JetBlue made a bold and risky move yesterday when it ceased flights in and out of Boston and three New York area airports for a day. Safety comes first so there is no doubt from that perspective JetBlue made the right call. But, from a brand reputation standpoint, the airline is being hit with consumer outrage comparable to the gale force winds of this polar vortex.
The severe winter weather has been wreaking havoc on all airlines. 3500+ flights were cancelled yesterday impacting more than 200,000 passengers. As a smaller carrier and one without reciprocal agreements with other airlines, JetBlue has some different business imperatives. They needed to rest their pilots (new FAA regulations just went into effect) and reset their system.
All the airlines are scrambling to rebook passengers and get equipment to the right cities to get travelers moving again. By being the only airline to announce a stop in service to 4 cities for a day, JetBlue became the story and, in fact, led virtually all air travel related stories Monday. By default, the other airlines caught a break and, at least for a 24-hour news cycle, faded into the background. Most every TV story in Boston, New York and across the country, had footage of JetBlue planes and airport counters. Most of the irate passengers interviewed were flying JetBlue.
JetBlue learned a lot from the 2007 Valentine’s Day debacle. The CEO was open in talking about what they did wrong and how they would improve customer service and communication as a result. They even created a Customer Bill of Rights. Since then, the airline has often been recognized for its excellent customer service and its effective use of social media to communicate with customers.
Shares of JetBlue were down 4 percent at $8.68 on Monday. It wasn’t alone. Other airlines traded down as well. It’s too early to tell whether this decision will have a long-term impact on JetBlue’s bottom line, but there is no doubt that the airline is weathering a major reputational hit, more significant than the other carriers at the moment.
Yesterday, JetBlue said it will be 100% by 3:00 today. Needless to say thousands of stranded passengers are hoping that is true.