How the JetBlue Carmageddon Promotion Came Together

This weekend was Carmageddon here in Southern California. You probably heard all about it, because I’m told that this was national and even global news. JetBlue smartly took advantage of the opportunity and scored itself some unique press while endearing itself among Southern Californians by offering flights between Burbank and Long Beach, just a few miles apart. Here’s how it came together.

JetBlue Carmageddon

Carmageddon was supposed to result in epic gridlock thanks to the closing of the 405 freeway in a key spot between West LA and the San Fernando Valley. The freeway is being expanded and they had to knock down a bridge as part of that project. That required a weekend-long shutdown. The public awareness was tremendous, and in the end, the freeway reopened way early and there was no gridlock. Kudos certainly go to all the authorities involved for getting the word out so well that people stayed local this weekend.

But many of the warnings in advance were that there would be terrible gridlock. Every electronic road sign on every freeway flashed closure info. They even trotted out temporary signs. The local media had been covering it for weeks, and when it was given the name “Carmageddon,” it really stuck. Meanwhile, there had been a few efforts to figure out ways around the mess including discounted helicopter flights and things like that. JetBlue decided to jump in on Wednesday by offering two roundtrip flights between Burbank and Long Beach for cheap. Really cheap.

The flights were scheduled for Saturday afternoon and would cost only $4 all-in each way, $5 if you wanted to spring for extra legroom. Get it? 4 or 5 = 405. The flights sold out in less than three hours. In fact, JetBlue says that this was the fastest selling promotion it has ever launched.

Clearly JetBlue didn’t expect to make a profit on these flights alone. Each flight generated $642 in revenue. That’s enough to buy just over 200 gallons of fuel, and I bet the flight used even more than that. But that wasn’t the point. This was all about generating exposure, or as JetBlue said, “the value we are receiving beyond the publicity is earning new customers and educating the community on about all of the cities we serve. Our research shows that once a customer tries us, they become loyal fans!” If that’s the case, then this worked wonders.

The response was immediate. Within minutes, news vans had swarmed JetBlue’s operations in Burbank and Long Beach to cover the story. After so many weeks of covering the same boring stuff around the closure, this was a fun story that really hit the spot and was top story on several newscasts. The local coverage was priceless. JetBlue hasn’t been as visible in SoCal as it was during its early days, but this was a clear stand of solidarity with those who live here. JetBlue knows your pain, and JetBlue is going to try to relieve it and help you fly down to the beach.

Emails quickly flew through cyberspace – I had all kinds of friends sending me notes about this, asking if I’d be taking it. You might think that there could have been backlash from environmentalists decrying such a waste, but I saw none of that. In fact, environmentally-friendly transport lovers jumped on the bandwagon. A biking group called Wolfpack Hustle put together a challenge to see who could get from a location near Burbank Airport to the Long Beach Aquarium the fastest – someone who flew or someone who biked. The bikes won considering the drive time to the airport and the waiting time as well. That little wrinkle simply gave the story staying power. It was covered nonstop leading up to the flights. Of course, when the flights operated on Saturday, there was more coverage as well.

Even though this was a marketing coup, the idea didn’t come from marketing at all. According to JetBlue, it came from “a crewmember outside of the marketing department, and we ran with it!” I’m guessing it came from someone here in SoCal. JetBlue has a large presence with its Long Beach crew base, so it could have come from anyone, and hopefully they get a little thank you note, at the very least. There aren’t a lot of places where something like that could come together that quickly, but JetBlue is one of those places. This idea came up on Monday, was launched on Wednesday, and flew on Saturday.

On Saturdays, JetBlue has a thinner schedule in Burbank. One airplane comes in from JFK at 1118a and doesn’t leave for Vegas until 355p. So they stuck a roundtrip to Long Beach in there while it was on the ground. The next flight lands from Vegas at 555p but doesn’t go back to New York until 920p. They slotted another roundtrip to Long Beach in there. All they needed were crews to fly the extra legs, but with a Long Beach crew base, I can’t imagine that was hard to find for a little flightseeing around SoCal.

JetBlue even went to the FAA to make sure that it wouldn’t have any trouble getting a clear flight path through crowded air space. No problem.

The result was a well-liked promotion that got the airline coverage all over the US and even around the world. Excellent move.


18 Responses to How the JetBlue Carmageddon Promotion Came Together

  1. Jim says:

    Cranky, do you have any idea what kind of plane they used?

    • Jim one press release I saw said it would be the A320, so which seems right as I did read where all 600 seats were sold out fast.

    • Well JetBlue flies two types of planes E190 and A320. I don’t think they have any E190s based on the west coast, but nevertheless this is a tag from a JFK-BUR flight, which is an A320. A fully loaded E190 probably couldn’t make the flight. (That being said, sometimes a fully loaded A320 can’t make the flight depending on the winds.)

    • CF says:

      That is correct that it was an A320. The Embraers don’t come out west anymore.

      (Nicholas – they actually did fly an E90 from LGB to Dulles on a couple flights. Not ideal but it can make it pretty far if necessary. Can’t make JFK to Burbank, but still . . .)

      • Why no more E190’s on the west coast? Did they cut routes or business picked up enough to use the larger aircraft?

        • CF says:

          It’s been awhile since they switched back, but I think it was just a pain in the butt to shuttle them around. (They came out via Austin and Chicago.) Also, the E90s have had more reliability problems (especially in their early days), so it was probably best to just keep them east.

  2. A big PR stunt for sure. Here the media was acting like no airline every flew between two cities that close. Must be all young people doing the reporting as who can forget in years past airlines flying between SJC-OAK or SJC-SFO or SFO-OAK as part of a extension of a longer flight or to combine flights to/from cities at an odd time of the day, but you could buy local tickets. And who could forget the original National Airlines flying some Northeast-PBI-FLL-MIA routes in the 1970’s.

    So while other airlines over the years have flown between nearby cities, JetBlue was quick to jump on this and be willing to loose money for all the free advertising the media gave them.

    • Oh and I can’t believe I missed the $4 or $5 connection with the 405. I did catch the flight numbers 405/406 1405/1406, but missed the price connection.

      • Heh, Yeah I missed the $4 or $5 as well..

        I wonder on the flight number front why they didn’t go with 405/1405 and 2405/3405?

        Also they could’ve pulled a UAX and done 405 as BUR-BUR with a stop in LGB…

    • CF says:

      You don’t even have to go back that far. Up until just a couple years ago, United Express flew LAX to both Orange County and Ontario.

  3. Bill Hough says:

    Excellent article, Cranky. I’ve liked Jet Blue ever since I took their inaugural JFK-FLL flight. I wish they had a bigger presence at SJC.

  4. Bob Gordon says:

    $4 beats my historic lowest fare of $4.65 from Boston to Hartford on an AA all-first-class DC-6 in December, 1961. Back then fares were set on a constant per-mile basis. Reason for trip was that I had driven from Boston to Hartford to take a trip to SFO on the then-brand-new Boeing 720, but weather diverted my return trip from BDL to BOS. This left me with a car stranded at the Hartford airport. Hence the flight over that short distance BOS to BDL, which got me to my car in the BDL parking lot much faster than the alternative of a bus to downtown Springfield or Hartford, then another bus to the airport.

  5. A great example of how to take advantage of community events and turn them to your advantage. Good reading for any marketer or entrepreneur.

    P.S. Met Kip Chambers this weekend and he told me about you. Nice!

  6. marek says:

    How short can a flight be, not in revenue or distance terms, but in terms of flying the plane? In an emergency anything is possible, of course, but otherwise there must presumably be a point at which after take off activities run into preparations for landing. So what’s the minimum period in the air needed to do all that – and would a flight like this have to go on an artificially longer route to create enough time?

    • So I’m not a pilot, but I had a student’s pilot’s license a while ago…

      AFAIK, Takeoff and Landing configuration of the plane from an external perspective is pretty similar. Basically the plane is configured to fly at low speeds for both of them. To fly at a slower speed, you need greater camber (roughly curvature) of the wing, but there is more drag involved, so you increase and decrease the camber by deploying and retracting flaps.

      I’m not a flight attendant either, but by watching them while flying, takeoff and landing have the same cabin configurations. Basically everything is latched down to not move independent of the plane’s frame of reference.

      As far as shortest flight? In training pilots sometimes do go-arounds, they take off, circle the airfield, then land. Basically they’re flying the length of the runway. I did a few of these before I had my pilots license, in a Piper Cub without an electrical system, when you looked down at the end of the yoke you saw where it connected into the levers for the wings and empennage control surfaces..

  7. Does anyone know if these tickets made it onto the GDSes? Or were they for sale on only JetBlue’s site?

  8. tharanga says:

    DavidSF: also, there used to be real scheduled flights between IAH and Hobby.

  9. Steve says:

    As for the route, SoCal actually has a very nice set of TEC routes, and there’s already one for this flight. (That’s why you’ll see BURN21 for JBU405’s route on Flight Aware)
    BURN21 = TWINE V518 KIMMO V459 SLI. It’s designed to get there somewhat directly, but stay out of the way of LAX.

    Another very common one is LAX-SAN for jets (LAXN11, LAXX6 MZB)

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