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Terms & Conditions vs Bill of Rights

February 21, 2007

Churbuck beat me to blog about the recent JetBlue debacle, the latest in a long run of frustrations that people have with Airlines.   I have a slightly different angle in mind – yes, social media is fueling a change, and it is larger than just how this story gets told.   If you get past all the issues of the loss of time, extra out of pocket costs incurred, unpleasant conditions, delays to or loss of activities at the destination, loss of luggage, etc, you find that it is largely about choice and control.  People like to be in control, and able to make choices, and to have recourse.  When you undertake air travel, you commit yourself roughly from the point when you walk through the security screening station – you give up control, choice, and recourse.    You submit to the “Terms and Conditions” of air travel provided by the airport, the FAA, the NTSB, and the particular airline.

Today, JetBlue has heard it’s customers and taken note that congress has heard it’s constituents as well, and as is taking some action – crafting and offering up a Customer Bill of Rights.

Newsday offered the following coverage:

Alison Eshelman, a JetBlue spokeswoman, said the airline will announce details of its “customer bill of rights” early Tuesday.

“It’s going to detail what customers can expect of JetBlue,” Eshelman said. “We’re going to include what penalties we will assume as well as what passengers can expect from us,” Eshelman said.

She said that JetBlue chairman and chief executive officer David Neeleman and top airline executives are now working on the document.

Eshelman said the airline’s “bill of rights” will be “industry leading.”

“It’s going to be more meaningful, broader and deeper than anything in the industry today and it’s going to restore the faith of our customers,” Eshelman said.

The concept of penalty begins to restore the lost sense of accountability and return some semblence of choice, control, and recourse for the customer.  If this works well for JetBlue, we may see many companies in other industries stepping forward with their own “Bill of Rights” to appease their mob of angry customers.

I did a quick Google search and found that many transportation services and utilities have already adopted customer ‘Bill of Rights’ formats.    Here are several that were representative.

Massachusettes Bay Transportation Authority

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

New Jersey Natural Gas

I also found hundreds of companies, conducting all manners of commerce that have adopted the Bill of Rights format.  Some, like Edmund Scientific, simple posted the Bill of Rights moniker above their standard boilerplate terms and conditions.  I’m not sure that will resonate with many customers.   No, it has to be more than that.  It’s a fundamental shift in power and perpective here – companies put forth the Terms and Conditions, which a customer must agree to and abide by.  But a Bill of Rights,  is a more customer oriented piece that clearly establishes performance objectives and remedies, it frames the expectations from a customer perspective, not the company’s.  It’s about providing the customer more choice, more recourse and control.

Over the next six months, see how many “Bill of Rights” begin to turn up in your monthly statementsfrom cable, phone, gas, electric, ISP.  See if one isn’t included somewhere on the website your making your next online purchase from.  I say, “Watch this space….”


2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2007 2:26 pm

    I wonder if this trends towards Bill of Rights is actually part of a bigger shift of empowerment for consumers/customers away from the old Better Business Model to something more accessible, public, and damaging for big brands.

    I see complaint blogs and sites like the Consumerist gaining power — bills of rights or not — and brand needing to shift, rapidly, their customer service/ombudsman roles away from letters and phones to WordPress and Technorati.

  2. February 21, 2007 2:31 pm

    The current discussion of an airline passenger’s bill of rights came from the American mess in Austin December 29, so JetBlue had the benefit of seeing the reaction to that before their own incidents. There’s also the healthcare bill of rights, which I vaguely remember going around Washington.

    Interesting thought. It’s certainly a more customer-friendly model than the one-sided T&C gibberish we get today. I hope you’re right.

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