August 17, 2022 / Thought Leadership

What Does JetBlue Need to Do to Win?

JoAnne Borselli, Group Brand Director

Lately, when it comes to disruptions in the airline industry, the headlines speak for themselves. “More than 2,000 flight delays last Monday.” “American Airlines cancels 31,000 flights from its November schedule.” And recently: “JetBlue and Spirit Airlines Announce Merger Plan.” According to earnings reports, airlines are losing billions right now. Why would an airline choose now to buy another airline? And what does JetBlue need to do to come out of this on top?

By purchasing Spirit Airlines, JetBlue would become the nation’s fifth-largest airline, with a share of more than 10 percent of the market (behind United, Delta, American and Southwest). In addition to solidifying its presence in its existing markets, the deal would also open more routes in Las Vegas, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta and Miami. 

While there are a lot of potential benefits to JetBlue by merging, they’ll still have four hefty airline players in front of them. How do you win when you’re starting in fifth place?

Double down on your brand 

Now more than ever, JetBlue needs to embrace the brand attributes that got it here in the first place: by being the most “human” of all the airlines out there. Anyone who travels even a little these days knows how impersonal the entire process has become. You’re being scolded in security like a child. Boarding takes forever. You’re squashed like sardines next to total strangers in seats built for a pre-teen. JetBlue alone can’t change the entire industry, so go ahead and poke fun at it. Have some fun. Everyone knows the problems with flying right now. Don’t hide from them or pretend they don’t exist. Embrace them and laugh at the situation. The other airlines are too “corporate” to do that and their brands are too “vanilla” to be willing to take risks in messaging. Your customers will appreciate the honesty and would enjoy some laughs for a change. 

Make sure that brand personality extends to your staff

During the typical airport experience, by the time you get where you’re going, you’re a shell of a human being. So when someone talks to you like a real person, it stands out. Service that includes a solid dash of humanity. Flight attendants that (usually) enjoy their jobs. Pilots that talk to you like a peer instead of a number. They are your walking billboards. From restaurants to retail, good employees are worth gold right now—so treat them that way. It all makes the difference that will create loyalty from customers in a world where loyalty no longer exists. 

Invest a little in some “extras” that will pay off

Every airline is charging for every small detail right now. Seat choices, luggage, food. If you have to play that game to compete, fine. But look for small things that you can do that don’t cost a lot but mean a lot. You know when my birthday is—it was in my reservations when I booked. On my birthday, shoot me a note with a $50 credit toward my next flight. And don’t make me join your loyalty program to get that. If you treat me right, I’ll likely join your loyalty program anyway. Give employees the power to do whatever they think to make me happy on my next flight. A quietly complimentary beer given to the guy who’s sitting behind the crying baby will be a story he will tell to everyone once he gets off the flight. 

What’s Next

At this point, there are many miles (and legal hearings and union meetings) to go before this merger is confirmed. And many in the industry think it won’t happen. If it DOES happen, JetBlue has the opportunity to differentiate itself from the “big four” on a much bigger playing field than it was playing on before. And maybe even break into the top four. As a brand, it already has the ingredients. It’s just time to dial them up more than ever before.