Friday, August 26, 2005

Blue Streak by Barbara S. Peterson - The jetBlue Story

A Review of Blue Streak – Inside JetBlue, the Upstart That Rocked an Industry by Barbara S. Peterson

I knew early on that JetBlue was something special from the feedback I was hearing from friends and family members who had flown them, and from the positive press they were receiving. I began to understand how the upstart airline had achieved that success when I had a chance to meet the Founder, David Neeleman, last year when he spoke at Harvard Business School. As I heard him speak, and then later when I had a chance to engage with him one-on-one, I sensed beneath the smooth and polished executive exterior a personal warmth and passion that embodies the vision of JetBlue – to build a low cost airline that delivers superior service and treats its customers and employees alike as persons of worth.

Neeleman loves to tell the story of an encounter with a Delta flight attendant who accosted him and accused him of: “stealing all the nice passengers.” His retort: “No, they are the smart passengers; they know we’ll treat them fair and give them a fair deal.”

Barbara Peterson tells the story of the gestation and birth of JetBlue from the inside out. An experienced travel writer, she involved herself in the lives of the JetBlue leaders and immersed herself in the JetBlue experience to try to explain to herself and her readers why so many individuals have “drunk the blue Kool-aid”!

One of the most gripping stories that encapsulates much of what makes JetBlue unique in the airline industry is the story of how JetBlue employees at New York’s Kennedy Airport responded to the unfolding events on 9/11/2001.

“Doreen Lawrence, head of in-flight, was driving west on the Grand Central Parkway when the news came over the radio. She was heading toward Connecticut with Brian Manubay, an in-flight manager. . . They were halfway across the Whitestone Bridge to the Bronx when they realized they had to get to JFK fast. . . They got to the airport ten minutes later, just before all access to the airfield was closed off. They found Terminal Six packed with passengers, many of whom were not holding tickets on JetBlue flights but, rather, had been expelled from other terminals. Most airlines had shut the doors to their terminals soon after the attacks on the advice of the Port Authority, which was acting prudently – who knew if other attackers were still at large? Several strandees told Manubay that a rumor had circulated at the airport that “if you go to JetBlue, they’ll help you.”

. . . An hour later, the Port Authority told JetBlue it, too, had to evacuate its terminal. Lawrence and Manubay made an announcement: All present, no matter whose customer they were, could go with them to a nearby airport motel, where they could stay until they had someplace else to go. For the next three days, the JetBlue pair slept on cots in the ballroom of a nearby Best Western, with hundreds of displaced fliers; no one, it seemed, could get out.

Lawrence had not needed to check with her superiors to approve this act of charity; early in the day Neeleman and Barger [Dave Barger, JetBlue President] had told anyone from the field who called in that they should just follow their conscience and no questions would ever be raised about the expense.

There were lighter moments as well. Al Spain [JetBlue’s Chief Pilot], who was in Toronto at a meeting of airline safety directors the morning of the eleventh, had gotten back to New York by renting a car and driving nonstop for twenty hours. When he arrived in Queens, he’d gone to the airport to lend a hand. There were so many diverse passengers under JetBlue’s wing at that point, he recalled, that they finally secured space in a motel some miles away for a tour group that was due to fly back to Europe on Delta as soon as service was restored. Their luggage was back at the airport, and so that they could have a change of clothes, Lawrence handed out JetBlue T-shirts to everyone. “So imagine how Delta feels when they see this huge group show up in JetBlue T-shirts because we – not they – took care of their passengers,” Spain recalled
(pages 143,144)

That is the kind of customer service that earns lifelong loyalty. I cannot wait to fasten my seat belt and taste the JetBlue experience.

Al

1 comment:

jsavard said...

Al,

THANKS for everything you do ... Referencing JetBlue, David Neeleman has changed the business plan for the airline industry. Legacy carriers cannot and will not be able to compete unless they undergo a metaphoric change in attitude and behavior