JetBlue copes with its first comms crisis

FOREST HILLS, NY: JetBlue's PR team found themselves faced with the low-fare airline's first corporate-reputation crisis late last month, after it was revealed that company had violated its own privacy policy.

FOREST HILLS, NY: JetBlue's PR team found themselves faced with the low-fare airline's first corporate-reputation crisis late last month, after it was revealed that company had violated its own privacy policy.

The three-year-old carrier suffered criticism for disclosing passengers' personal information to a defense contractor interested in collecting the data for passenger-screening purposes. The controversial disclosure took place in 2002, during the height of airline safety concerns following September 11.

As the crisis gathered steam, climaxing with a front-page, above-the-fold story in The New York Times on September 20, JetBlue's PR team found itself on the defensive.

"We've been explaining how this happened, acknowledging that it was a mistake even though it was done with the best of intentions and not for profit," said Fiona Morrison, director of corporate communications for JetBlue. "We did it at a time not long past September 11, and security was on everyone's mind. It doesn't make it right, but we do hope that our customers will understand why we did it."

In addition to communicating with journalists, CEO David Neeleman has been personally replying to stakeholder e-mails.

"We know that people may feel betrayed, and we want to restore trust. Part of that is just communicating with them and letting them know that it won't happen again," Morrison said.

The airline didn't retain an agency to help with PR efforts, but independent crisis consultant Robin Cohn lent some guidance, Morrison said.

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