If You Can’t Laugh At Yourself, Who Can You Laugh At?

August 23rd, 2010 by Rob Goodman

By now we’ve all heard about the JetBlue flight attendant, Steven Slater, who apparently had had enough of the rude passengers and bailed out on his plane by deploying the emergency slide on the runway to walk away from his job. Not to be caught empty-handed he even had the nerve to take a few beers with him. Kind of reminds me of the scene from the movie Network where actor Peter Finch opens up his office window and shouts “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” Steven appears to be the classic anti-hero in this tale and his legend seems to have grown day-by-day. There’s even a Facebook page devoted to this story and it reportedly got over 20,000 Facebook fans in less than a week.

A quick check online came up with a wide variety of stories in such outlets as Forbes, Chief Marketer, TMZ, andABCnews.com. There are tons of other sites (business, general news, airlines, blogs, etc.) that have covered the news but what I find interesting is how JetBlue has handled the situation.

In today’s media-centric, 24×7 news cycle world, reputations and opinions can be severely tarnished if the wrong message gets out. For example BP made a number of mistakes with how they approached the fiasco of the leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico.

JetBlue, a relative newcomer on the corporate scene in the world of aviation, could have taken a hard-line approach by reprimanding or firing Steven. While the airline would have been completely justified I’m sure public opinion would somehow be swayed to provide support to him. My feeling is that almost any company would have taken this approach. However, as soon as I heard how JetBlue was approaching the issue, one company came to mind: Southwest Airlines.

Southwest has always been known as a company that approaches customer service, at least during the in-flight service, as light-hearted. Pilots sharing humorous flight plan information over the intercom, flight attendants who sing, etc. It sets a tone for fun and makes flying, which isn’t the easiest of tasks, more enjoyable.

Following suit is JetBlue, an airline known to take a unique approach to managing an airline and providing amenities for customers who seem to remain quite loyal. In fact JetBlue was the highest ranked airlines in the 13the Annual Loyalty Leaders poll. JetBlue’s blog entry on August 11 poked fun at the situation, went out of its way to praise its entire in-flight crew members, and generally diffused the situation. For a potentially huge crisis situation, JetBlue’s self-effacing approach appears to have paid off.

What about you? How have you dealt with crisis management issues? How did you go about protecting your company’s brand image?

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