JetBlue is off to a shaky 2014 as weather-related problems and new pilot-rest rules have forced the carrier to cancel tens of flights, stranding thousands of passengers.
When a company gets slammed with a major PR nightmare, and then has to publicly eat crow, they need to understand that the scrutiny won’t go away. In fact, it often only gets worse. The media watches like hawks for slipups, so they can follow up on the previous story.
For an example of this dynamic, one only need look at JetBlue. Back in 2007, JetBlue had to ground massive numbers of flights, stranding thousands for days. The CEO apologized on Matt Lauer’s morning show, promising to make it right, and do better. They definitely made it right financially, but did they make it better?
Time and again, JetBlue has run into issues. Most recently, just a few weeks back. Six years after the initial event, and they have another similar issue for the same reasons. Customers took to social media, irate. And the media was quick to pounce. Even though many airlines grounded flights, JetBlue receive an inordinate amount of attention.
This should be a lesson to all businesses facing a PR crisis. Once you have to eat crow, you need to make sure you can prove strong progress if the issue – or anything remotely similar – happens again. You do NOT want to be the go-to brand example when an industry struggles.
Given six years to track, gauge, and solve a problem, JetBlue can no longer say it is “experiencing growing pains." Many in the media, and many consumers, are now questioning JetBlue’s ability to conduct business at this scale – if at all.
After the initial crisis, JetBlue’s CEO did exactly the right thing – he accepted the blame, and explained not only how they were getting better, but what they would do to make it right in the interim.
Excellent PR work. Then, after the latest weather related snafu, this happened:
A glance through the most recent Yelp reviews burns the company for many of the same issues that Neeleman apologized for back in 2007 (profanity redacted):
“There was much yelling, screaming, and general frustration at terminal 5 that night. From the JetBlue staff there was no understanding, no compassion, just lack of interest in doing their job and even snarky condescension.”
“When the flight was canceled, I called the airline IMMEDIATELY, was kept on hold for 40 minutes, and in the intervening time all of the available seats between Jan 3 and Jan 6 were filled. The airline has not offered me an alternative, a timely refund (7-10 days is ridiculous), or any credit for time and money lost as a result of their lack of a contingency plan.”
On the Twitter feed, the first TEN posts were about delays with no end in sight. JetBlue’s Twitter feed is flush with apologies, and excuses about weather, and not being able to move “stranded flight crews.” It will be interesting to see where their messaging goes next.
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New York-based Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a top 25 independent PR Agency.