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JetBlue Leadership Stares Down Crisis
In a time where being a victim and the "blame game" has become popular, JetBlue CEO Dave Neeleman stood and acknowledged failure after JetBlue Airways Corporation (JBLU) experienced its worst operational failure in its seven year history. 

Failure and embarrassment are not words that areJetBlue CEO Dave Neeleman often found in the lexicon of leaders.  Yet there is an important lesson in leadership provided by Neeleman of JetBlue.  When the words “failure” and “embarrassment” are combined with accountability and contrition, leadership is empowered.

The crisis began February 14, when snow and extreme temperatures in New York froze equipment and grounded the company's planes at JetBlue's terminal at JFK Airport.  Passengers were stuck inside a JetBlue aircraft for nearly 10 1/2 hours. The extreme weather caused delays and led to the cancellation of 1,096 flights, affecting more than 100,000 passengers. JetBlue executives estimate the problems will cost it about $30 million.

It would have been easy for Neeleman to blame the weather.  The weather was clearly the initial problem but Neeleman acknowledged JetBlue’s failure to deal with jetblue Ariwaysthe weather.  He called the crisis "obviously...the most difficult time our history." The predicament exposed operational flaws in the company including many pilots and flight crews being stuck in places other than where they were needed.  JetBlue didn't have a system in place to reroute its stranded flight crews and was slow to acknowledge the severity of the weather. Neeleman, acknowledged his company’s failure, "What we did was wrong and we didn't have a plan." He called last week a "somber" time.


JetBlue’s experience with delays and stranding passengers on a runway isn’t unique.  According to the Washington Post, in 1999, a Northwest plane sat in Detroit for 11 hours. Last December, American Airlines had several planes grounded in Austin, Texas for up to nine hours. But the JetBlue leader’s  reaction and handling of the crisis may be unique.

On Tuesday, the airline said it was fully operational and announced changes thatJetBlue customer bill of rightsNew York area who can aid the airline in a crisis and bolstering its reservation operations center.  Most importantly, Neeleman introduced a Customer’s Bill of Rights, sent its customers (including me) a letter of apology, printed an apology to customers in newspapers and posted his apology on YouTube.  I have included the letter of apology as I received it via email below.  More than just apologies, Neeleman has vowed “to pay, if we delay.” include a reserve force of employees in the

I have been delayed before and been stuck on the tarmac in a plane on other airlines.  While my experience was not 10 ½ hours, I never received an apaology from the CEO or any payment for my inconvenience.

The commitment to customer service starts at the top at JetBlue.  Neeleman’s leadership trickles down to all employees.  In a discussion thread about JetBlue, employees shared their commitment to serving JetBlue customers better in the wake of the metdown, “We, as crewmembers, believe in our company and our ability to turn this situation around to a positive change.”

Today I am flying JetBlue.  My flight to warm southern California may not tell me much about the JetBlue’s ability to deal with bad weather.  I do escpect the same cheerful and helpful service, leather seats and 30 or so channels of TV.  My guess is that the adversity of the crisis has made the Company stronger. If so, the leadership in its moment of crisis will have been the strengthening factor.

Letter received via email on February 21, 2007.




Dear JetBlue Customers,

We are sorry and embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry.

Last week was the worst operational week in JetBlue's seven year history. Following the severe winter ice storm in the Northeast, we subjected our customers to unacceptable delays, flight cancellations, lost baggage, and other major inconveniences. The storm disrupted the movement of aircraft, and, more importantly, disrupted the movement of JetBlue's pilot and inflight crewmembers who were depending on those planes to get them to the airports where they were scheduled to serve you. With the busy President's Day weekend upon us, rebooking opportunities were scarce and hold times at 1-800-JETBLUE were unacceptably long or not even available, further hindering our recovery efforts.

Words cannot express how truly sorry we are for the anxiety, frustration and inconvenience that we caused. This is especially saddening because JetBlue was founded on the promise of bringing humanity back to air travel and making the experience of flying happier and easier for everyone who chooses to fly with us. We know we failed to deliver on this promise last week.

We are committed to you, our valued customers, and are taking immediate corrective steps to regain your confidence in us. We have begun putting a comprehensive plan in place to provide better and more timely information to you, more tools and resources for our crewmembers and improved procedures for handling operational difficulties in the future. We are confident, as a result of these actions, that JetBlue will emerge as a more reliable and even more customer responsive airline than ever before.

Most importantly, we have published the JetBlue Airways Customer Bill of Rights—our official commitment to you of how we will handle operational interruptions going forward—including details of compensation. I have a video message to share with you about this industry leading action.

You deserved better—a lot better—from us last week. Nothing is more important than regaining your trust and all of us here hope you will give us the opportunity to welcome you onboard again soon and provide you the positive JetBlue Experience you have come to expect from us.  



David Neeleman
Founder and CEO
JetBlue Airways 

3 Comments/Trackbacks

» JetBlue Uses New Media to Reach Customers from Know More Media
JetBlue’s cancellation of more than 1,000 flights last week in the wake of the snow and extreme temperatures that froze equipment in New York cost the company an estimated $30 million and the certain loss of a number of customers. ... [Read More]

Sadly it would appear on the face of things that JetBlue's contrition wasn't enough to prevent a >22% slide in share price in the 6 months since you wrote this article.


Then again we will never know what could have happened to the stock had their leadership not tried so hard to get in front of the issue.

By doing this he proved that he knows the company's issues and that he's trying to solve them. I think it's a remarkable thing of him to admit their mistakes. You can't find this type of people nowadays.

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