Jet Blue and the Dunkirk Spirit


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CS_Jet Blue and The Dunkirk Spirt-300I hope you are not one of the unfortunately Jet Blue customers patiently trying to catch a flight in the midst of ‘Stormaggedon’ this week. The latest debacle in air travel has landed in the lap of Jet Blue Airlines this week, who responded to extensive delays caused by the polar vortex. In the New York and Boston area on January 6th Jet Blue decided to deal with the problem by closing down shop at four major airports (JFK, LaGuardia, Logan International and Newark’s Liberty), stranding tens of thousands of their customers. The shut down lasted for 17 hours.

The airline blames the delays and the new rules for pilot rest time imposed by the FAA, which took effect just three days earlier on January 4th. The rest times and delays together meant there simply weren’t enough crews that could fly once the airports were reopened. In addition, about 80% of their flights go through the area that was ravaged by storms on Monday. The shut down was intended to give the jets and crews time to get into place so they could resume flights according to the new guidelines.

But as one pundit commented, every other airline had the same storm and the same rules to contend with and none of them had to close down. A salient point and one I am sure many of the 49,000 customers that were stranded by the cancellations on Monday, or the other 150,000 JetBlue customers that have been affected as a result of them.

I can definitely relate to their travel woes. On Sunday I flew into the US and straight into the storm. It took me two days to get to Peoria, IL, because I flew through the center of the storm. Perhaps no one could have predicted what a mess this storm would make of the travel situation. But in spite of the delays and inconveniences the storm has created, I have been pleasantly surprised how resilient everyone has been. I haven’t heard anyone losing their tempers or getting cross with airline staff that has to deliver a lot of bad news. In fact, it’s been almost the opposite. Take my Delta flight for example. After sitting on the tarmac for 4 hours in Detroit my flight finally landed in Peoria, everyone clapped and thanked the crew for getting them there safely.

I think the way most people have deal with this crisis is something to be proud of. People know everyone is doing their best for each other in difficult circumstances. It’s as if passenger and airline are working together to make the best of a bad situation. We Brits would call it having the “Dunkirk Spirit.”

Now unless you are British or watch way too much of the History Channel, you probably don’t know what I mean by that. The Dunkirk spirit refers to an incident in World War II where over 330,000 British troops were ferried over the English Channel by a flotilla of civilian boats, including pleasure craft and working barges during the evacuation of France following the Battle of Dunkirk and the advancement of German troops. The event represented ordinary British citizens pulling together in the face of adversity, hence the idiomatic expression.

But Jet Blue seems to be lacking in the Dunkirk spirit. Instead of coming together it looks like they fell apart and just gave up. In some ways, it feels like the abandoned their customers and didn’t try to fight their way through a tough time. Certainly at the very least, the move was not customer centric.

Of course, one could argue that by being prudent and following safety regulations that were imposed by the FAA, they were being extremely customer centric. Having pilots and crews that are not exhausted and beleaguered by grueling conditions fly people around seems like it has the customer’s best interest at heart. But as the same pundit pointed out earlier, every other airline had the same rules. It seems as if JetBlue was simply unprepared for this eventuality. Too bad there aren’t any pleasure planes or air barges to ferry JetBlue passengers to their destinations.

What do you think of JetBlue’s actions? Customer-centric or not?

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Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


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