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Announcement :: Media
Turbulent Times for Airlines
08 Mar 2007
Jetblue and how the airline is in trouble
JetBlue Airlines customers were not feeling the love Valentine's Day week and they may reject the once loved airline known for it’s outstanding customer service. Even the best household name brands, such as Tylenol, have gone through PR disasters that have left their good name tarnished.

A Valentine's Day snowstorm caused JetBlue to cancel more than 1,100 flights over the course of Valentine’s Day week and left some passengers in a nightmare situation—trapped on a plane for up to 10 hours. Many companies could learn from the recent public relations crisis of JetBlue, however, as the discount airlines takes steps over the coming months to regain customers' faith and rebuild its reputation. But it’s going to be a long road.

JetBlue officials announced a new passenger bill of rights that would compensate travelers based on the length of delays "within JetBlue's control." These delays would include those due to Mother Nature, air traffic control, crew shortages and maintenance problems. JetBlue passengers will receive $25 off a future flight if their arrival is delayed by 30 minutes, and will receive full credit for a return flight if the delay lasts two hours or more. For departing flights waiting on the tarmac — similar to the Valentine's Day snow storm situation — passengers will receive $100 off a future flight after three hours, a round-trip ticket after four hours, and the plane will return to the gate after five hours. Also, if a flight is canceled within 12 hours of its departure time, passengers can receive a full refund.

The announcement comes after JetBlue infuriated travelers by stranding them in planes stuck on airport runways and then failing to get flights back on schedule after the storm. JetBlue CEO David Neeleman called the fiasco the company's "worst week" since he founded the airlines eight years ago. The airline industry veteran says he has no plans to resign, but is rolling up his shirt sleeves in an effort to win back customers and make his unique airline, founded on quality and customer service, profitable again. "I think I'm uniquely qualified to deal with these issues," Neeleman said. He might be uniquely qualified, but

Talk isn't cheap-- Neeleman estimates the company's mistakes cost $30 million -- but actions speak louder than words. Many airlines would have also been forced to cancel flights under the same circumstances, but publicly would have denied nothing was wrong. JetBlue is taking the high road by admitting they made mistakes. The airlines has made a name for itself because it strives to offer low prices for travelers and top notch customer service and free perqs, such as DirectTV and satellite radio. Not bad for an industry where a free bag of peanuts is now considered an inflight snack.

The airlines industry has been plagued with cost cuts and planes filled to capacity. Most of America's big commercial carriers don't have the money to absorb substantial shocks, like unexpected harsh winter storms, to their profit margin. Further adding to the problems is increasing air traffic and delays. In 2006, one out of every five U.S. flights arrived late to its destination, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

But it’s time for the airline industry to treat customers with respect. I can only imagine what kind of irate airline executive we’d have on our hands if they were stuck on an overcrowded plane for hours, with toilets overflowing, no booze to drink, and no food. Would they stand for that kind of service? Absolutely not. There should be some sort of emergency provisions in place so that this kind of treatment of passengers never happens again. It’s unacceptable.

Time will tell if the airline can save itself and win back the customers it has let down. Business travelers, especially, spend big bucks on airline tickets and they are going to give their business to the airlines that don’t let them down, or leave them trapped on a plane on a runway. Winning back customers will take more than extra leg room and flight vouchers.

Uncle Rocky
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