Time for Tough Love

Kenneth Shapiro It’s never easy for a company to watch its image crumble overnight, but that’s what Jet Blue recently faced after well publicized incidents of passengers being trapped on planes for hours. To its credit, the airline acted immediately to apologize for its mistakes, but there’s no telling w

By: Kenneth Shapiro

It’s never easy for a company to watch its image crumble overnight, but that’s what Jet Blue recently faced after well publicized incidents of passengers being trapped on planes for hours. To its credit, the airline acted immediately to apologize for its mistakes, but there’s no telling what the long-term damage will be.

In light of these incidents, calls began anew in Congress for a Passengers’ Bill of Rights. While the measure may be popular with consumers and lawmakers, the airlines are fighting the regulations, and now ASTA has chosen to side with them against mandated changes.

“ASTA believes it is clear beyond debate that, absent an unforeseen but clear present threat to safety, passengers should not be forced to remain on aircraft without adequate food, water and toilet facilities&,” ASTA said in a statement. “That said, any solutions that are developed must be measured and appropriate to the circumstances at hand and should not create new problems worse than those sought to be cured.”

ASTA’s opposition to the Bill of Rights has been characterized by agents I spoke with as a sign that ASTA’s leadership doesn’t want to “piss off the airlines.” While ASTA’s motives are probably not that clear-cut, this perception is not a good thing for an organization in the middle of restructuring and rebranding. And, even more important is the airline industry’s failure to follow through with needed improvements in customer service a fact highlighted in a recent Department of Transportation study.

“These findings are disturbing and suggest a larger problem may well exist&,” said Cheryl Hudak, ASTA’s president. “At the same time ... ASTA believes everyone interested in these issues must be sensitive to the problem of unintended consequences that can arise from regulatory strictures imposed on a very complex and highly networked system.”

While all companies have bad days, the problems in the airline industry are not aberrations and will continue. If the airlines can’t keep their promises, then perhaps some tough love is necessary. This sort of action would mandate changes across the industry, which would also prevent one company from gaining a competitive advantage over another. Also, presumably Congress would make every effort to work with the airlines in order to craft a Bill of Rights that makes sense for everyone.

Finally, as the case of Jet Blue shows, money spent on these improvements today might just save millions fixing a tarnished image later. K.S.

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