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Chadwick: Jet Blue – The New Corporate Paradigm

Friday, 26 Feb 2010 | 9:23 AM ET

It seems that almost everyone likes JetBlue and some people even claim to love the company. As well they should. JetBlue has taken the bad name out of flying and is proof positive that no condition in business is too dire to turn around.

The first sentence of JetBlue’s Customer Bill of Rights(How many companies even have a Customer Bill of Rights?) says it all. “Above all else, JetBlue Airways is dedicated to bringing humanity back to air travel.” What a bold and daring statement for an airline to make.

And to its credit, JetBlue has indeed brought the humanity back to what has become an almost excruciatingly unpleasant experience – the attempt to get from one place to another by air.

Several days ago, as I planned to fly on JetBlue on a short round trip to Florida, I took note of an alert on the company’s website. It was a recommendation that because JetBlue “had just completed transitioning to a new reservation system, wait times and line at the airport might be longer than usual.” They suggested I get to the airport two hours before the flight.

JetBlue Terminal
Getty Images
JetBlue Terminal

That meant getting to JFK at 6:15am rather than 7:15am. I followed their advice. But I need not have. The system for checking in was efficient and pleasant. It has been designed so that the traveler, increasingly a media/technology savvy individual, can handle everything – from checking in, to putting one’s own luggage on the conveyer, to changing a seat, to deciding if one would like to spend $25 extra to get a bit more leg room. The people who are there to help are friendly and jovial.

Within ten minutes of arriving at the terminal, my luggage was checked and I had completed security clearance. I had plenty of time to get a cup of tea and enjoy the laid-back, almost college campus atmosphere of JetBlue’s giant terminal. Efficient cafeterias offered healthful selections that included organic quinoa and Mediterranean pickles. The choices seemed endless.

Everything about JetBlue is different from all the other airlines, and that’s what makes it so wonderful. The very egalitarianism of its seat configuration makes for an ambience of camaraderie. No cordoned off section called First Class where drinks are free and food is served. On JetBlue’s airplanes, entertainment is the substitute for differentiated classes and differentiated treatment. And everyone loves entertainment.

Yesterday, on my return flight to JFK, I watched curling at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Stephen Colbert doing his Vancouverage, Wolf Blitzer on CNN and Bill O’Reilly on Fox. All in the space of two hours and it was live. By the time I landed, I was relaxed and entertained. Admittedly, my book, Game Change, lay unread on my lap.

The flight attendants on JetBlue flights are not only friendly, they are comedians in training or better. Each one of them brings his or her own sense of humor to their communication, from telling jokes to suggesting that someone come and take over their position because they would prefer to stay in Florida and not head into what will be another giant snowstorm in New York.

Okay, there are a few inconveniences. The seats don’t go back very far which makes the normally compulsory nap a bit less enjoyable, but watching Stephen Colbert kept me from getting remotely sleepy.

I am sure that there are plenty of people who have a complaint or two or even more about JetBlue, and yes, I can admit to some long delays when I wanted to speak to an agent because of weather problems. And there are probably many who will never forget the harrowing experience of 2007 when over 1000 JetBlue flights had to be cancelled because of a snowstorm. That event itself would have killed a lesser company. But it didn’t kill JetBlue. The company learned from its mistake and has grown and today a still growing transcontinental success story.

Good companies are not created out of thin air. They are built by individuals – people with a vision and with leadership. The top management at JetBlue has changed since its inception in 2000, but what each new CEO has done is continue to foster through the company’s employees the culture of ‘bringing humanity back to air travel.”

Thank you, JetBlue.

p.s. In the interest of full disclosure, I have never met any one of the management of JetBlue nor have I every owned the stock of the company.

p.p.s. Isn’t this the kind of company that Warren Buffet should love?

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Patricia W. Chadwick has had more than 35 years of investment experience. She is the founder and president of Ravengate Partners LLC, a consulting firm that provides advice on financial markets and global economics.

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