Airline Customer Service: How JetBlue is Leading the Charge

by Jeff Kirchick (@JeffreyKirchick)

For the past few years, I have been a loyal frequent flier with a legacy carrier, slowly making my way from silver member one year, to gold member the next, all the way to platinum today. It’s amazing how instantly one becomes a “travel snob” upon finding a job that sends you places. I remember the days of watching the elite members board before me, muttering under my breath that “the plane won’t leave until we’re all on board anyway,” or the times where I waited in line for TSA, only to see a handful of people cutting me. What’s the big deal about racing through security if the plane has to wait for regulars like me anyway? Are there mysterious planes that pick up the elite members at their convenience and whisk them away to their final destination? It can’t all be for the extra bag of peanuts…

Once you start traveling, these little things start to matter. I’ve become impatient with people who don’t know to take their laptops out of their bags or to take off their shoes before going through security. Whenever I step into the X-ray machine and the TSA agent tells me to put my hands up, I always want to turn and say, “This ain’t my first rodeo,” but I don’t.

I’m a travel snob. I’ve accepted it.

But when you’re on the road a lot, you can’t help it. When your plane is delayed, it’s nice to have a lounge to relax in. When you’re carrying some extra bags for a business trip, it’s nice to be able to check them for free. When the security lines are long, it’s nice to skip the line so you can get some work done. The perks I once considered to be frivolous and self-aggrandizing were, in fact, real perks.

So it was with great interest that I participated in JetBlue’s Mosaic Challenge. As you may know, JetBlue is a younger carrier, much more hip than many of its competitors, and known for providing great service. Whenever my airline of choice did not have a direct route or a competitive price, I would fly with JetBlue as a second option. That might change soon. 

The Mosaic Challenge worked in two ways. Fliers who were not elite with a competitor were given a “challenge,” which was to fly with JetBlue enough times to earn Mosaic status by the end of the year. The caveat was that JetBlue was going to make it easier for those taking the challenge to gain Mosaic status than for members who did not accept the challenge. Brilliant marketing: they’re using gamification to get people interested in booking flights with JetBlue. People who never in their dreams thought they could ever gain elite status with an airline suddenly had a real opportunity.

The other part of the challenge was for people like myself who were elite members with other airlines. In my case, if I could just prove I was an elite member with another airline, JetBlue would match my status by making me a Mosaic member immediately. So it was a no-brainer to give it a shot, especially because I already flew with JetBlue several times a year as is. 

JetBlue has long been known as an egalitarian airline – there is no first class, and many of the same perks you get with other airlines have not really existed for JetBlue. Instead, JetBlue has tried to use speedier security lanes and roomier seats as upsell opportunities. Clearly, JetBlue wants to woo elite members away from other airlines and show them that you do not need all the perks to get a better experience. And eerily enough, they might be on to something.

As someone who travels frequently, my number one complaint with airlines is change fees. They suck. I understand why they exist - they exist because fickle customers like myself would always make changes to reservations if there were no penalties in place. This kills revenue for the airlines, so they cannot afford to operate without putting stiff penalties in place. This way, customers really figure out their plans ahead of time. Something unexpected happens? Tough luck. Pay up $200. There’s dozens of empty seats on the flight you want to get on? You still owe $200. 

But JetBlue gets it. As a JetBlue Mosaic Member, you can make changes to any reservation and receive a full refund to a travel bank that you can use for future flights. No change fee included. JetBlue understands that their most loyal customers are going to continue booking flights with them anyway. So putting the money in a Travel Bank that can be applied to future purchases makes great sense. And because JetBlue offers this perk only to its most loyal customers, it does not crush the airline’s revenues. It’s also the sensible thing to do, because the perk is being offered to people who fly more frequently and who are more likely to need it. It’s simply a thoughtful reward to their most loyal customers. Plain and simple. It makes their elite members arguably happier than those who get to eat pretzels and wine in first class with other airlines. I am living proof of that, because I am 10x more loyal to a competing airline that would never in a million years waive my change fees.

I’ve made use of this feature twice already on trips from New York to Boston. Having made travel plans far in advance, and then realizing I wanted to adjust the plans the day of, I’ve successfully canceled two JetBlue flights from Boston to New York. I used my Travel Bank credit to book a last minute flight from Boston to New York the morning after the Boston Bruins tragic Game 7 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. So I can thank JetBlue for getting me to a happier place. I have even really enjoyed their dedicated customer service line. I’ve never had to wait on hold and the reps have always been very helpful. My only complaint? That they can’t match my mobile number to my account. It would be nice if I did not need to have my TrueBlue number handy in order to get the premium service. 

When it comes to change fees, it’s true that I can do the same thing with my current preferred airline of choice – but not without paying $200. And if the fare of my flight was less than $200, then canceling or changing the flight never makes sense for me. 

I’m becoming a big fan of JetBlue. It seems that they are doing the right things all around the board. Specifically, I am a fan of their “You Above All” marketing campaign. Airline consumers never really feel like anything is about them. It costs an arm and a leg to travel, it’s a hassle, and dealing with airline customer service has always been a nightmare. I wonder if that’s about to change.