It’s not been the most glittering few weeks for American aviation as a series of high-profile events have made even the most hardened traveller wonder why they bother. The airlines have taken the brunt of criticism with their seemingly hostile approach to ‘customer service’.
First, there was United Airlines and the infamous Dr David Dao incident. Then American Airlines, another of the Big Three U.S. carriers, got in on the act. Remember, the Flight Attendant who recently snatched a stroller from a passenger? The incident was only made worse when the Flight Attendant offered out a second passenger to a fight.
And finally, Delta Air Lines took flak for trying to throw two parents and their children off a flight. A Delta representative was captured on camera, warning the parents that their children could be taken into care if they didn’t comply. Whoah.
Fist Fights and Arguments
But passengers aren’t making the flying experience any better either. Fist fights and arguments have broken out on Delta and Southwest flights in the last few weeks. As flying gets both cheaper and more popular than ever, the conditions for the majority have only got worse.
Only last week, American Airlines announced it would squeezing, even more, seats onto some aircraft. And United Airlines joined AA earlier this year by introducing a ‘Basic Economy‘ product. Flying is stressful, tempers are getting frayed and we haven’t even mentioned the airline computer outages yet.
Bob Ross, President of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), places the blame squarely with the airlines. Ross represents the 25,000 Flight Attendants who work for American Airlines and says they “strive every day to make the passenger experience the best in the industry.” But this has become “more challenging due to tight schedules, overcrowded planes, shrinking seats, and limited overhead bin space.”
jetBlue is Bucking the Trend
Luckily, there’s one airline at least that is bucking the trend in American aviation. jetBlue, the New York-based low-cost carrier has grown to become the 6th largest airline in the United States with a mission to bring humanity back to air travel.
With over 100 destinations in its network, 1,000 daily flights and 38 million annual passengers, the airline has built a reputation for friendly service and a solid product – All in just 17 years since its inception in 2000. Now, jetBlue has focus cities in New York, Boston, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Los Angeles/Long Beach, Orlando and San Juan and plans to extend its reach to even more Americans.
So what’s the big deal? Maybe it’s the fact that jetBlue offers on average the most legroom in Economy/Coach than any other big U.S. airline. Or perhaps it’s the free in-flight wi-fi. It could even be the seatback television screens with up to 36 channels of free entertainment. And then there’s the free snacks and soft drinks that passengers can help themselves to.
J.D. Power Survey Scores jetBlue Big
For Business passengers, the carrier has its owned product called jetBlue Mint. Somehow, they’ve managed to squeeze private suites with 6’8″ lie flat seats into their all narrow body fleet of aircraft. Passengers enjoy upgraded dining options, free alcoholic drinks and even espresso-based coffee.
It seems like the investment and attention to detail is paying off. jetBlue scored big in the recent J.D. Power survey of airline customer satisfaction. In the low-cost carrier category, the airline ranked second with a score of 803 out of 1,000 – just pipped to the post by Southwest Airlines who scored 807.
jetBlue made strides in six out of seven factors used to judge the survey: Cost & fees; in-flight services; aircraft; boarding/deplaning/baggage; flight crew; check-in; and reservation. The airline’s score was well above the industry average of 756 – although even that is at a 30-year high (and the survey took place before recent controversial incidents).
A Cabinet Full of Trophies
The J.D. Power survey wasn’t alone in thinking highly of jetBlue. Most recently, the airline has won a Top Ten place in the first annual TripAdvisor Travellers Choice Awards for airlines. And it also ranked Number one in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) for air travel.
It’s Not Just Passengers That Benefit
But it’s not just jetBlue passengers that are benefiting. For the third year in a row, the airline took a Top 20 position in the Forbes ‘America’s Best Employers of 2017’ List. Overall, jetBlue placed 12th and in the ‘transportation and logistics’ category, the carrier took the top spot.
jetBlue says the award shows its “commitment to maintaining a values-driven culture and keeping a close eye on engagement.” Robin Hayes, president and CEO commented: “Our people are the heart of the special culture of caring that we cherish. Our customers feel that—and it’s what they love about JetBlue.”
It sounds good but landing a job with jetBlue doesn’t come easy. With the airline receiving over 145,000 job applications last year, only 3% candidates were eventually chosen to represent the airline. For those lucky enough to make the grade, jetBlue promises “plenty of opportunities for crewmembers to be part of the company’s mission of inspiring humanity.”
But Will jetBlue Cut Costs to Improve Profits?
Not that life at jetBlue is all plain sailing. Operating income in the first quarter of 2017 dropped 57.9% compared to the same period last year. That’s been put down to falling revenues per passenger as operating costs rise 15% and fuel expenses increase by 44.1%.
Hayes has said the airline is actively working on ‘initiatives’ to improve performance. He commented: “We remain focused on executing the many initiatives we have underway to improve returns and drive shareholder value. In the near-term, we took quick actions in the first quarter,”
He continued: “We have been encouraged by the initial results of those actions and expect to see further improvement in the second quarter.”
The trick now will be to reduce costs and improve profits, while at the same time maintaining, if not improving customer satisfaction.