One JetBlue Plane Gets Diverted, Two Narratives Collide

Two completely different narratives have been circulating after a March 27 JetBlue flight bound for Las Vegas was diverted to Amarillo, Texas. JetBlue's narrative, which is offered on its BlueTales blog, is a bare-bones description of the events on the flight, while a fuller, more colorful narrative can be found on the Wall Street Journal's site. Putting aside questions of which narrative is more truthful, it's clear that JetBlue's chosen strategy is to limit its presentation of facts for the time being.

This choice has opened the airline up to plenty of criticism online. The natural tendency of companies to offer terse statements at the onset of a crisis is based in logic—it's best to wait until all the facts are in and confirmed and then develop a response strategy before making a larger, definitive statement.

The problem is that a brand's customers can speak to the media while a crisis situation is actually unfolding. This inevitably leads to accusations that the company in question is guilty of whitewashing at best and lying at worst.

According to the BlueTales blog, "Flight 191 departed New York’s JFK airport at 7:28 am ET...At roughly 10 am CT/11 am ET, the pilot in command elected to divert to Amarillo, TX, for a medical situation involving the captain. Another captain, traveling off duty, entered the flight deck prior to landing at Amarillo, and took over the duties of the ill crew member. The aircraft arrived Amarillo at 10:11 am CT, and the crew member was removed from the aircraft and taken to a local medical facility."

The Journal has a different take: "A JetBlue Airways flight was diverted Tuesday after passengers had to restrain a pilot who was behaving erratically, running up and down the plane's aisles and banging on the cockpit door, according to accounts from passengers and others familiar with the situation."

The difference in these narratives has become a story in and of itself, essentially becoming a third and—for JetBlue—unwelcome one. The logic behind a careful, bare-bones, initial crisis response just doesn't seem to hold up anymore.

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI