More Weather Woes Test JetBlue's Promises

by , Feb 27, 2007, 5:00 AM
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With a snowstorm on the East Coast forcing JetBlue to cancel more flights yesterday, fliers had a little more time to contemplate how well the carrier is doing in its massive brand-repair efforts.

A spokesman for the carrier said it was able to reach most fliers Sunday by phone, rather than having another chaotic scene at airports.

But the airline is still reeling from the biggest publicity disaster in its seven-year history, when a Valentine's Day storm forced the cancellation of more than 1,000 JetBlue flights and resulted in some truly, deeply miserable consumers--some of whom sat trapped on grounded airplanes for up to 10 hours.

Until now, JetBlue has managed to maintain "a kind of larger than life brand image," says Robert W. Mann, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based airline consultant.

"But in any service industry, a company's reputation is only as good as the customer's last experience. People won't forget quickly. Consumers will monitor JetBlue's performance very closely, and the airline is really going to have to walk the talk."

As part of its sweeping mea culpa last week, the company issued a Customer Bill of Rights, which has gotten the stamp of approval from marketing experts.

"JetBlue made some big mistakes, but they really stepped up to the plate," said Scott White, president, Brand Identity Guru of Boston. "They addressed those mistakes and put a program together that took care of those mistakes. They took care of their brand."

And consumers do seem to be chatting about it, in a good way. One online football message board, for example, had a long thread on the apologies--even amid debate about the looming NFL draft. "It may be the best company apology letter I've ever seen," wrote one poster. "This one had me wanting to schedule a flight with JB."

Going forward, however, Mann predicts problems with the Bill of Rights, which offers benefits in the face of "controllable irregularities."

Consumers may find that what they believe to be controllable differs from what JetBlue says is controllable. If JetBlue stands behind fuzzy legalese, it's toast," Mann said.

"Then, it's just like the rest of the airlines, and that's the spiral to the bottom. Then there's no more brand differentiation for them, and everything becomes about being the lowest-cost provider."

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