Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Jet Blue Fiasco

By now you've all heard about the debacle that last week tarnished JetBlue's formerly stellar reputation indefinitely. Leaving passengers stranded on planes for eleven hours, canceling flights after promising a regular schedule, failing to provide customer service representatives both in person and over the phone: these add up to an unprofitable quarter, a public relations disaster and promises from the CEO that JetBlue will now offer a Bill of Rights guaranteeing passengers compensation when such failures occur. Whether this dramatic--let's hope not merely nominal--response can stop the bleeding remains to be seen.

A recent NY Times article made a good point: under smooth operating conditions, JetBlue's organization worked well. Employing fewer customer service reps than the legacy carriers (most of JetBlue's reps are stay-at-home moms who field calls from the comfort of their living rooms in Salt Lake City--an unconventional arrangement, to say the least. Perhaps the women work in trios; okay, I've been watching too much Big Love), the airline could afford to offer lower prices and more amenities. But in a crisis, this lean system collapsed; the airline had no way, contractually, of making the stay-at-home moms work beyond their shifts, and no company can generate more employees overnight. JetBlue also lacked a system for coordinating scattered crews and summoning employees who were at home or on vacation. This explains the long duration of the airline's cancellations--far after the snow melted and the runways cleared; and far after competitors restored full service. JetBlue gambled and lost. Its management figured the storm would fizzle out and pass quickly, so it canceled no flights in advance. Consequently, it was left with tons of angry passengers crowded in airports believing their flights would leave soon. Of course, they did not, and a crying CEO is but little consolation to a passenger who might have returned to the comfort of her home rather than spending the night, with false hopes, in a dirty airport.


Blogger Phlip said...

JetBlue sent me an apology email. I've never flown them but booked my brother's flight last summer.

Interesting info on their staffing . . . it'll be interesting to see what changes they make.

6:42 PM  
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