The View from 30,000 Feet: How JetBlue Manages the Current Risk Management Landscape
2020 was an unprecedented year for all industries, especially the airline industry. In this RIMS 2021 session, Lee Garvin, JetBlue’s Director Risk Management, explained how the company met their recent risk management challenges with safety at the forefront and continues to maintain an award-winning workers’ compensation program.
According to Garvin, it has been quite a journey. From day one, his team was tasked with creating a safe work atmosphere for crew members and a safe travel environment for their customers. Concurrently, the company had injured workers that could not get treatment due to medical providers halting many services and procedures.
Managing their insurance program was also a challenge. From the beginning, cash preservation was top of mind, so they utilized their relationships with their broker, TPA and other insurance business partners to find out-of-the-box solutions for premiums and other fees.
Regulatory and legislative changes caused them to modify their actions and reactions. Presumption law changes affected the aviation industry and the risk management team worked with their legal department to make sure they kept on top of the details to remain in compliance and, in turn, communicated these details up to executive management.
The risk management team made sure they made themselves available to other departments when they needed them. They never wanted something held up because someone was waiting on a reply. Everyone needed advice on requirements related to safety requirements, masks, and eventually vaccines, so they had their hands full fielding those inquiries.
Communication was key. JetBlue hired outside medical specialists to come speak in an open forum to their crew members. The airlines never fully shut down, so they needed to make sure that their 20,000 crew members and millions of customers felt as safe as possible. Part of the safety message is ensuring you have employee buy-in so that they convey that same messaging to customers. This included communications on how safe flying was at the time, protocol changes and additional safety procedures that they were putting into place.
JetBlue focuses heavily on measurement and surveys customers frequently. Early on, those that were flying during lock downs were those that had to fly for one reason or another. Scores went through the roof with cleanliness, social distancing and attention from crew members. Now that they are getting busier, there are more people on the flights, and scores are dipping from perceived inconveniences people experience as part of boarding and social distancing. The traveling environment has changed from what we were previously accustomed to, and travelers need time to adjust.
Apart from COVID, JetBlue puts a lot of energy into their award-winning workers’ compensation program. First, Garvin attributes their strong culture. From day one at orientation, new crew members learn about their commitment to safety – even hearing from executive management on the subject. They have also created a playbook for their TPA to follow so that claims management coincides with their culture and organizational goals.
They have automated as many claims processes as possible to leave time for human touch points. One of the key things they found is that many crew members are based out of a certain area, but they often live in a suburb far from the metropolitan area, so they commute to that airport. If they happen to get hurt, JetBlue puts in the extra effort to provide medical resources in close proximity to where they live. That takes time. The adjuster works to find a list of doctors, vets them, then sends a list to the injured crew member to make the ultimate decision of which doctor they visit. Also, when they close a claim, they conduct a claim closure call that explains what is happening and why. This offers another human interaction (rather than a letter) to provide good customer service. Finally, they survey every closed claim for feedback. The laws are the laws, but one thing they can control is whether they are communicating everything properly to their employees.
Without the claims automation, the COVID process would not have gone as smoothly as it did. JetBlue was able to pull every open (non-COVID) claim and see recovery status so they could follow up. This helped them make sure no one fell through the cracks during this time.
Ultimate lessons learned include simply being available. As long as you can be nimble and responsive, everything moves forward. Do what you have to do to conduct business. Alternatively, there were some obstacles to overcome. Training is difficult in this environment. Instead of firing or furloughing employees, they worked to create programs that gave employees extended time off with their job waiting for them. Now that they are returning, those employees need to be re-trained.
It is blue skies ahead for JetBlue. The company is using the current climate to expand operations. They are looking to add flights, airports and destinations. This increases complexity to the organization, which means they have to be extremely mindful of the safety aspect that comes with it. They conduct many cross-functional meetings with various stakeholders to understand safety procedures with a clear message that, if not followed, the result could be catastrophic. They view this as critically important, now more than ever.