Like most airlines today, providing a positive customer experience is at the forefront of JetBlue’s priorities. However, the New York-based carrier seeks to take travel to a higher level with its mission to "inspire humanity."
JetBlue began service on Feb. 11, 2000, with the founding mission of “bringing humanity back to air travel.” Its product offering aimed to set the airline ahead of the competition and consisted of leather seats with more legroom, unlimited snacks and drinks, and television screens on every seatback.
Fast forward 17 years, the “JetBlue Experience” still offers the features that made the airline a success in its early days. However, today, customers also enjoy free Wi-Fi and can select seats with additional legroom through the airline’s Even More Space seating option. The airline also offers business class, called Mint, on some routes.
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On the ground, as in the air, the airline always seeks to improve the customer experience and has recently rolled out self-service “lobbies” in some airports. A trial in Boston, Massachusetts, is also underway to test a biometric self-boarding program that permits customers to board just by having their picture taken.
The airline’s mission of inspiring humanity isn’t limited to its customers. It also extends to its 21,000 employees (referred to as crewmembers) and also the communities it serves. A visit to the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) section of the airline’s website gives a glimmer of how dedicated the airline is to the concept of giving back.
JETBLUE CHANGED IN-FLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT FOREVER WHEN IT FIRST PUT LIVE TELEVISION AT EVERY SEAT. NOW, CUSTOMERS ALSO ENJOY ALWAYS-FREE AND SPEEDY WI-FI CONNECTIVITY ON EVERY AIRCRAFT FROM THE DEPARTURE GATE TO THE ARRIVAL GATE. JETBLUE’S FLY- FI®, WHICH CLOCKS IN AT BROADBAND SPEEDS, KEEPS CUSTOMERS CONNECTED WITH AN INTERNET EXPERIENCE SIMILAR TO WHAT THEY HAVE AT HOME, INCLUDING THE ABILITY TO STREAM VIDEO AND USE MULTIPLE DEVICES AT ONCE.
To illustrate the diverse nature of the airline’s CSR initiatives, two years ago, the 24,000-square-foot “T5 Farm” opened at JetBlue’s Terminal 5 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. This is JetBlue’s unique way to promote urban agriculture, supply local schoolchildren with a living laboratory about healthy food, give free produce to crewmembers and add a literal green space to the customer experience.
In addition to 25 other types of vegetables grown on the farm, the airline’s intention was to produce 1,000 pounds of blue potatoes per harvest to use in TERRA Blues potato chips, which are served on JetBlue flights. Volunteers, such as JetBlue crewmembers and children, get to keep much of the produce from the farm. Extra food is donated to a New York food bank.
JetBlue crewmembers can work on the farm on Fridays to “decompress” from the stresses of work and life in general, as well as give back to their community. Moreover, children are encouraged to visit the farm and learn about gardening and growing fresh produce.
In a recent interview with Ascend, JetBlue President and Chief Executive Officer Robin Hayes shared his views on how enhancing the customer and crewmember experience is at the heart of the airline’s success.
JetBlue: Day In The Life
Question: Employees are among any company’s most valuable asset. How do you keep your crewmembers engaged and happy? How does this reflect onto your customers?
Answer: We have a very special culture at JetBlue, which is based around our five values: safety, caring, integrity, passion and fun. These values have existed since the airline was formed more than 17 years ago, so they’re ingrained in everything we do.
When crewmembers join the airline, the first thing they do is attend orientation at JetBlue University in Orlando, Florida, where they hear about our values and what they mean to us. It’s really powerful to give our crewmembers the flexibility to use our values as their compass ... as a way of helping them make the right decisions. Our crewmembers are empowered to make decisions that are aligned with our values, and that’s what creates the JetBlue that is seen – and appreciated – by our customers.
JETBLUE’S 24,000-SQUARE-FOOT T5 FARMS PRODUCES MORE THAN 25 TYPES OF VEGETABLES THAT ARE PLANTED AND CARED FOR BY VOLUNTEER JETBLUE CREWMEMBERS AND LOCAL SCHOOL CHILDREN. VOLUNTEERS ARE GIVEN THE VEGETABLES DURING HARVEST, AND ALL EXTRA FOOD IS DONATED TO A NEW YORK FOOD BANK.
Q: JetBlue has undergone an extensive redesign of the airports it serves to enhance its customer experience. What are some of the expected benefits for customers?
A: We have already transformed our lobbies in seven of our key airports and are on track to have completed 12 by the end of this year. In addition to reducing wait times, one of the key benefits of this initiative is that the technology roll-out will enable our crewmembers to focus on what they do best, providing great hospitality and really caring for our customers.
Q: As part of the airline’s self-boarding and facial-recognition initiative, JetBlue has begun accepting “selfies” in place of traditional airline documentation. How does this work, and what benefits does it bring to your customers?
A: We’re always looking for new ways to make travel easier, and right now we’re collaborating with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in the United States to trial this technology for our Boston-Aruba flights. Customers who opt in can put away their boarding passes and mobile devices and just step up to a special camera for a quick photo. The picture then gets matched to passport, visa or immigration photos in the CBP database, and flight details are verified.
A screen above the camera notifies the customer when he or she is cleared to proceed to the jet bridge. This means our customers can spend less time in line, and our crewmembers have more time to spend taking care of our customers because there’s less transaction time involved.
JetBlue Facial Recognition
Q: If you could change something about the airline industry, what would it be, and why?
A: Top of my list is air-traffic-control reform. We have the best air traffic controllers in the world, but they work within a system that desperately needs modernization. We need state-of-the-art air traffic control, and our view is that the best way to get it is to create an independent not-for-pro t organization that is separate from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. We need this change now. We are facing increasing demand for travel, and to rely on technology that’s decades old will continue to result in longer delays and more cancellations, as well as have a harmful effect on economic growth.
BECAUSE JETBLUE VIEWS ITS CREWMEMBERS AS ONE OF ITS MOST VALUABLE ASSETS, THE NEW YORK-BASED COMPANY HAS INCORPORATED NUMEROUS INITIATIVES TO BRING VALUE TO THE LIVES OF ITS CREWMEMBERS. FOR EXAMPLE, ITS JETBLUE SCHOLARS PROGRAM PAYS FOR A GOOD PORTION OF COLLEGE FEES SO CREWMEMBERS CAN EARN A FULLY-ACCREDITED ASSOCIATE OR BACHELOR’S DEGREE. IN SEPTEMBER 2016, 50 CREWMEMBERS BECAME THE FIRST TO GRADUATE FROM THE COMPANY’S SCHOLASTIC PROGRAM.
Q: How do you continue to inspire humanity when things go wrong, such as delays and cancellations?
A: Although we strive to make sure things go as smoothly as possible for our customers, we’re in the airline business and know there can be times when things don’t go as planned. We felt it was important for customers to know what to expect from JetBlue when things go wrong, so we created our Customer Bill of Rights a decade ago. No other carrier has come close to matching it. The Bill of Rights gives our customers the peace of mind that if something goes wrong, we’ll make it right.
Q: In what ways has your airline been a pioneer in moving the aviation industry forward?
A: From the very beginning, we set out to do things differently. We chose to put people at the heart of everything the business would do. Before we even had an aircraft or knew where we’d y, we chose our values, and those really shaped the airline. From the start, we wanted a product that stood out. Amenities such as leather seats and seatback live television quickly helped JetBlue make a name for itself. With our unique culture and well thought-out products, I like to think that we’ve raised the bar for travel.
Q: Where do you see JetBlue in the next three to five years? In other words, how different do you expect your airline to look then versus today?
A: We only need to look as far as companies like Lyft and Airbnb to see how quickly industries can be disrupted by technology. To remain at the forefront of innovation, we created JetBlue Technology Ventures, a dedicated arm of the company looking for technologies and startups that can help us stay ahead.
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In particular, we invest in — and partner with — early stage startups that are at the intersection of technology, travel and hospitality. I don’t want to give the game away by saying what JetBlue will look like in three to five years, but with the current rate of change, I’m sure we — along with the entire industry — will look a bit different. I fully expect that JetBlue will continue as a leader of that change.