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JetBlue and the Regulator Perspective

Learn more about JetBlue and the regulator perspective.

JetBlue leadership wanted to ensure a great relationship with their governmental counterparts as they built and launched their airline. Their efforts led to an exceptional partnership for the first seven years of operations.

From the very beginning at JetBlue, in fact, before the airline even had a name, JetBlue leaders knew that they would need strong partnerships with a number of government agencies and elected officials to be successful. In particular, they would need a great partnership with the Federation Aviation Administration or FAA.

The process of building partnerships with these stakeholder groups, and learning directly from the individuals leading these organizations what they really wanted from JetBlue, not only helped deliver value to them during normal operations – which is pretty straight forward – but it also helped company leaders understand how this value might be threatened during irregular operations – the term used in the airline industry to describe situations when things weren’t running normally.

Considering these value propositions from the perspective of a crisis leader, it becomes easy to see how pre-crisis relationship building can help leaders expand their crisis-sensing network. Given the right emphasis, any stakeholders can help identify small, potential issues before they become significant issues. And while Regulators and government officials may not seem to be obvious partners in this capacity, they absolutely have the potential to be.

JetBlue’s colleagues at the FAA fully understood the airline’s business model, its operating philosophy, and company goals and objectives. They knew that company leaders would want to support customers however and whenever they could. They also knew that JetBlue leaders were totally committed to safety. It was, after all, one of the company’s core values – values that were discussed regularly with all company stakeholders. The FAA also knew, that JetBlue leaders knew, the role the FAA played in ensuring the safety of its customers.

Not surprisingly, when JetBlue leadership reached out to the FAA early on Valentine’s Day morning, as they were learning that the company’s attempts to operate were going to be pressured by the challenging weather, the FAA was expecting the call.

JetBlue leadership informed the FAA of what was going on and what the company was trying to do. They responded that while they were disappointed that the company hadn’t cancelled the schedule for the day – obviously the safest and easiest answer – they recognized it was a company choice, not theirs. They made it clear that they were standing by to help however they could and that they were working with Air Traffic Control and the Port Authority at JFK airport to keep things moving and airspace open.

What else could a company possibly want from its regulator?

As the day got longer and JetBlue began to have greater numbers of frustrated customers in its terminals – particularly the JFK terminal – and lengthening delays, with customers and crews sequestered to some extent on airplanes stuck on various taxiways around JFK, JetBlue opened a line to the FAA and kept it open. Operational leaders gave regulators continuous updates on progress and listened to their advice and guidance on how best to manage situations that could become safety issues. While the FAA didn’t exist to be an operating partner, they turned out to be quite supportive when they had safety information and recommendations to share.

By the end of the three-day operational crisis, JetBlue had, in fact, stranded several aircraft along with customers and crew on them for six hours or more on JFK taxiways. The primary reason for this was an inability to physically move these planes because the taxiways were so ice-covered that they couldn’t move on their own engine power. Similarly, tow vehicles and air stairs were unable to move for the same reason. JetBlue leaders just hadn’t foreseen this as a possibility. Nor, for that matter, had the FAA.

During the post-crisis debrief that was held with the FAA and facility leaders at JFK airport, all parties agreed that while communication during the crisis had been exemplary, the outcomes were still unacceptable. Because of JetBlue’s relationships with these leaders, all parties were comfortable admitting their failures to be more pro-active or to make better choices throughout the event. And while even as a team the eventual crisis couldn’t prevented – which was absolutely JetBlue’s fault because the company ultimately owned the choice to try and fly – it was agreed that had all stakeholders worked more effectively as a team, the outcomes could have been much less serious.

In many ways, the Valentine’s Day Crisis strengthened JetBlue’s relationship with its Regulators. To this day, JetBlue continues to benefit from the exceptional partnership.

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High Stakes Leadership: Leading in Times of Crisis

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