Long a leader in social media, JetBlue mum over flight-attendant flap

August 12, 2010

After building a reputation among its young, affluent passengers as a leader in rapid responsiveness and transparency in social media, JetBlue finds itself muzzled amid the giddy chatter following Monday’s dramatic resignation of flight attendant Steven Slater. As the widely reported story goes, a fight with a rude passenger was the last straw for Slater, who publically cursed out the passenger before exiting the plane via an inflatable evacuation slide at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport.

A slew of Facebook pages dedicated to Slater quickly cropped up, including a public page with tens of thousands of fans, AdAge.com reports. But there wasn’t a single mention of the incident on JetBlue’s Facebook page. On the airline’s Twitter account, just three messages acknowledged the situation; two of them blunt responses of the “no comment” variety to a CNN reporter.

Michael J. McSunas, a lawyer with Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, P.C., was quoted saying that if JetBlue were perceived as taking the matter lightly on social or traditional media, that stance could be used against the company by Slater or the Federal Aviation Authority. “I would advise a client to not necessarily address the matter on Twitter or Facebook,” he said, “but if people are posting about it, respond with something like, ‘Joking aside, this is a serious issue, and our passengers’ safety and security is the number one priority for us.’” But for all the tension the incident is causing JetBlue, experts predict Slater will bring positive attention to the brand, since many passengers wish they could emulate his memorable exit in their own job.

Conor Brady, chief creative officer at Organic in New York, tells The New York Times that it was “disappointing” that JetBlue did not immediately reach out to address the matter soon after it happened.

Yesterday afternoon, JetBlue’s BlueTales blog carried the company’s initial official comments. A post that carried the headline “Sometimes the weird news is about us” did not mention Slater by name, opting instead for, “Perhaps you heard a little story about one of our flight attendants?”

“While we can’t discuss the details of what is an ongoing investigation,” the post continued, “plenty of others have already formed opinions on the matter. Like, the entire Internet.”

According to the Times, the tone of comments about JetBlue, as elicited by the Zeta Buzz online media mining technology, was 70 percent positive and 30 percent negative yesterday compared with 59 percent positive and 41 percent negative on Tuesday.

Steve Rubel, senior vice president and director for insights at Edelman Digital, says he believed that JetBlue was “doing the right thing” in how it had been handling the matter. — Greg Beaubien

Related: Putting JetBlue in the Pilot’s Seat, PRSAY

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