JetBlue Askew

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JetBlue’s PR team just can’t catch a break.  Remember two years ago when one plucky flight attendant jumped ship in the “most epic on-the-job resignation of the decade”?  The story, while massively entertaining to begrudged employees everywhere, was a pure public relations nightmare.

JetBlue's PR crisis is no joke.

But March 2012 has been particularly full of headaches for JetBlue and its public relations reps. Early this month, one family was kicked off a flight due to a toddler’s temper tantrum. On March 12, a JetBlue flight from Boston to Chicago was diverted to Buffalo after a woman falsely reported a bomb on board. Last week, JetBlue announced increased fares due to rising gas prices.

And on Tuesday, a JetBlue captain went all-out haywire during a flight from NYC to Vegas, reportedly “foaming at the mouth” and screaming about a bomb attack. Out of the wreckage of this last situation, however, JetBlue’s public relations department demonstrates swift and effective crisis communication tactics, giving us PR professionals a lesson in staying cool under pressure.

Timely Response: JetBlue immediately posted the incident on its blog, addressing it initially as a “medical situation”, making sure to add that all passengers were safely deplaned.  Two further updates were added throughout the day Tuesday, though these did not offer new information as the company waited to get all facts in order.  Several readers scoff at downplaying the captain’s condition as a “medical situation”.  Cut to the next day…

CEO Visibility: JetBlue CEO Dave Barger appeared on the “Today” show Wednesday morning to address both the incident and the blog post.  He provided an update that what had first appeared to be a medical situation, based on the plane’s calls to the FAA, later appeared to be a much more complicated scenario and that the captain was in professional care. He praised the JetBlue crew and passengers for their response.  He also promised that JetBlue would review its procedures for good measure.

Social Media: On Twitter, the company posted constant updates throughout the day and responded to tweets about the incident, later thanking users for their support during the crisis.

By providing clear and timely updates, and also updating JetBlue’s statements as new facts arose, the public relations department has ensured the company effectively communicated with its customers and the media.  And all public relations teams should be ready to react the same in a crisis – or else call out with a “medical situation”.

The turbulence may be far from over, as criminal charges have been filed against the pilot today. But with a solid foundation of early action, the ride for JetBlue’s public relations at least got off the ground in good form.

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