APOLOGY FLASHBACK: JetBlue

This is a corporate apology from a few months back, when JetBlue left hundreds of passengers stranded on planes and in airports due to canceled flights planes for an intolerable length of time due to a combination of bad weather, bad decision-making and poor planning.

Here is a summary from the New York Times.

Here is the apology from the JetBlue website:

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. Many of you were either stranded, delayed or had flights
canceled following the severe winter ice storm in the Northeast. 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 unusually 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 you, your family, friends and
colleagues experienced. 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. 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. We invite you to learn more at jetblue.com/promise.


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


Sincerely,



David Neeleman
Founder and CEO

So here we have another corporate apology. Let’s break it down. We have the CEO himself stepping up and signing his name to it. Good. The whole text reads as very customer-focused, which you would expect given JetBlue’s general reputation prior to this incident. Mr. Neeleman shows that he realizes JetBlue let its customers down by not living up to its own high standards, thereby causing passengers (and their “family, friends and colleagues — bonus!) great inconvenience, frustration and anxiety. It comes off quite sincere.

Part of a good apology is acknowledging what you did wrong and the pain or harm it caused to others. This apology does that well.

Where apologies often run off the rails is when the apologizer seeks to explain what went wrong or why he or she did the bad thing. That can easily veer off into making excuses. When apologizing for misbehavior such as, say, firing off a string of racial epithets at hecklers during a comedy set, it is best to keep the explanations to a minimum. Acknowledge you did wrong. Be contrite. Promise never to do it again. Sit down. We don’t need an explanation and you will probably just dig the hole you are in deeper.

But sometimes an explanation is required. In JetBlue’s case, the company didn’t intentionally strand their passengers. David Neeleman didn’t wake up one morning and say, “You know what would be a riot? Canceling all our flights at the last minute today! Oh the expression on those passenger’s faces will be hilarious!” It wasn’t a practical joke. It was a series of mistakes, a breakdown in the system that JetBlue passengers relied on to get them where they wanted to go. Now they’re all saying, “JetBlue, what happened? This isn’t like you.”

An explanation of the breakdown is called for and we see that in paragraph two. Then more apologizing and acknowledgizing (yes, I made that word up) in paragraph three: “Words cannot express how truly sorry we are … We know we failed to deliver on this promise last week.”

Paragraph four and five bring another key component of any apology, and especially a corporate apology: making it up to those who were harmed. The last third or so of this letter is not just promising to do better in the future, but offering some specifics on how JetBlue plans to improve and prevent another massive breakdown.

All in all, about as perfect an apology as you could ask for. Neeleman and JetBlue take responsibility for the distress they caused, admit they did not live up to their standards, express remorse, and have a plan for making it up to us and doing better in the future.

DATE OF APOLOGY: February 22, 2007
APOLOGIZER: David Neeleman, Founder and CEO, for JetBlue
APOLOGIZEE: JetBlue Customers