Tuesday, November 1, 2011

AirTran's Lesson to a Certain Airline: It's the Communication Stupid

AirTran in Phoenix
Last year at this time, while traveling on AirTran from Phoenix to New York, my connecting flight out of Atlanta was canceled due to a problem with the airplane. Since it was the last flight of the evening, AirTran officials had to find overnight accommodations and rebook seats for the following day for a planeload of tired and disappointed travelers.


This meant I would miss the annual Scottish Sunday at my church, but hey, these things happen. The AirTran workers were unfailingly polite, patient and apologetic. And if that was not enough, when I got home, I received not one but two written expressions of regret. The first in an email, and the second an entirely unexpected certificate for a free flight on AirTran.

With AirTran poised to become part of Southwest I hope the big personality that is Southwest, plans to incorporate the great personality that is AirTran. That's my particularly heart-felt wish after the latest headline making antics of the anti-Airtran - jetBlue.

Bradley International Airport on a better day
To recap: For seven hours on Saturday, jetBlue Flight 504 - an A320 enroute from Ft. Lauderdale to New York - sat on the runway at Bradley International Airport where it and twenty-two other flights had diverted due to the freak Halloween snowstorm.  It is not clear yet why there was no overall plan to accommodate all these unexpected arrivals; Bradley is a frequently-used alternate for Boston and New York area airports. 

Nevertheless, passengers sat on airliners and in the case of Flight 504 the pilot in command was so concerned about the growing anger of his passengers, he asked air traffic control to send police officers to quell the unrest. Capt. Thompson also said he was worried about two specific passengers, a paraplegic and a diabetic who might need care.  The exchange between Capt. Thompson and controllers via ATC.net can be heard here.

A jetBlue pilot on his way to work
What's dis-heartening but totally in keeping with my experience with jetBlue is the poor captain's frustration with his employer. "We got more help from you guys than we got from our own people," he says at one point during the seven minute recording of his ground communication at Bradley. 

A pilot with another large U.S. carrier wrote to tell me that in cases like this,  "the crews are totally at the mercy of what they are told to do by their superiors who are 'managing' the situation, usually from afar."

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary communications and its pretty clear that jetBlue doesn't know how to handle ordinary times.

 In August 2010, when jetBlue flight attendant Steve Slater blew his top during a flight and wound up opening the emergency exit so that he could bolt from the plane before it was even parked at the gate, I could almost relate.   I've never had a timely response from jetBlue whether I've been in touch as a consumer or as a journalist, whether I've called, sent emails or written letters. 

jetBlue wasn't the only airline with diversions and unhappy travelers but it is the one taking the heat over this weekend's big chill. Just maybe this is an airline that has not paid enough attention to communication among its own employees or with the public.

jetBlue, take a tip from AirTran, that scrappy upstart that will soon be flying Southwest. "Its the communication stupid." But of course they'd never say it that way. They're much too good at what they do. 

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

JetBlue did communicate on Saturday. Check out the COO on twitter @JetBlueCOO:

‎‎‎"Despite calls for doom, we're planning to operate a full schedule today. Expect delays this evening as rain turns to snow in NE."

Grumpy said...

Ah, yes, Twitter, the great communication medium for those who flaunt their intellects in 140 words or fewer. Let's compare the value of the communications:
JetBlue: 23 words, none of which expresses regret for inconvenience to its passengers, impersonally addressed via a social media site that, significantly, omits anyone who might not subscribe.
AirTran: Personal letters of apology, followed by tangible reparation for inconvenience.
Obvious interpretation: AirTran cares about its customers; JetBlue doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, Twitter, the great communication medium for those who flaunt their intellects in 140 words or fewer. Let's compare the value of the communications:
JetBlue: 23 words, none of which expresses regret for inconvenience to its passengers, impersonally addressed via a social media site that, significantly, omits anyone who might not subscribe.
AirTran: Personal letters of apology, followed by tangible reparation for inconvenience.
Obvious interpretation: AirTran cares about its customers; JetBlue doesn't.

Kim H. said...

And this is what comes from the Harvard Business School mentality that the bottom line is everything and customer service has no concrete value. Watching PanAm on TV makes me wish for the good ol' days of service. Sigh....

Anonymous said...

And where do you think AirTran learned how to communicate? Southwest Airlines has been communicating with its customers this way for 40 years.