…twice is coincidence. The third time is enemy action. So says Ian Flemming’s Auric Goldfinger in Goldfinger.
I’m thinking of this saying today as I read about JetBlue having another major situation around airline passengers being virtually held prisoner on planes on the tarmac in the Northeast this past weekend. There’s details here, including a recounting of a pilot’s pleading for assistance. By the way, if you want an example of a nightmarish story to try and manage, here’s a local paper recounting the experience of a guy on one flight in a wheelchair who talks about feeling like a “hostage” in the ordeal.
This is the second time JetBlue’s name has been associated with a situation like this. Indeed, the first incident is a key driver for the very regulations that they now face penalties from.
Yes, the circumstances were the result of forces of nature. But the fact that JetBlue already has failed in this arena once before gives them little wiggle room in terms of perception. Further, the fact that other airlines seem to have been unaffected or not nearly as badly as affected puts them in a class by themselves on this.
Their response to the first incident wasn’t enough to undo the damage then. And if you look at their response to this, I predict once again it won’t help. Their blog in particular is a very poor attempt to manage this situation and may well make things worst. First, the blog starts with a joking tone. While I advocate humor and levity as a means of injecting an authentic voice, this isn’t the time or place. People felt like hostages: don’t make light of that. In that vein, the blog also totally lacks any empathetic acknowledgement of the pain and suffering passengers experienced. Also, the blog lacks any clear taking of responsibility for the situation. And finally, the “remedy” that is offered won’t seem like compensation to anyone outside of JetBlue. Not making passengers pay for their own incarceration shows, as a friend once put it, “delusions of adequacy”. If they want to make it up to people, they’re going to have to start there and move upwards.
If JetBlue wants to nip this in the bud and prevent if from being as big a harm to their brand as the last tarmac debacle, they should quickly pivot their handling, put out a statement by the CEO (preferably on video so the sincerity, if it’s there, can be seen) that very clearly says:
- Yes, we screwed up, again. I am sorry for the genuine pain and suffering you all experienced because of our failures. Ultimately, it’s my responsibility and I personally apologize to all of you.
- The weather was unprecedented and everyone scrambled. But somehow, we seemed to fall short yet again. I don’t know why we fell down so badly yet again but I will.
- To our affected customers, and all customers, I promise a complete, transparent investigation as to how this happened, how we can prevent this from happening again, what we’re going to do to try and keep this from happening again, and regular updates on how we’re coming with these changes. As part of this, I promise real consequences for people who let you down.
- Of course, we’re not going to charge any of you for these flights. But we will also try to make it up to you and give you a reason to give us another chance.
If they don’t do something like this, the risk is that others will think about this like I do. And if there IS a third incident like this, the enemy action that Goldfinger talks about: that’s the action of JetBlue against its passengers. It’s generally bad for brand when customers start to think of you as an enemy.