Friday, September 4, 2009

Flying the friendly skies

Yesterday, I flew from the White Plains New York Regional Airport to West Palm Beach, Florida. In typical fashion, I flew Jet Blue. Their fares are simply unbeatable - add to that a buddy pass now and again, and one has a winning combination.

I was at a social gathering recently and heard a pilot speak disparagingly of Jet Blue. His father was a union man and the fact that Jet Blue can offer such low fares really gripes him. I told him that given my present budget, while I would love to support an “American and union” company, with all the safety nets in place, but I have to fly with the airline that best suits my needs. Given the extra leg room (I have a disability and need the extra space), and my own personal flat screen TV (where I watched the US Open yesterday), I am not sure that even if I wanted to pay more money to fly with a “union” airline, I would. In other words, Jet Blue’s success does not hinge upon money alone.

Jet Blue has minimal overhead. Their call center is small. Their agents operate out of their homes in the great Salt Lake Valley of Utah. I know this because I was almost offered a job with them after leaving the Mayor’s office of Salt Lake City. The reason for applying for a job with an airline was quite simple: Miles, baby, buddy passes. I love to travel and don’t get to do so near as much as I would like to. Their staffers are mainly stay at home moms - by and large from the Utah Valley and needing a little extra income to augment their family’s monthly budget. Utah is the state in the nation with the largest number of personal bankruptcy filings. I know this because I lived there for over 7 years and the leaders of the predominant faith (LDS Church) took great pains to try to educate their members not to incur unnecessary debt. Small wonder that many mums with larger families, a la Utah Mormon style, are flocking to a company that allows them to fly to Disney land and NYC and Buffalo and the West Indies and Puerto Rico. If Jet Blue ever flies to Hawaii, I am sunk - I have a dear friend there who is expecting me next year - if I get a decent flight from Jet Blue, I will be likely to visit her annually. I am not sure if she is up for a visit from me every year - but I guess if I keep to the fish and company rule, I should be fine.

The founder of Jet Blue is LDS or Mormon and a shrewd businessman, hence the purchase of used planes, no large call center - though Utah is home to the likes of 1-800-CONTACTS. He is committed to paying average Utah wages and basing his operation in a right to work state. All these are keys to success. He is likely going to be the Donald Trump of the airline business if he keeps this up.

Today, I interviewed his spokesperson, Alison Croyle, and learned that he has since moved on. A new face is at the helm of this flagship of airlines: Dave Barger. Every month, Dave flies the friendly skies, working alongside crewmembers, taking out trash, recycling and bidding flyers adieu. He is a hands on kind of man - he wants to see the flying experience first hand and takes his job very seriously as he interacts with customers.

He lives the 5 "Jet Blue Commandments" shall we call them:
1. Safety
2. Caring
3. Integrity
4. Fun
5. Passion

On my flight yesterday, I noted the amazing difference between the Jet Blue crew members and those of say Northwest and Delta they are not angry because of union negotiations gone bad. They are happy to do their respective jobs - they seem to find pleasure in ensuring that the customer is number one and do not mutter under their breaths, even when I asked for an extra snack (I am borderline type II diabetic) of Animal Crackers, my flight attendant was most gracious and accommodating. Fortunately for me, I have maintained a negative type II status since having lost some 50 lbs and can now fit more comfortably in a plane seat. The crew is made up of mostly “family” members . This is no surprise, as it is a service-based industry and works very well with the personalities of “family” members. Indeed, my interaction with staffers indicated that the company was “extremely gay friendly.” I am going to see about having Jet Blue sponsor an event I am putting together at the Metropolitan Museum in the very near future.

I interacted with two business persons on the plane -a power couple - she an IBM staffer, he a consultant, doing the same as I - carving out a niche for himself after having been laid off. Natasha is a mother of two small children. We both bemoaned the fact that there is no place on a plane to take care of small children, be that nursing them, or getting them to calm down. I know how stressful flying can be - I have anxiety and am generally the last one on the plane and the last one off.

Now that my consulting business is taking off and my writing is becoming more popular, I might be able to choose another airline, but I think I will stick with Blue - Jet Blue that is.

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