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Airline Customer Service No Longer “an Oxymoron”

When JetBlue Airways Corp. set out to provide the best product in the airline industry at the lowest price, CEO David Neeleman said, standards for customer service were at an all-time low in a range of industries across the country. “We asked ourselves, �Could we become the best customer service airlines out there?� Then we thought, �Wait a second. Airline, customer service—that�s like an oxymoron. They don�t go together.” The competition was so pathetic, JetBlue raised its standard to becoming the best customer service company anywhere, he told students gathered for the Distinguished Speaker Series at the Hyde Park Center on January 20 To reach that level, JetBlue had to find the best employees, Neeleman said. An intensive interview process has yielded a 90 percent success rate in finding employees with a “good attitude,” he said. JetBlue discourages unionization by paying its employees higher than virtually every other airline except Southwest and by offering profit sharing, Neeleman said. Fifteen percent of profits are returned tax-free to employees, who can also purchase shares at discounted rates, he said. “If you�re flying JetBlue and some of our crew seem a little happier than on other airlines, it�s because there is a 100 percent chance they are getting profits from the company and 80 percent chance they are shareholders,” Neeleman said.

Despite scoring higher than any other airline on customer service surveys in almost every category, JetBlue experienced its first year without profit in 2005, he said. Neeleman blamed the change on a “convergence of events,” including skyrocketing fuel costs and the company�s decision not to hedge fuel as much as other airlines. JetBlue pays 40 cents per gallon more than Southwest, which will cost the former $170 million more than the latter in gas this year, he said. “We fly a lot of transcontinental service,” Neeleman said. ”Long hauls have been disproportionately affected by fuel because they are more fuel intensive.”

Phil Rockrohr