Remember when Jet Blue wasn’t just another airline?

jet  blue downIt doesn’t make sense to get mad at any particular airline anymore.   To declare ‘I’ll never fly that **!!ing airline again” is counterproductive since the alternative is likely  an airline with higher fares and zero service differentiation.   Sure there are U.S. domestic airlines like Virgin America that offer a higher quality of service – at slightly higher prices of course, but Virgin America does not fly everywhere I or anyone else will need to visit.

Jet Blue used to have cache as a ‘different’ airline with a unique offering and service.   I think many would agree that today more than fifteen years after the founding of Jet Blue in 1998 it’s merely just another airline.

Our daughter came home from Florida State University (yes the reigning NCAA FBS champs) for the holidays.  On the trip to New York City, she drove 2 ½ hours from Tallahasee to Jacksonville to catch a direct flight to JFK on a rainy Monday and everything worked like clockwork.   Good experience.  Her return trip was quite another matter.

Sunday January 5th was a bad, bad weather day for much of the United States.  This was mostly before the ‘polar vortex’ hit the U.S. East Coast.  Ice, sleet and freezing rain were falling over much of the East Coast.   Our daughter’s flight was scheduled to depart at 2:30 and she had to be back in Florida for classes on Monday (and to watch the game with her friends).   Her flight was delayed a half-hour, then three hours, then 8 hours before finally being canceled altogether.   The next flight Jet Blue could put her on was Wednesday the 8th.  There were many people that shared her plight.

The thing that aggravates me the most about the whole experience is that this kind of behavior from airlines is expected by travelers.  Remember when Jet Blue started?  Leather seats, Direct TV, cool snacks, cheeky flight attendant announcements?   Jet Blue was one of the first airlines to hire individuals to answer customer service calls on behalf of the company in their own homes.   It was all a novel approach to the airline business, the planes were clean and new and the public loved it.   The brand value skyrocketed.   And then the brand matured, not like fine wine but more like wine turning to vinegar.

Why does it have to be this way with airlines?   We all know it’s a difficult and ruthless business.   Fare matching, load factors, jet fuel costs all conspire to make running an airline extremely difficult.   Yet the absence of even a basic level of consistent service is the norm and airline customers mostly have no other recourse but to accept the status quo.  Jet Blue once tried to rise above that status but could not sustain its own brand promise.

What ended up happening to our daughter?  She flew on a different airline U.S. Airways (American – one of the airlines I have been mad at over the years), and got stranded in Washington on Monday when her connecting flight was canceled.    Then in a fortuitous confluence of attention and tears she worked her way on to a flight direct  to Tallahasee that arrived three hours before the National Championship game started.   She missed her classes that day but got to experience what will be a most memorable life event.

Weather delays and cancellations when it comes to air travel are to be expected.  But informing a paying passenger whose flight was canceled that they have to wait three days for an open flight with no restitution since it was ‘weather-related’ is just an awful and embarrassing policy.

Where are the upstarts beyond Virgin America?   We should expect and demand better.

About markkolier

Futurist, entrepreneur, left lane driver
This entry was posted in Airlines, Consumer Attitudes, Customer Experiences and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Remember when Jet Blue wasn’t just another airline?

  1. Grant says:

    I predict that unless Virgin America dilutes for some reason they’ll eventually replace most of the US airlines. At one point I may have said that about Jet Blue but the last time I flew them they were just another airline, nothing more. They broke items in our bag, they didn’t apologize, they charged the same as everyone else.

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  2. samtravels says:

    Haley’s situation was horrific as were many flyers this week. Although it’d be easy to blame it on the weather, every other airline was better prepared to deal with the delays than JetBlue. It could be argued that because JetBlue is based in NYC it was more affected than other carriers, but that still doesn’t explain the lack of communication during this particularly stressful time. What could have been one of JetBlue’s shining moments in terms of customer service was instead a sign that its original ambitions are now far off track. Thanks for explaining her situation so succinctly!

    Also, Virgin America is praised for its passenger experience but it makes the least money of any U.S. airline making it unlikely that will it grow into a major carrier in the future. Many flyers argue that overseas carriers with superior service should be able to fly U.S. domestic routes. What are your opinions on that?

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    • markkolier says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment Sam. Great point on Virgin America being the least profitable since in order for it to deliver a better level of service they charge more which is not normally a successful approach for airlines. Overseas carriers doing business in the U.S. sounds like it would possibly make things more competitive – and maybe better but adhering to FAA regulations would likely prove to be incredibly frustrating to overseas carriers and would limit the amount of overseas entrants. One major reason for degradation of U.S. airline service is that fares today are at times comparable (they are more expensive but not nearly what they should be when taking the rate of inflation into consideration) to what they were in the 1970’s. Like the saying goes – ‘Something’s gotta give’. We all know what that is.

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