Crisis control the JetBlue way

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If you were running a company and one of your employees went ballistic on a customer before loading up on booze and dramatically storming off, thus garnering national attention, what would you do? Probably not respond by a blog post that prominently features a clip from Office Space, the 1999 movie about the humiliations and frustrations of work life.

That’s why you’re not as cool as JetBlue. After giving the rest of the world some time to ring in on flight attendant Steven Slater’s emergency-slide exit from an Aug. 9 flight, the airline offered its own point of view here. The post, titled, “Sometimes the weird news is about us…” begins:

It wouldn’t be fair for us to point out absurdities in other corners of the industry without acknowledging when it’s about us. Well, this week’s news certainly falls into that category. 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, plenty of others have already formed opinions on the matter. Like, the entire Internet.

The little story, as anyone with an Internet connection knows, involves an altercation between Slater and a passenger who allegedly slammed a door to an overhead bin into Slater’s forehead. Slater swore up a storm, grabbed a couple of beers, then deployed the emergency-exit slide—the plane was sitting on the tarmac—and left the aircraft.

JetBlue brings up Office Space in its response because Slater quickly became an Internet sensation, apparently tapping into the desire of working stiffs everywhere to tell the people they have to deal with at work to shove it. From JetBlue’s response:

While this episode may feed your inner Office Space [in the original post this linked to a clip from the movie], we just want to take this space to recognize our 2,300 fantastic, awesome and professional Inflight Crewmembers for delivering the JetBlue Experience you’ve come to expect of us.

Perhaps it says something about the nature of our increasingly service-oriented economy that the Internet-reading masses found plenty of empathy for the guy who has to show up at work every day and try to keep customers happy.

It definitely says something about how people like to form strong opinions based on very little evidence. Now more is coming out about what happened on that plane on Monday, and it’s starting to seem like Slater might not have been the complete innocent. A number of passengers have described Slater as rude at other points and to other people aboard. One passenger account attributes the start of the overhead-bin episode to Slater himself. Will Slater continue to be such a hero? It will be interesting to see.

It will also be interesting to see how well JetBlue’s jokey response holds up over time. The airline has already given everyone who was on the plane a $100 voucher for the inconvenience. But the media haven’t yet gotten their hands on the name of the passenger who Slater blames for his seeming mental break—and this, of course, is a country that loves a good lawsuit. There’s plenty of story to unfold, and while JetBlue did take Slater off duty, he hasn’t been fired (although some argue that Slater’s exit was a form of quitting).

JetBlue is a company with a distinct personality and that personality includes a decent slug of irreverence. Will that come back to haunt it?