JetBlue’s Management Meltdown

CEO David Neeleman pledged to “bring humanity back to air travel” through a combination of common sense with innovation and technology when he founded JetBlue Airways in 1999. “All travelers should have access to high-quality airline service at affordable fares,” Neeleman told the authors of “JetBlue Airways: Starting from Scratch,” a business case written in 2001 for Harvard Business School.

So much for an old promise. Prices remain affordable, but the high quality of airline service vanished at JetBlue when a massive ice storm hit the eastern U.S. on Valentine’s Day. Unlike its competitors, JetBlue is adverse to cancel flights when bad weather strikes, but its obstinance resulted in the stranding of thousands of passengers in terminals and hundreds sitting for hours on airplanes. Neeleman offers a new promise: a passenger’s bill of rights. But he needs to do more, and take a hard look at how the company manages IT to help ensure that such a blunder doesn’t occur again.

Among the information management challenges JetBlue faces:

  • Creating a workable system that not only tracks the whereabouts of crew and other personnel, but assigns them to tasks where and when needed. “I had flight attendants sitting in hotel rooms for three days who couldn’t get a hold of us,” Neeleman told The New York Times. “I had pilots e-mailing me saying, ‘I’m available, what do I do?'”
  • Upgrading the online and call-center reservation system to handle passenger inquiries that scales to meet peak periods when problems such as severe weather occurs. Neeleman said he will require reservation agents to work longer hours when problems arise.
  • Training personnel to use existing and new systems smartly.

    JetBlue is a company with a big heart, and a workforce that wants to do right. A bit of clever use of IT can help the airline do just that.

    What information management steps do you feel JetBlue should to take to avoid such a calamity? Send us your thoughts.

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