How one airline tapped into an underutilized employee pool.
In a post 9/11 world, airplane safety is one of the most important factors consumers consider when choosing which airline carrier to use. While some airlines have increased fees to maintain profit margins, others have developed perks to lure customers. Yet as many airlines are adding more gadgets, LED lighting and plush leather seating, JetBlue has made a strategic shift in its operations to improve the customer’s in-flight experience. JetBlue now makes a concerted effort to hire flight attendants with an emergency response background.
The ten-year-old New York based airline recruits retired NY officers and firefighters to serve as flight attendants. JetBlue realized the value of this untapped talent pool after hiring Leonard Spivey, a retired firefighter. Spivey brought a sense of levelheadedness and operational safety to his role as a flight attendant. Firefighters and police officers are trained to respond calmly during crisis and are experienced with providing excellent customer service, often in stressful situations. After Mr. Spivey was hired, recruiters realized the value in hiring someone with a similar background. JetBlue estimates that ten percent of its 2,400 cabin crew workforce has experience in emergency response.
The benefits are plenty for parties on both sides. Many retired police and fire department veterans like the flexible schedule, as they are used to working consecutive days for long hours, followed by multiple days off. Unlike their previous positions, working as a flight attendant doesn’t require that they be “on-call” after a successful flight. Hiring retired NYPD and FDNY officers has its benefits for the airline, too. JetBlue doesn’t require that employees have previous airline experience and is committed to hiring locally. Also, having former members of FDNY and NYPD on board is a great branding and marketing strategy; it reinforces an element of safety among consumers. More importantly, the retired emergency responders can deliver on their promise of safety due to their extensive training.
As someone who prefers JetBlue because of its roomy, leather seats, stellar customer service and in-flight television service, learning that nearly 10 percent of the airline’s flight attendants are former emergency responders is an added bonus to me. This is a great example of an organization generating solutions across disciplines while simultaneously addressing rapidly changing consumer needs, something I learned in my Managing Change and Innovation course at PrattDM. JetBlue identified attributes required of a flight attendant, assessed what type of individual would have those skills and designed a mutually beneficial solution for both parties. If I worked for JetBlue, I’d also design a training program where emergency response veterans educated the remaining 90 percent of cabin crew employees on how to integrate customer service, problem solving and safety skills. It seems like a perfect match to me. I wonder what other solutions are waiting to be designed by utilizing this cross-pollination approach to problem solving. I’ll keep my eyes on JetBlue.