Well, of course they were at the airport. They’re an airline.

My point is that by not responding quickly to the Steven Slater Beer-Slide incident, they’ve really missed the boat on kicking off a great conversation about and among an entire industry and its customers. The conversation is kicked off, and JetBlue is a major part of the story, but they screwed up a huge opportunity to manage a crisis well.

It took them TWO DAYS to formulate a response on their blog. In hiding behind the “we don’t comment on individuals” curtain, they missed a chance to become the Great & Powerful Oz of the air travel industry, at least in the customer-cabin-crew-connection-and-convo category.

What would I recommend to a company who finds themselves in the position that Jet Blue was in on Monday?

  • Offer a comment along the lines of “today’s events are offering us an opportunity to start a conversation across our industry about customer service and workplace conditions. If you’d like to share your views with us, [blog/email/Facebook/Twitter] – we welcome the chance to explore how we can improve our relationships with our customers AND our employees.” That doesn’t assess or assume blame, but it says you’re paying attention.
  • Monitor traffic, engage in conversations with heart but not an excess of passion (IOW, don’t pull a Slater).
  • Monitor commentary about your brand, and the individual who set off the situation. Respond only to direct queries by pointing them at your crisis-comms traffic cops mentioned in Bullet 1.

Jet Blue wasn’t completely silent. Unfortunately, the cries and whispers of the guy who manages their corporate comms Twitter feed got into a Twit-fight with Andy Borowitz (@BorowitzReport). In a battle of wits with a comedian, Jet Blue’s guy is an unarmed combatant. And he forgot the 1st rule of crisis communications: don’t say anything that will make the crisis worse.

You could wind up Dipstick Du Jour on Gawker.

I hope both Jet Blue and Steven Slater find their way through, and past, this slide down the barbed-wire fence of corporate celebrity. I also hope that other individuals, and the companies who employ them, find better ways to manage workplace stress.

That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it…