JetBlue's Blog Pokes Fun at Crewmember Meltdown But Tells a Different Story in Internal Memo

7 years ago

JetBlue is finally responding both publicly and within their company to the events of renegade flight attendant Steven Slater, who famously took his job and shoved out of a plane, down an escape chute and into the arms of a cheering Internet earlier this week. The airline's mixed responses are raising a lot of questions about public relations and social media. The internal and external communiques are very different: Internally, Jet Blue bears down hard on safety issues, but in its social media channel, the airline makes fun of the situation and of clueless customers in general.

CNN reported on the blog response:

Perhaps realizing that the best answer to the public support of Steven Slater might be humor, the company's blog, Blue Tales, had a post entitled "Sometimes the weird news is about us."

The post read, "It wouldn't be fair for us to point out absurdities in other corners of the industry without acknowledging when it's about us. Well this week's news certainly falls into that category. Perhaps you heard a little story about one of our flight attendants?"

JetBlue's post ends with the tag phrase "You can't make this schtick up," which links to other posts on the airline's blog that make fun of their customers or unusual situations created by passengers -- sort of a compilation of staff room humor, some of which is in questionable taste. One post laughs at a woman who they deliberately cite as being "blond," who went to the wrong airport to catch her Southwest Airlines flight. By linking the Steven Slater story to the "You can't make this schtick up" tag, the airline is framing the event as a light, "gosh, those wacky passengers drive us crazy!" story.

NBC New York notes that using humor is consistent with JetBlue's brand:

JetBlue has long been known as a company that knows how to have a little bit of fun -- perhaps because they are based in Queens -- so it was only a matter of time before they commented on their famously flighty flight attendant, Steven Slater.

Humor can indeed diffuse tense situations, and joining the crowd's tone with humor certainly plays well in social media. JetBlue Airlines has a proven history of responding to current events through social media and marketing. It masterfully deployed timely humor in 2009 when it ran a series of messages poking fun at disgraced financial corporations who were under fire for financial abuses, by welcoming them to commercial carrier service. The airline accurately saw that the bad PR of the CEOs from other companies was great fodder for schadenfreude for the American public, and cashed in with tongue-in-cheek appeals.

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 22:  The new JetBlue terminal is seen at John F. Kennedy International Airport on its first official day of operation October 22, 2008 the Queens borough of New York City. The $743 million building, known as Terminal 5 (T5), has 26 gates and will handle 500 daily departures and arrivals, close to doubling the airline's capacity at JFK.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Recovering from its own PR crisis is a little different, though -- especially since, in this case, legal and security issues are at play. As the company acknowledges internally, a flight attendant meltdown is a serious safety issue. JetBlue Airways CEO Rob Maruster sent a memo to employees emphasizing that people who threaten either crew members or customers will be prosecuted, and detailing the limited uses of an evacuation slide. Not only is the tone of the memo serious, but Maruster takes specific offense at the lack of a serious tone in media coverage:

The most distressing aspect of the media coverage has been the lightness with which they are treating the deployment of the emergency slide. Slides deploy extremely quickly, with enough force to kill a person. Slides can be as dangerous as a gun, and that's the reason we have intensive initial and recurrent training. It is an insult to all aviation professionals to have this particular element of the story treated without the seriousness it deserves.

JetBlue also slapped the wrist of a Twitter humorist according to Gawker. How does that message line up with JetBlue's own blog? Is Maruster equally troubled by his company's own social media levity?

I think humor works in many cases, but one exception might be about safety issues, and making fun of potential customers with "dumb blond" jokes might be another. But it could be said that, by joking, JetBlue is keeping the scrutiny on the flight attendant and passenger instead of on the airline -- which did not notice that one of its crew members may have been compromised by stress, or on the overall stressful environment that industry policies create. The increasing use of social media may be pushing companies towards a lighter tone overall, as well.

Are you laughing at the JetBlue crew member's beer slide to freedom from customer service? Do you think it matters that JetBlue's internal and external messages are different, or that it is laughing along with us -- or even at us?

Contributing Editor Deb Rox pokes fun at lots of things but she never laughs at people's socks in the TSA line (even though sometimes it's hard not to!) and never, ever laughs at the passengers of her blog Deb on the Rocks. With them, sure, but never at them.

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