Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pulling a 'Jet Blue' :: Steven Slater as Web 2.0 Folk Hero

image:: Steven Slater

The court of public opinion plays out instantaneously these days with Web 2.0 and there is something about air travel that makes incidents particularly memeworthy. Last year, the "United Breaks Guitars" meme made the rounds, tapping into passenger frustrations with the industry and air travel in general. The latest involves a flight attendant who was mad as hell and not taking it anymore, evoking Peter Finch as Howard Beale in Network {1976}::

This story starts with an altercation stemming from a passenger getting her luggage while the plane was taxiing down the runway on a JetBlue flight from Pittsburgh at JFK around noon on Monday. One account said the overhead bin hit Steven, giving him a cut on the forehead. After this, he had "had it", told off the passenger on the PA with a few choice obscenities, swiped a couple of beers from the galley, and exited out of the inflatable emergency landing chute. He went home and was later arrested by police in his home in Queens, NY.

I've seen some news stories do the typical wag of the finger emphasizing with tone their disapproval of his actions and referring to his behaviour as psychotic, the story resonates with many and several Facebook "fan pages" have been set up, along with one for a legal defense fund. Slater is being charged with several counts, with bail set at $2,500. I suspect probation is in his future.

Now, all of a sudden JetBlue has to deal with a category 5 hurricane of opinions. On a Facebook fan page, some of the discussions are putting the company in the crosshairs and one thread is encouraging people to express support for Steven while offering their own take on the issue, often criticizing the passenger, who started the whole ruckus.

What should JetBlue do?

This is that tricky intersection of PR and social media and the longer JetBlue takes to address the issue, the less control it has over possible negative perceptions by the public. I think the last thing it should do is distance itself from Steven and let him twist in the wind. There are news reports that Steven is going through some rough times and given that public opinion is cheering for him {there's even a "Ballad of Steven Slater" on the Internet}, it makes sense to have a compassionate response to his behaviour by not firing him and by standing by their employees. It makes sense to address the issues of conflict and rudeness in the air and trying to reduce workplace tensions on aircraft. I don't see it a bad thing if passengers are reminded that following protocols {such as remaining seated until the plane is at the gate} isn't just a suggestion.

Steven's mother, who has cancer came to his defense offering this::
"I also don't think that people who are in the service industry should be abused by anybody, whether it be a passenger or a family, anybody"
Yesterday, JetBlue's Twitter account was cautious about dealing with the incident and did not refer to it as of late Tuesday afternoon EDT::

so while debate rages on a hot topic, the company isn't being a part of the social media conversation. The challenge for all organizations {firms, non-profits, and government agencies and officials} is to be ready for these situations and be more involved in real-time discussions. This requires an organizational shift between a stance of "controlling" communication versus "participation in dialogues".

I'm sure the news media will spin the fear of how many other "Stevens" are in the skies, painting every plane as a potential powderkeg of flamboyant and stylish rage putting us all at risk, adding more fuel to the fire and creating a possible headache for the entire industry.

Let's see what JetBlue does.

Perhaps Luc Besson has the right idea in The Fifth Element {1997}...put the passengers to sleep::

Songs:: "Ça Plane Pour Moi"-Plastic Bertrand, Nouvelle Vague; "Jet Boy Jet Girl"-Elton Motello, The Damned

Twitterversion:: [blog] "Pulling a JetBlue" Steven Slater's colourful exit after altercation = Web 2.0 folk hero & creates a PR challenge. @Prof_K

1 comment:

ajlounyinjurylaw said...

Although the method of his take this job and shove it was admired, the plane was moving and anything at that time could have people on the plane at risk of injury.