…And Along Came Blue

In the winter of 2003, I was working as a contract Associate Producer at Scholastic, doing UX/UI and product development on a new learning management system that would change the world for classrooms around the world when it was was released…. on CD-ROM. I had taken the job just to keep busy after my dot-com bubble finally burst in the summer (the last time I was without full-time work), and while the people were nice enough, educational software just wasn’t really for me.

Yes, I was *just* as cool in 2003.

Still, I was doing well, and about to be moved from Contractor to Full-Time Employee just about the time that the halls filled with buzz around the launch of another book in the series involving some kid named Harry Potter.

But I missed the Internet, and having spent the better part of the last 6 years working online in someway or another, and wanted back in the game. So I started to look around. At the time, my primary skillset was HTML development (calling it “front-end or client-side” wasn’t really fair, because the only things that really existed were HTML and JavaScript and some little CSS). I still found a couple of captive leads, and I applied for a few jobs, one with MLB.com (yes, I was a baseball nut back then), and this upstart airline that I had been hearing a lot about called JetBlue.

I started the interview process with MLB, and got through a few rounds, and then I got an email from someone at JetBlue. Startled, I went back to their jobs site and tried to remember which role I’d actually applied for. Fortunately, during the interview process I remembered, and vividly remember when I visited their office in Forest Hills, Queens, that something just felt different about the energy of that place. The people were smart, and focused on trying to genuinely improve a moribund air travel industry, and take a nice chunk of profits with them when that did. They built a brand, a culture, and a way of doing business that I had never seen before, and indeed, have rarely seen since. A few weeks later, I had a decision to make – I had an offer from MLB.com, but when the JetBlue offer came the next day, I knew I had to hop on the ship and go for the ride of lifetime, 15 years ago this week.

I think it’s very rare in a career to find a place where you really believe in the mission. Days at JetBlue were a lot of hard work, but the people there were amazing, passionate, transparent and created an environment where anything felt possible. The culture from leadership on down promoted a concept called the Principles of Leadership, which were printed on every crewmembers (everyone was a crewmember, not an employee) badge, and the foundation for leadership courses:

  1. Treat people right
  2. Do the right thing
  3. Communicate with your team
  4. Show initiative and innovation
  5. Inspire greatness in others.

Building an internet marketing discipline with an airline focused on direct sales was genuine fun. It was like working for an agency that happens to fly planes; the focus on brand was never ending. Connecting with customers and providing a consistent experience was key and required a vision everyone bought into.

It was a festival of memorable times. Here are some of my favorites.

Still striking to me is the precision of this landing.

I vividly remember in the middle of cooking a taco dinner the email that came in that one that one of our flights leaving Burbank had a problem with its landing gear, and then turning on the TV at the time and immediately driving back to the Queens office to arrive at our Emergency Command Center just in time to see Flight 292 land with a textbook landing on the center line at LAX (an airport we joked against flying to in our advertising). It was a day that could have been much much worse, but when the pilots returned to HQ, were humble and didn’t want any undue attention for doing what they thought was their job.

There was the time our entire operation melted down and we left people stranded all over America, which inspired a social media first that later became a PR “case study” – putting our CEO on YouTube to apologize and share an action plan for what we would do to fix it, leading to the first codified passenger compensation program.

This led to adoption of Twitter as a real-time communication channel (it was a big day when we hit 100 followers) that it still uses today.

There were the visits to our Salt Lake City reservations center, which had a JFK departure time of BAD, and a return time of MUCH WORSE. It left to lots of jetlagged days where the team looked something like this.

There was the time we got involved in the launch of The Simpsons Movie, which inspired our first ever tweet (technically, it’s not, but the others were deleted early 😉 )

And inspired my favorite celebrity meeting with SImpsons creator, Matt Groening at the launch party.

There are countless more stories that come flooding back when you think about it. I’ve flown JetBlue a number of times since I left in 2007, and what’s still striking is every so often, in the monotony of air travel, and after JetBlue has grown substantially since those days, you still end up with an Inflight Crew who is genuinely focused on having a great time and caring for the customer. And, they still care for each other too. Just yesterday, came this LinkedIn post showing that teamwork, love and JetBlue’s corporate culture is still alive and well.

So here’s to you JetBlue, for being a place I’ll never forget and have brought with me all this time to every company, job, role and interaction I have had with customers ever since. I was grateful for my time there, and cherished every moment. I don’t think I’ll ever find anything quite like it again. Happy anniversary.

Special thanks to Michael, Morgan, Matt, Marc, Olivia, TJ, Matt, Amy, Shelley, Noreen, Peter, Todd, Jenny, Vanessa, Justin, Omar, Oscar, Tracy and countless others for making the time at JetBlue amazing. 

Bonus content: Some of my favorite JetBlue photos:

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *