JetBlue Makes a Weather Delay Bearable


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Last week, Patty Seybold, Fanny Wong, Meg Lewis, and I completed a rewarding, but exhausting, Customer Co-Design Session in Florida for a long-time client. Happy, but bone weary, we arrived at the airport to discover that our flights were all delayed. Although Fanny and I were on the same flight, Meg and Patty had different destinations than we did and were booked on different flights. But Fanny and I, as well as Meg, were all flying JetBlue, and, conveniently, out of the same gate.

Originally scheduled for 4:30 pm, when we arrived about 3 pm, Fanny and my flight to Boston was posted as being delayed until 5:50 pm. Meg’s flight to La Guardia was scheduled for 6 pm and no delay was indicated. Hmm, I wondered, how can two flights so close together leave from the same gate? In addition, we noticed that there was an aircraft at the gate waiting, but we didn’t know which flight it was for.

A few minutes later, we saw that the Boston flight was now scheduled for 6:05 pm—not a good trend. Wearily, we sat down, happily found outlets for our computers, and reluctantly went back to work. (Okay, Fanny and Meg worked. I was playing a game.)

Just as we were starting to get antsy, a JetBlue gate agent came on the sound system to update us. And, although the news wasn’t great, the update was.

I’ll paraphrase here:

“Hello JetBlue flyers. I’m Marian, and with me at the desk is Isabel. You probably noticed that the flight to Boston is delayed. That’s because, although the weather here and in Boston is clear, there is bad weather on our alternate routes. We try to fly directly on the coast, but we have to have alternate routes in case there is a problem, and the first alternate is further out over the Atlantic. But there are storms there, so we look to our second alternate route, which is a bit inland, but there are weather problems from Maryland to New York, which makes that route difficult. Your aircraft is here and waiting, and your flight team is arriving now, so as soon as we can, we will be able to leave. I’m really sorry about the delay, but I will keep you informed as we have more information and try to get you to Boston as quickly as it is safe to do so.”

I have always promoted honesty and full disclosure to customers when things go wrong (see my 2009 article, “Let Your Customers Be Part of the Solution”). And Marian at JetBlue did exactly that. She set our expectations, made it personal by giving us her and her associate’s name, and she took the anxiety of the unknown out of the equation by promising updates. And, as Meg pointed out, this “full disclosure” was succinct and from our viewpoint — she answered questions that mattered to passengers (why is the flight delayed? what should I be doing now?) without throwing in details we didn’t care about or using only airline lingo. She also spoke very clearly and had a good microphone — which helped cut through the general noise in the area.

And, indeed, she fulfilled her promise. As Fanny, Meg, and I were wondering about Meg’s flight to New York, Marian came back on the speakers to say, and, again, I paraphrase, “Those of you flying to New York have probably figured out that you are also delayed by the weather. So sit tight, and we’ll get you there once we get the Boston flight set.”

There were a few additional announcements from Marian, which were actually good news: “The weather is clearing up, and the Boston flight will now leave at 5:50 pm.” And then one more very welcome message: “We’ve now been pushed up to a 5:26 departure, so we’re going to begin boarding real soon. Thanks for your patience.”

As I boarded, I made it a point to thank both Marian and Isabel for keeping us so well informed. They both smiled brightly and said that they appreciated my gratitude.

It doesn’t take a lot to turn a bad situation into a customer-bonding moment. It helped that the news kept getting better over time, not worse. So when the two-hour delay became only one hour, we were actually delighted! (Of course that one required the weather to oblige.) But, by keeping us informed, telling us the whole story, and making themselves accessible to us by providing their names, Marian and Isabel became voices we wanted to hear from and that we trusted. And, by extension, they deepened our relationship with JetBlue.

What they did was easy to do. But sometimes companies worry about providing too much information to customers and make it difficult to allow front-line personnel to offer full disclosure. But it is that full disclosure, provided in a “we’re in this together” context that encourages loyalty and write ups like this.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ronni Marshak
Patricia Seybold Group
Ronni Marshak co-developed Patricia Seybold Group's Customer Scenario® Mapping (CSM) methodology with Patricia Seybold and PSGroup's customers. She runs the CSM methodology practice, including training, certification, and licensing. She identifies, codifies, and updates the recurring patterns in customers' ideal scenarios, customers' moments of truth, and customer metrics that she discovers across hundreds of customer co-design sessions.


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