From the NYPD to JetBlue
Some airlines try to hire flight attendants who are young and attractive. JetBlue Airways has a type, too: cops and fire fighters.
It’s “Law & Order: Cabin Crew ” Or “CSI: jetBlue”
Since its launch 10 years ago, the New York-based airline has hired several hundred New York police officers and fire fighters, most of them retirees, for its flight attendant ranks. By some counts, 10% of its total cabin crew workforce of 2,400 has emergency response experience, though the airline doesn’t have an exact number.
The very first class of jetBlue flight attendants included a retired fire fighter, Leonard Spivey, who became the role model for the airline and is still flying today at age 70. Mr. Spivey brought gravitas to the job—crucial for an airline with no experience—and provided a pipeline to bring in others. To jetBlue, his focus on safety was appealing; his take-charge manner and calm under fire were crucial and his corny jokes and upbeat nature were infectious.
JetBlue decided from the beginning that hires didn’t have to have airline experience and it wanted to hire locally. When Mr. Spivey showed up, it dawned on recruiters that people who had been through emergencies routinely wouldn’t panic onboard airplanes. Fire fighters and police officers come from careers where they dealt with the public and provided customer service, jetBlue officials say. They’re used to working holidays. They knew how to handle people in stressful situations and could take command of an aircraft cabin.
“Past experiences are predictive of future behavior,” Chief Executive David Barger says. “People who don’t get too high and don’t get too low, you want that in areas where decisions have to be made.”
Vicky Stennes, jetBlue’s vice president of inflight experience, notes that the airline cabin changed considerably after the 2001 terrorist attacks, putting more pressure on flight attendants. Before hijackers commandeered jets and flew them into buildings, flight attendants could always call the captain to march back to authoritatively end problems. Now flight attendants are on their own because pilots can’t leave the cockpit.
“NYPD and FDNY are almost brands themselves and it fits well for us,” Ms. Stennes says. “It proved to be such an early success we make a targeted effort to get crew members with emergency response background.”