Interview: Steve Stampley, Spokesman, JetBlue Airways

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This post was written by Nancy Lazarus, contributor to PRNewser.

The past two weeks have been eventful for JetBlue spokesman Steve Stampley. PRNewser talked to him this week about the incident regarding flight attendant Steven Slater. We focused on JetBlue’s employee communications initiatives, the media and public reactions as well as lessons learned in the aftermath.

Some of the general public’s reaction was initially favorable towards Steven Slater. To what extent has JetBlue monitored and analyzed the reactions from more targeted audiences, including your crewmembers/ employees?

We’ve reviewed their reactions, though not through official channels. We engage with a number of our crewmembers through social media via Twitter and Facebook. Though we have not done it with this story, there is an internal website where we keep an ongoing dialogue.

Regarding the recent incident, we have definitely tried to keep our finger on the pulse of crewmember sentiment, and it broke down along two narratives.

The first one that we had to pay serious attention to was that our in-flight crewmembers really wanted to know that when they handle unruly customers or they are faced with a situation where they feel threatened, that the company has their back. I think it’s a natural response. They wanted to know they’d be protected by the company.

Once we addressed that, the second issue was a more professional one. Most crewmembers were concerned about what happened and how it reflected on their profession, on the industry and on the airline.

What has been the reaction from JetBlue customers / passengers overall?

We survey customers after every flight, but have not asked them specifically for their reactions to what happened last week. While it was a huge news story, in terms of the customer impact it was fairly localized. We have not dealt with any more organized customer reaction.

For the customers who did experience the incident that day aboard the Pittsburgh to NY/JFK flight, we provided $100 vouchers and letters of apology. We definitely take that side very seriously. This is not what you expect when you fly JetBlue, you expect more and we’re sorry.

Is there any updated corporate reaction or overall comment from JetBlue regarding any new developments this week?

No, to my knowledge there has not been anything new. The investigation is still ongoing, and the crewmember in question is still removed from duty, so there is not a lot of new information to offer.

Let’s talk about internal communications. Last week your COO, Rob Maruster, issued a statement to employees discussing what happened. Were there any other internal efforts that occurred, and are there any changes planned moving forward?

We’ve worked out a robust set of tools with which we carry on a dialogue and engage with our crewmembers. Throughout the incident we tried to uphold our obligation to provide accurate information, which is our responsibility to our crewmembers. If I was on the receiving end as a crewmember, I’d say that while we may not keep pace with the story, what we communicate is factual.

As far as our leadership, we initially had a communication from our VP of In-flight who sent one to in-flight crewmembers. Then the executive communication from our COO to the entire company was the second. Our crewmembers also paid attention to the blog post on BlueTales related to the incident and we disseminated that as well.

If there was anything we could do over, as a postmortem, I think there is a consensus among the PR team that we would have run our BlueTales blog post earlier in the sequence. Otherwise there’s probably not anything else in the future we would change.

What about external communications to JetBlue customers, is there any special message planned to this group that addresses or explains what occurred?

I think we’re satisfied with the job we did communicating over the past week, and especially when the story was at its most pitched. The BlueTales blog post was intended for the customer and was externally accessible. As far as planning anything in the future, if situations change, we will address the changing environment, but otherwise we are satisfied with where we are.

In terms of media relations, do you have any reaction to some of the media commentary that said JetBlue’s lines of communications are normally open, but that the corporate response last week was not as timely or informative?

We think that is somewhat fair criticism in the sense that we would have preferred to have spoken sooner. I alluded to that when I said we would have liked to have released that BlueTales blog post earlier. If one is looking at what would we have done differently or would we do it over more quickly, that is definitely an area that we’ve looked at.

We hate silence as much as the next PR person, but it was clear early on that there were a lot of questions that we did not have answers to and so we were reticent at first.

Were there any specific lessons learned from the February 2007 experience – the flight delays when JetBlue passengers were stranded on the runway – that have been applied here, or any new lessons learned?

I was not at JetBlue in mid February 2007, but what I’d say served us well in that incident and what will continue to serve us well through incidents like this is being as level, truthful, authentic and transparent as possible. That’s what we believe is the best course of action.

So when we look at how we are going to respond to a situation, be it the incident last week or our operational meltdown in February 2007, those are the four key factors.

Though obviously the situations are completely different with respect to the legal proceedings, so there is a limit to what you can say here.

JetBlue often uses humor in its communications. Do you have any comments about the humorous response to the Steven Slater incident – for example, Stephen Colbert’s segment last week, or the Chinese animated video that simulates what happened on that flight?

We laughed at a lot of that along with everyone else. We take this job seriously, but as communicators I wouldn’t say that we take ourselves too seriously. In a lot of ways the reaction to last week’s incident was understandable, from the topline facts as they became available.

Who hasn’t been frustrated or wanted to tell off one’s boss? So it was probably natural for people to have a reaction like that. As we alluded to in our BlueTales blog post, around here we’re fans of ‘Office Space’. So as far as that side of the story is concerned it is understandable.

But the other important part that comes with it is the more serious side of safety, and our safety value. We’re an airline and an entity where we profess to live our values. The number one value is safety and that value was violated. We take that very seriously, and linked to that are the realities involved with being an aviation professional.

Being a crewmember of JetBlue means that you will be trained and cared for, and you will be responsible for acting professionally no matter how stressful the situation is. That was certainly an important dialogue for us to have internally.

As for the external humor and the response, what are you going to do?

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