David Neeleman is stepping down as CEO of JetBlue nearly three months after February’s service meltdown. Perhaps expecting the global warming monster to melt snow and ice, the airline had been unprepared for a crippling winter storm. Ultimately, JetBlue cancelled around 1,700 flights, but not before it kept passengers on planes for nearly nine hours at the airport formerly known as Idlewild. While not the only cause, the February customer service catastrophe was probably “the final straw” for Mr. Neeleman’s tenure, Ray Neidl, an analyst at Calyon Securities, told The Washington Post.
What’s amazing is that JetBlue would allow such an incident to occur in the first place. People don’t like being held hostage; they really don’t like being held hostage by someone they’re paying. Why didn’t anybody think of that, say, by the time people had been crammed into the tiny cabins for seven hours?
Airline customer service theory is opaque to me. Air travel is a nightmare, for a range of reasons, some of which are in airlines’ control and some of which aren’t.
Granted, airlines are at the mercy of the weather. They’re also at the mercy of the federal government, which long ago abandoned any notion of its own accountability and now subjects the travelling public to indignity after indignity after indignity, as nothing is intimate enough to elude its power-slurping thirst.
But, bizarrely, airline leaders apparently think: “Okay, we can’t stop ice storms. We can’t stop snooping bureaucrats. So let’s pile on with foul food, lost luggage, and hostage holdings. And let’s make sure that our customer service representatives make their disdain for passengers and their problems clear at every opportunity.”
What they should be thinking is: “God and the federal government do many things to make air travel miserable. So let’s work especially hard to provide as much comfort for our passengers as we can. And if things go wrong, let’s respond quickly, courteously, and creatively to correct and make amends for problems.”
If airline leaders thought that way, fewer would be stepping down or singing the bankruptcy blues.