it would not be considered spam.

One key principle of crisis communication today is directness of communication. Don’t allow the media to carry your message. You have more options than ever to communicate directly–take full advantage, and I see JetBlue doing that.

Here’s what I don’t like: why allow people to sit on the airplane for six hours. Pull up to the gate and let them get off for Pete’s sake. There is no mention of that or sense of understanding that is really bad behavior–almost to point of kidnapping. Also, while there is mention of a comprehensive training program, this is light on details. Not everyone would be interested in the details, but what would have been better in my mind would be to say that for those interested, a complete description of our program will be posted on our website for the next three months. And if it is still in development, explain what is there, what will come yet, and when the updates will be.

Can JetBlue Recover?

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!).

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.