While the marketers from each airline have a food fight over the word "humanity," their passengers can tell the difference between words and actions.
JetBlue Airways Corp. has been telling passengers and prospective customers for 16 years that it’s on a mission to restore humanity to flying. It isn’t happy that Delta Air Lines Inc. is joining the effort.
Chief Executive Officer Robin Hayes and other JetBlue leaders were chagrined earlier this year by two press releases in which Delta laid claim to the motto. The wording hit too close to home when Delta CEO Richard Anderson said in February his was the carrier “bringing humanity back to air travel,” echoing exact wording in JetBlue’s Customer Bill of Rights.
The grab for the slogan underscores the two-track effort to reassure travelers that they’re not being treated like cattle even as airlines cram more people on planes, cut back on perks and charge for carry-ons. This week, JetBlue commented publicly for the first time.
“Humanity is much more than a tagline or a catch phrase for us,” said Doug McGraw, a JetBlue spokesman. “It’s JetBlue’s founding mission and core to who we are today. Our customers are savvy enough to know the difference between what’s real and what’s just marketing.”
Delta never set out to specifically highlight “humanity” or “bringing back humanity” in customer communications, spokesman Michael Thomas said. The phrase succinctly captures Delta’s efforts to improve its food and beverages, customer service and on-board products, he said.
“There wasn’t a concerted effort to say today we’re going to start using the word humanity for what we’re doing,” Thomas said. JetBlue’s concern “was somewhat of a surprise. I don’t know that you can claim a phrase like humanity.”
Delta staked another claim in August, when it said a new capability on flight attendants’ handheld devices would let them personalize customer service “while endeavoring to bring more humanity to the skies.” The carrier had used a similar slogan in a 2010 advertising campaign.
JetBlue founder and former CEO David Neeleman was using the concept as far back as 1999, before the New York-based airline began flights. The airline’s Customer Bill of Rights was adopted after an infamous service meltdown in a 2007 ice storm that stranded thousands of fliers on planes.
JetBlue has sought to translate the word into tangible expressions of comfort: It was the first to offer leather seats with seat-back television and was an early adopter of social media to directly converse with customers. It has offered instruction cards for yoga and pilates exercises that can be done in an airplane seat and produced videos about passenger etiquette after several air-rage incidents last year.
While JetBlue vented its disappointment at what it sees as a Delta copycat maneuver, it’s taking a laid-back approach otherwise. JetBlue hasn’t called Delta to complain or taken legal action, preferring instead to make the customer experience “even better,” McGraw said.
–With assistance from Michael Sasso in Atlanta.
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Photo credit: JetBlue opened an outdoor, rooftop space for the masses at JFK's T5 terminal. Paul Rivera / JetBlue