This is the story of how my tweet cost JetBlue $99,342 but saved them millions.
If you want the entire saga of how JetBlue massively screwed up, failed to communicate, and then tried to screw over 150 people, read my post about the JetBlue Flight 278 Fiasco. Instead of re-living a pretty shitty 20-hour ordeal, this post is about how a quick tweet helped me and 149 other people get a fair deal from JetBlue.
San Francisco International Airport. October 17, 2012. 150 people (including about a dozen children under the age of 10) have just boarded a JetBlue flight that’s already been delayed over an hour. We push back from the gate, very slowly roll out to the runway, and then proceed to sit on the tarmac for 20-30 minutes without any explanation. The captain finally explains that there’s “an issue” and that we have to return to the gate – which we do. 150 exhausted people now get off the plane. It’s after 1:30 AM.
We’re told that our flight crew is not legal to fly and that they’re trying to build a crew that’s legal. Hmmm…interesting… Also curious that we were literally 30 seconds from breaking federal law and taking off. Curious how this massive mistake wasn’t 1) foreseen & avoided and 2) wasn’t known before 150 and a full crew got out on the runway.
What Happened Next
So 150 people swarm the JetBlue desk at Terminal A12 to get answers. I opt out of that route knowing that I wouldn’t get anywhere quickly. About 10 people get on the phone with the JetBlue customer service line (we’re told to call 1-800-JetBlue…thanks for the direct line!) and I keep an ear on how their conversations are going. I decide to sit down and try to think of an alternative way we could make progress…
My brain couldn’t help but wander…especially since I seem to have a talent for being in this exact situation (bad weather had recently almost cost me 12 hours to and from Boston for a conference I was speaking at that I nearly missed…not fun) and I couldn’t help but laugh at the situation for a moment.
Folks were really upset and understandably a little panicked. They were naturally focused on taking care of themselves and their families. But then I saw a bigger picture. Together we were much stronger than we were individually and folks were forgetting that in the frustration of the experience. Suddenly I remembered that my buddy Greg had recently successfully negotiated with an airline over a bad flight experience. I emailed him instantly seeking advice but knowing that he was asleep ( it was 3:30 am his time) I didn’t expect an answer any time soon.
So I did what any moron could do… I just f*#king Googled it. The very first article I found gave a few obvious suggestions like talking to the ticket counter, calling the hotline but ultimately suggested filing a formal complaint and then finally seeking legal counsel. I had completely forgotten that formal complaints (in addition to things like lost bags and other metrics) were published every month and had a huge financial impact on airlines.
Now I had an idea and it had also become clear that JetBlue wasn’t going to take care of us.
I quickly found the monthly report and saw that in July 2012 JetBlue had 23 complaints out of 2,789,266 “enplanements” (number of passengers who get on a plane). I realized that if all 150 members of my flight complained, that it would take JetBlue nearly 18.2 million additional complaint-less enplanements to get back to their July average of 0.82 complaints per 100,000 enplanements. So even if I could only get 10 of my fellow passengers to formally complain, my gut told me that a 43% increase in complaints would not go unnoticed by shareholders (and therefore the JetBlue board). Now it was time to validate my idea.
I walked up to a group of my fellow passengers who were on the phone with JetBlue and asked them if they were getting anywhere (they weren’t) and told them my idea. They were on board. Sweet – I had my first followers, my early adopters. Then I went to the guy who was most pissed off at the counter and told him my idea. He literally grabbed me and brought to the manager on call (Troy) and yelled out to everyone “we need to listen to this guy – he’s got a plan.” I calmly explained what we as a group had the ability to do. He understood the idea instantly, realized how screwed the situation was, and talked around in circles for a moment. I suggested that he get his boss’ boss out of bed and that someone with a little authority get us a new flight attendant, on our plane, and to our destination while we were only 3 or so hours delayed. Now I had leverage.
Unfortunately, Troy’s hands were tied or maybe he just afraid to take the steps it would have taken to make the situation better. So our plane sat outside as the crew left the terminal to go sleep in a hotel – a luxury that we wouldn’t be afforded. I’ve slept on many airport floors and this time I had an airplane pillow and coarse wool blanket so this was definitely a step above what we would do in Europe one summer when spending money on beer took a higher priority than a decent hostel. Anyway, I was fine, but we had a very elderly couple (he was a vet actually) who were a little confused, and very uncomfortable after several hours in airport wheelchairs. We also had several families (including a pregnant woman) with young children. We also had a bunch of folks headed to a wedding in the Bahamas. Both the best-man and the person performing the ceremony were on my flight. While they didn’t know another, they became friends during our ordeal!
The bottom line is that we were in a shitty situation and JetBlue was basically doing nothing to make it better. So I did what you do and tweeted – an action that would cost JetBlue nearly $100,000 but probably saved them millions.
Below is the tweet that kicked things off and immediately got the attention of the person running the social media accounts.
Interesting…whoever controls the twitter account looked me up and found out what flight I was on…
At this point, I started collecting email addresses from my fellow passengers so we could stay in touch and formally complain together!
Some folks were given $8 in vouchers… I was given $18 ($8 for breakfast & $10 fo lunch). Thanks…
Turns out I’m not from Florida…but whatever.
But I wasn’t alone. Below are a few tweets from other folks on my flight…
Not surprisingly, I received a call 2 days later. I was awarded many apologies, a refund on my SFO->FLL leg, a voucher worth my entire round-trip, another $50 voucher (the prior insult), and a total of $18 in meal vouchers. I guess I got a free sprite and some animal crackers out of the deal too…
After nearly 2 weeks of chaos, just about everyone else seems to have finally gotten the same deal I did.
Here’s what I got:
$148.80 (refund) + $513.48 (total vouchers) = $662.28 total amount reimburse for what I originally paid only $297.60.
Multiplied by the 150 passengers on my flight, JetBlue lost $99,342 because of a simple mistake. This number doesn’t include the overtime for the ticket folks, wasted fuel, loading the plane 2x, hotels for the crew, probably over 50 hours of talk time for the customer service call center, cost to brand & customer loyalty…etc, which would definitely tip this total into the 6-figure mark.
I guess the upside for JetBlue is that 150 people didn’t complain… and while their October complaint numbers might not be stellar, at least Wall Street won’t over-react (the only thing that traders do) and dump their JetBlue shares, causing the price to suddenly drop and a lot of questions to be asked about Flight 278.
Bottom Line: Don’t underestimate the power your customers can have over you. You’re better off doing backflips to please people when you screw up than pissing them off.