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JetBlue Still Dealing With Fallout From Captain's Meltdown

Posted by Mark J. Miller on April 3, 2012 11:04 AM

When JetBlue Airways captain Clayton Osbon started wigging out aboard Flight 191 to Las Vegas last week and saying a long list of odd, disturbing stuff that resulted in him being wrestled to the floor by passengers and the flight crew, nobody was really too concerned immediately about what it meant to the JetBlue brand. After all, there was the safety of a flight full of passengers, a crew, and a man who was having an unfortunate and unbelievable meltdown.

Now, while prosecutors are aiming to get Osbon (who's facing criminal charges) held without bail and his wife released a statement via the airline, the questions are popping up on just how Osbon ended up being approved to fly by the company and if JetBlue has procedures and training in place for such things.

CNNMoney observed how the company snapped into damage-control mode with Dave Barger, the airline’s CEO, going on NBC’s “Today” show the day after the incident to discuss the whole issue and how well JetBlue’s employees had handled the situation.

"That was a real team effort at 35,000 feet yesterday," Barger said on the show. The airline also used its blog to answer the top 10 questions coming in from consumers, such as what the airline had done for passengers on the flight (a refund for the one-way ticket, a voucher worth twice their original ticket, and support from the airline’s Care Team) and whether pilots needed to get regular health checkups (annually for the under-40s, twice year for all the old folks above 40).

CNN noted commenters on JetBlue’s blog questioning, initially, whether the whole thing was a “medical situation,” as the airline claimed, or a “security situation.” JetBlue responded on its blog: “Initial reports indicated that Flight 191 was diverting to Amarillo due to a medical situation. As the events unfolded, it became clear that security was also an element of this episode, but not the overriding issue in our opinion,” the post says. “The FBI has said terrorism is not a factor in this incident.”’

JetBlue, to its credit, followed up with a series of blog posts and used its social channels to keep passengers informed about the incident and its aftermath.

It no doubt raised memories of the publicity back in 2010 when flight attendant Steven Slater flipped out and exited the plane on one of the emergency chutes (with two Blue Moon beers) after tendering his resignation over the in-flight PA system.

Tim Calkins, professor of marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, told CNN that if yet another employee loses his or her mind so publicly, it could create a real problem for JetBlue: "The leadership team at JetBlue has to be concerned, in the sense that a series of incidents can create negative perceptions." Your thoughts?

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