JetBlue have been undergoing a little turbulence of late – from being perceived as the high watermark of budget airlines their reputation has dipped and then revived, all thanks to an irate employee’s sudden departure, his elevation to folk hero on the internet and an outburst of ire at JetBlue’s response via their previously impeccable social networking from, seemingly, pretty much anyone who cared to look into the story.
Ever since flight attendant Steven Slater swore at a passenger over the PA, grabbed a beer and descended to the tarmac at JFK airport down the emergency chute, the entire internet has been leading the response, whilst JetBlue’s corporate arm squashed the company’s previously golden child social networking department’s ability to respond. JetBlue were caught between a rock and a hard place. The brand was powerless, trapped in the headlights of an extreme action, one which captured the global wave and birthed another fabulous internet nobody.
For a while, it seemed like JetBlue had been revealed to be wearing a fur coat but no knickers – after all, although they were right to withdraw support from a panicky attendant, they could have so easily done it with grace on the internet. There is always a need to balance the ‘must do’ corporate PR with the caring embrace the stressed out Slater clearly needed. Despite having the whole of the web against them, it took the corporate arm of the company quite a while to retreat and allow their message to match that of the social media that had previously allowed the company to appear to be a cut above companies like Ryanair.
Simply, they learned, the hard way, what most PR savvy brands have to know; you must have a plan in place to survive incidents like this or you’ll lose the image that you’ve so carefully nurtured by looking like a corporate dinosaur. All brands are fumbling around with social media wise up at the moment and are having to work out ways to plan for the unexpected – how does one plan to deal with a modern-day everyman hero like Slater, who channelled the collective frustration of working people everywhere by doing something so unexpectedly decisive? Of course, duty of care is vital, but so is the careful continuation of the brand’s narrative, alongside a serious dose of blue sky thinking – something all good airlines should really be adept at.
After the initial hiccup, however, JetBlue came back with a graceful blog post: :it wouldn’t be fair for us to point out absurdities in other corners of the industry without acknowledging when it’s about us. Well, this week’s news certainly falls into that category. Perhaps you heard a little story about one of our flight attendants? While we can’t discuss the details of what is an ongoing investigation, plenty of others have already formed opinions on the matter. Like, the entire Internet. (The reason we’re not commenting is that we respect the privacy of the individual. People can speak on their own behalf; we won’t do it for them.)
“While this episode may feed your inner Office Space, we just want to take this space to recognize our 2,300 fantastic, awesome and professional Inflight Crewmembers for delivering the JetBlue Experience you’ve come to expect of us.”
Sometimes the best response to a potential PR disaster is a couple of well-written paragraphs that wink at the reader without giving too much away. JetBlue certainly pulled on a sturdy pair of knickers at the last minute.