Among the many gripes travelers have with airlines, the number one bugaboo is customer service. Weaving our way through labyrinthine phone menus and sending e-mails off into the ether with no guarantee of a reply is the modus operandi for most carriers.
But jetBlue, the low-cost carrier that has been slowly expanding across the country since 1999, decided in 2007 that it would be all about transparency and communication--an idea that led the company to set up a 24/7 Twitter account to answer customer questions and deal with complaints. It's a friendly, wide-ranging back-and-forth banter that covers everything from passengers onboard complaining about delays to people asking which NFL team jetBlue roots for. So far, the @JetBlue Twitter feed has collected 1.6 million followers, along with 150,000 more for its cheap deals feed and more than 440,000 friends on Facebook.
"When we first started, it was just me not sleeping a whole lot," says Morgan Johnston, the only guy fielding the questions at jetBlue when tweeting first began. Now a social media team of 17 supports Johnston, manager of corporate communications. JetBlue initially tried mainly to advertise deals on Twitter, he says, but that strategy fell flat.
"So we asked our customers what they wanted to hear. And we listened. That's how we built our following," he says.
Not only has that following helped engender brand loyalty and trust, it also helped when crisis hit. When flight attendant Steven Slater cursed out passengers on the tarmac at Kennedy International Airport in New York before grabbing a couple of beers and exiting the aircraft via the evacuation slide, jetBlue took a few days before deciding on an appropriate response.
"We understood our reputation for being transparent, and it would have been the wrong action to try and ignore it," Johnston says.
Instead, the company came out with a short, tasteful and funny blog post mentioning the movie Office Space and praising its 2,300 other flight crew members who didn't wig out.
The first comment posted sums up the general reaction: "I love you jetBlue."
Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.