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By David Harder on August, 16, 2010

Jet Blue – An employer brand that hasn’t happend

Dear Friends,

I just returned from launching our new office in Manhattan, an exciting week, connecting with our colleagues and clients in my 2nd favorite American city. It was fascinating how much people in the Big Apple were talking about Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant who lost his cool with a rude passenger and told everyone on the PA to “Bleep-off.” Some of the insider information I received is that the passenger used totally foul and offensive language. Steven, a periodically sober guy, got hit on the head by flying luggage, screamed his resignation to everyone, grabbed a couple of beers and deployed the emergency chute sliding off to freedom from the plane but clearly not from himself. He had been thinking about doing this “for years.”

The requests for opinions on the topic was striking. The guy has the fastest growing page on Facebook and of course there is talk of his new reality show. First my opinion about him: Mr. Slater is not a role model for the American worker. There is a significant difference between demanding a better workplace versus playing out the poor victimized employee. While it can be seductive, righteousness has never led to any good for me. Steven Slater has joined the ranks of Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and a good portion of Wall Street; rewarded for their bad behavior with money and media attention. 

The second opinion rests on Jet Blue’s shoulders. Often, we get to see the maturity of an employer brand when a media crisis hits the organization. Here was an opportunity for Jet Blue to take the high road as an employer but their message, at best, was muddled. Ten years ago, I was on a Delta flight to New York and they let three drunks board the plane. CBS was paying for my trip so I was flying elite class. But, my reverie was quickly interrupted by this very pimp-like man who sat down behind me with his two girlfriends making a scene while we were still on the tarmac. Shortly after we left LAX, they drawled out curses and swore at the crew demanding more drinks and more food. I slipped a note to the flight attendant, “Please move me to coach right now.” Everyone could hear the abuse escalating and the pilot came over the intercom, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are making an unscheduled stop in St. Louis.” The plane went into a steep nose dive and moments later about a dozen FBI agents swept the airliner and physically carried the abusive passengers away. As we took off for New York, applause erupted throughout the plane and I moved back to my original seat.

The customer isn’t always right. That very idea implies desperation. From my eyes, it has become quite common to find people in the front lines being abused in horrific ways without a manager stepping in to restore civility. A great employer brand defines expectations of everyone, from the CEO to the entry level worker to the every customer and vendor. The wake up call in here is that Jet Blue could have issued a statement that supported a higher consciousness for the entire American workplace. Mr. Slater is not a role model. He is a symptom of a clearly immature business culture. Jet Blue’s press statement could have been improved, “This is a wake up call. It is our responsibility to define a civilized environment for our customers and workers. It is the pilot’s responsibility to see that every plane flies with an onboard environment where abusive behavior & language isn’t tolerated, not from our employees and not from our passengers.”

If more planes made emergency landings in St. Louis, wouldn’t everyone’s behavior improve?

All the best.