Recent well-publicized screw-ups put Jet Blue in the hot seat. The airline that that bills itself as “a customer service company that happens to fly airplanes”, had to explain and apologize for some really poor customer service problems. In anticipation of possible government legislation to address industry-wide problems, Jet Blue announced and heavily publicized it “Bill of Rights”. That’s a great response but unfortunately, doesn’t necessarily fix problems that continue to diminish the brand.
About a year ago, Jet Blue began running service Richmond, VA to New York and
Boston. As a native Richmonder, having a new low-cost carrier meant that I no longer had to pay outrageous fares or travel to larger airports. Since that time, I have traveled many times to Boston & NY and always take Jet Blue. Not only do they offer a fantastic deal (fares as low as $29), but I value the extras they offer (DirecTV, XM, more legroom). These are in fact key components of their value proposition and are promoted heavily in their marketing. Up to this point, I have loved every Jet Blue flight I’ve been on and have been a real advocate for them; often recommending them to other travelers.
Two weeks ago, I flew to NYC for the Virtual Worlds conference. When I got to the airport, I discovered that my seat was changed and that I was not flying on a Jet Blue plane. Instead, I was being carried by the relatively unknown “ExpressJet”. The pilot identified it as a Jet Blue flight, but nothing about it was Jet Blue. The plane was small and dirty. The extra legroom touted by Jet Blue – not there. Neither was the in-flight entertainment. I understand that equipment problems happen and got over it. I got to NY just fine, but I wanted the Jet Blue experience. A little digging revealed that Jet Blue is systematically taking all of its E190s offline for 1-2 days to get a software upgrade and has contracted ExpressJets to take up the slack.
My wife does not like to fly and prefers to use an airline she is familiar with. When my family decided to spend spring break in NYC, I convinced them to fly on Jet Blue. After my recent experience, I was a little nervous, but since the software upgrade was to take only 1-2 days, I assumed that all of my cheerleading for Jet Blue would pay off. Easter Sunday, I went to check in on-line and encountered a problem. I was able to check my wife and I in, but the system wouldn’t let my check my daughter in. We went to the airport and the check-in kiosk gave us a similar problem. After several minutes with a desk attendant, we discovered the cause of the problem. Once again, Jet Blue was substituting ExpressJet for our plane and my daughter had been reassigned a seat in a different part of the plane.
We were told that the flight was full but that the gate attendant could check with other passengers to facilitate a seat swap. We arrived at the gate at 7:30am and there was not attendant at the gate. The plane was to leave at 8:20 am. Finally, at 8:10 we were told that we would be leaving out of another gate because another ExpressJet plane had mistakenly parked at out gate. More over, we would be delayed because our luggage had been loaded on that plane and now had to be unloaded so the wrong plane could be moved out. Only then could our plane come in.
Needless to say, the morning was a wreck and I received significant grief from the family for “making them fly on Jet Blue”
The bottom line is that this was not an unplanned equipment outage. I was told by the attendant that I would get a $25 credit for a future flight. Thanks, Jet Blue, but what you should have notified travelers as soon as you knew the subsitution was going to happen so that you could set expectations in advance.
That would have allowed people like me to decide whether we wanted to change our plans.
This story reminds me of my recent post about outsourcing key part of your business. Granted, this is a temporary issue, but the recent ExpressJets substitutions have further diminished Jet Blue’s brand and I will not be an advocate for them again until they have proved themselves worthy.