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Pigs Fly: A CEO’s mea cupla

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The CEO of JetBlue airlines, David G. Neeleman, admitted to a failure in communications systems which led to over 1000 flight cancellations for over a week (including a full plane that was stranded on the JFK tarmac for six hours) after last week’s northeast snowstorms.

David G. Neeleman said in a telephone interview yesterday that his company’s management was not strong enough. And he said the current crisis, which has led to about 1,000 canceled flights in five days, was the result of a shoestring communications system that left pilots and flight attendants in the dark, and an undersize reservation system. Until now, JetBlue and its low fares have enjoyed overwhelming popularity and customer satisfaction ratings.


“We had so many people in the company who wanted to help who weren’t trained to help,” he said. “We had an emergency control center full of people who didn’t know what to do. I had flight attendants sitting in hotel rooms for three days who couldn’t get a hold of us. I had pilots e-mailing me saying, ‘I’m available, what do I do?’ ”

The part of the company that locates pilots and flight attendants and directs them to their next flight assignment is far too small for an airline JetBlue’s size, Mr. Neeleman said. He vowed to train 100 existing corporate office employees to work in that area when needed. Within two weeks, the area can be better backstopped, he said, and within 30 days, “flawless.” (link)

Wow – this kind of admission of ‘we screwed up’ is pretty rare for a company CEO. Rarer still is this part:

Mr. Neeleman said he would enact what he called a customer bill of rights that would financially penalize JetBlue — and reward passengers — for any repeat of the current upheaval. He said he would propose a plan to pay customers, after some amount of time, by the hour for being stranded on a plane.

He says knows he has to deliver. “I can flap my lips all I want,” he said. “Talk is cheap. Watch us.”

There is growing sentiment in Congress to pass legislation that would mandate limits on the time passengers can be kept in a plane on the ground and also set compensation standards for stranded passengers. The airline industry hopes to fend off such a measure. Mr. Neeleman said he wanted to make the penalties to JetBlue “more aggressive than any airline lobbyist would let Congress do.”

Of course, he is not exactly a saint and my cynical side says that this is part of a strategy to win back the high customer approval ratings enjoyed by the company. Still, it is refreshing to see someone in the airline industry taking a measure of responsibility.

Personally, I have flown JetBlue a few times and loved their leather seats with personal DirectTV on every seat, the surprisingly friendly service and funky blue chips. They had fallen from  grace when they decided not to respect customer privacy (handing over travel information to DoD contractors) – but perhaps this should mend it.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

February 19, 2007 at 10:26 pm

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