More proof that this airline rocks the house:
Jet Blue Airways: The Skies Are Blue And The Chips Are, Too
Randy Kennedy - New York Times - 03/18/01
The year was 1978. The airline was Braniff. The Halston-clad "air hostess"
trainee was a woman named Doreen Lawrence. And she was learning how to walk,
the Braniff way.
"They told you to imagine a string running from your bellybutton to your
chin that you had to keep tight so you would have good posture, an arched
back," she said. "And to imagine that you were holding a dime with your . .
. well, with your rear end. And then when you walked, you had to walk so
that your knees almost crossed, which made you kind of swish like a model on
She added: "I suppose we learned emergency procedures. I really don't
Of course, Braniff disappeared into thin air long ago, but Ms. Lawrence is
doing her walk again. She's teaching it to the 250 or so flight attendants
who work for JetBlue Airways. The cut-rate airline, which started last year
at Kennedy Airport, is trying to usher a little style back into the
in-flight experience. It is also advancing the crazy idea that even
cost-conscious airline passengers care about look, feel and attitude, almost
as much as they care about getting there on time and in one piece.
In the Zagat 2001 survey of American Airlines, published this month, JetBlue
was rated the second-best economy airline, behind Midwest Express, which
serves food on china with silverware and linen napkins, spending an
unusually high sum of $10 per passenger per meal.
JetBlue's service does not aim for that kind of elegance, but the Zagat
survey, based on the votes of 20,000 passengers, still quoted JetBlue
customers who raved about it, calling the new airline a discount "role
model," and saying they thought it was already succeeding in "trying to be
the U.S. version of Virgin Atlantic." On the business side it appears to be
succeeding as well. It turned a profit after only six months in the air.
JetBlue is focusing on good service at a time when lousy airline service is
getting a lot of attention. Just last Tuesday, "Dateline NBC" reported on an
eight- month examination of how airlines treat customers, finding no
shortage of rudeness, lost luggage and lying about delays.
JetBlue's founder, David Neeleman, who grew up in Salt Lake City, wanted not
only to bring a little civility back to flying, but also to give his New
York-based airline a sense of New York style. Gray leather seats, each with
live television, so New Yorkers would not have to suffer even a minute of
media withdrawal. Uniforms that were hip and dark.
Originally, the uniforms were to be black, but their designer, Stan Herman,
switched to navy blue as a nod to the airline's name. The Web site,
www.jetblue.com, is funny and knowing, as is the message that greets callers
on hold, acknowledging how everyone hates being on hold. There are no
in-flight meals (just a beverage and a bag of blue potato chips), because
they are seldom more than an insult on a tray. Most important, the
attendants are supposed to have a different approach, confident but not
cocky, friendly but not too friendly in that Southwest Airlines "we're all
having a party, y'all!" way.
To that end, they hired Ms. Lawrence and another former flight attendant,
Dean Melonas, to train the staff in service with retro flair. At Braniff,
Ms. Lawrence was serving cocktails on planes whose fuselages were splashed
with swirling Calder designs and whose seats were covered with fabrics
chosen by Alexander Girard.
Mr. Melonas started his career in 1978 as well, but at American Airlines,
never known particularly for its style. But even there, Bill Blass was
recruited to design uniforms, and a woman who had once groomed Miss America
contestants was brought in to make over the flight attendants.
"That was a long time ago," he said wistfully late last month in Kew
Gardens, Queens, where a new crop of JetBlue attendant trainees awaited his
old-school customer-service wisdom in a nearby classroom.
In the flight attendant class, at JetBlue's headquarters, Mr. Melonas was
trying to get that message across to 27 trainees -- 20 women and 7 men,
ranging from 20 to 53. One woman, in her early 50's, had a law degree.
Another, also in her 50's, had worked in financing for exotic cars but had
always dreamed of becoming a flight attendant. A man in his early 20's had
worked part time as an emergency medical technician, and a man in his 40's
had been a elementary school phys ed teacher.
Only one had worked for another airline, but all had been passengers. And
all seemed as demoralized as your average passenger at the way they had been
"I'd like somebody to describe the experiences they've had on other airlines
with the crew," Mr. Melonas said.
"Robotic," one man said.
"Phoning it in," a woman added.
"Right," Mr. Melonas said. Shifting into his motivational-guru persona, he
added: "It's the I-don't-have-to attitude. And the we-don't-have-tos of the
world are going to be working for some other airline, not this one."
The first signal to the trainees that something might be different came
early on, when the airline brought in stylists to cut the students' hair and
re-engineer their makeup. (Most airlines no longer do this.)
And for good measure, at the end of every training period, Ms. Lawrence
makes everyone learn how to do the Braniff walk, even the guys.
"There are always a few guys who are too shy to get out there and strut,"
she said. "So when they walk by I let a dime go rolling on the floor and
say, 'Hey -- you dropped that.' "
But how much of this new philosophy makes it out of the classroom and onto
On a recent flight to Fort Lauderdale, I checked in at the JetBlue gate, in
Kennedy's soaring Terminal 6, designed by I. M. Pei & Partners. The woman
behind the counter was actually friendly -- but not so much that she wasn't
able to check me in quickly.
Once on board, I looked down the aisle and saw four flight attendants who
looked as if they had been spirited in from the lobby of the Royalton Hotel.
No ugly jackets, military accenting or epaulets. The men were in dark shirts
with dark ties, some short- sleeve. The women had two-tone blue scarves
knotted tightly around their necks, like chokers.
The attendants helped us put our luggage up in the bins. They announced that
if we sat down and put our coats on our laps, they would come by and put
them up for us. Very efficient. Almost gracious. They seemed to like what
they were doing, or were faking it convincingly. They also all seemed to be
from New York. (This turned out to be nearly true. Monica Camargo was from
Maspeth, Queens. Carlos Olivo was from the South Bronx. Michael Annichiarico
was from New Jersey. Bonnie Bolding was from Nashville, but she stressed
that she really liked New York a lot.)
Once the plane took off, no beverage cart began stop-starting down the aisle
at three inches a minute. Drinks were served from white plastic trays that
looked like something the moonliner stewardesses would have used in "2001: A
The crew made sure we knew how to work our television sets, with their live
satellite feed. I watched old episodes of "The Jetsons," which meshed
perfectly with the retro-futuristic setting. Andrew Grossman, a bond analyst
who had taken the same Jet Blue 5 p.m. flight to Fort Lauderdale five times
in the previous seven weeks, was watching reruns of "Baa Baa Black Sheep,"
as he had during all the other flights.
"Very cool," he said, the blue glow glinting off his glasses.
On the flight to Fort Lauderdale, passengers were in such a good mood
(despite a takeoff that was a little late) that when the flight attendants
asked everyone to please help tidy up the cabin after landing, some people
actually did. Because the weather was nice, the crew also opened both the
front and back hatches, letting everyone deplane more rapidly. Those of us
who walked down the back stairs onto the tarmac could pretend we were the
All in all, it was not what you would call a luxurious flight. It was
certainly not the "upper class" cabin on Virgin Atlantic, where you can
socialize in the 747 lounge or snooze under a feather duvet. But then again,
the flight didn't cost $7,000. If you book far enough ahead, a trip to Fort
Lauderdale can cost $84 one way. And yet, the flight evoked no memories of
People Express, the defunct airline so cheap it charged 50 cents for an
onboard cup of coffee.
As corny as it sounds, JetBlue's New York personality isn't cool and lofty
but warm and down-to-earth. The cabin crew makes a point of introducing the
pilots by their first and last names. No "Captain Bob" or "Captain George."
"To me that always sounded like Captain Kangaroo was flying your plane," Mr.
On a flight last year to Orlando, the live television was on the blink. The
natives were restless. When a man told Ms. Lawrence that he wanted to
propose to his girlfriend on board, she decided to go for broke.
"I said: 'Ladies and gentleman, we're going to have some live entertainment.
Direct your attention to Seat 16A. A man is going to get down on one knee
and ask a woman to marry him.' "
"The guy looked at me. He said, 'Down on one knee?' I said, 'Down on one
The man proposed. The girlfriend said yes. The crew passed out white wine to
all the witnesses.