JetBlue says customer service “embedded in the core” leads to airline profits

By | September 25th, 2009

t5A few weeks ago, I asked Michelle Hansen, JetBlue’s director of customer support operations, if I could interview her about customer service issues. She later asked Morgan Johnston, JetBlue’s manager of corporate communications, to field my questions. Here are their answers.

JetBlue is one of only a few domestic airlines that doesn’t charge for the first checked bag. You’ve also gone easy on other fees. I’m a little confused. I thought passenger had embraced a la carte pricing. Why are you holding back, when you could be making more money?

You can’t put a price on customer loyalty and creating a unique travel experience. That’s what we do here at JetBlue by providing amenities we think of as standard and core to your travel experience. We’ve created a value product where our customers can experience 36 channels of DirecTV, 100 channels of XM Radio, unlimited drinks and [without] paying extra. However, should a customer choose to upgrade their experience, for an additional charge, we offer our Even More Legroom seats, first run movies with JetBlue Features, or specialty beverages.

For the majority of our customers, checking a bag is a normal part of their flying experience and one we feel it’s important to protect. Those customers who do request to check more than the one standard checked bag, we will accommodate with an additional fee. In the end, we believe that offering these free amenities will result in greater dividends than if we were to nickel and dime our customers.

You offer a promotion — I’m not really sure if promotion is the right word — called the JetBlue Promise, that offers a refund for people who lose their jobs. At a time when the airline industry is itself on the brink, why cut your passengers a break? Isn’t this a time to be strictly enforcing your nonrefundability rules?

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We actually believe the Promise Program presented an incentive for our customers to travel and therefore drive revenue. In an economic environment where consumers may have reconsidered their travel plans, offering protection in the event of unforeseen job loss gives people the assurance they just might need to take a trip.

Let me ask you about tarmac delays. There’s a big push in Washington for a turn-around rule after three hours on the tarmac. JetBlue has a Customer Bill of Rights that provides compensation for long delays. Why is a voluntary Bill of Rights more effective than legislation?

We’re proud of our Customer Bill of Rights and the protection it provides our customers in the event of controllable delays. Because of our intimate familiarity with our airports and their traffic patterns, we believe we’re in the best position to understand the limits of the system and take care of our customers. A blanket policy won’t fit the hundreds of different airports across the country and could even lead to more cancelled flights if they’re required to return to the gate instead of waiting a few more minutes for takeoff.

Apart from the Bill of Rights, what customer service policies have you put in place since the Valentine’s Day ice storm of 2007, in which several JetBlue flights were stuck on the ground in New York?