JetBlue Insults Its Loyal Customers--My Bad Consumer Experience.

JetBlue has succeeded where most companies have failed in building enormous customer loyalty and it is a tragedy when the airline does something so boneheaded that it insults and infuriates its consumers—as it did to me last week on a trip to Portland, Oregon.

I bought two roundtrip tickets and got two Exit Door seats next to one another going out from NYC to Portand and returning. When I got to the airport, however, JetBlue had taken the assigned seats away and we were given two middle seats in different rows. Why? That very day JetBlue had started a new policy of selling Exit Door seats at a higher price because of the extra leg room. Well, heck. Nice for

JetBlue but not for me, the customer. Breaking an agreement, taking away assigned seats, separating us and giving us bad seats does not make for customer loyalty. JetBlue should have honored its commitment and begun its new pricing program with customers that didn't already have assigned seats.

There is more. We went to the gate and complained. After some discussion, we got two seats together in the very first row of the plane. That's good--and bad. You can't store any luggage in front of you in that row, so you have to pop up and down every time you want to get your books, paper, laptop, food or whatever.

And returning to NYC from Portland, JetBlue charged me $20 extra to keep the Exit Door seat it assigned me weeks before. Ripoff. Not good. So I'll now look at Continental's roundtrip flights to Portland more closely. I haven't given up on JetBlue. Still like it a lot. But loyal, no, I am no longer a loyal customer. And what is the real cost of that to JetBlue?

The key takeaway to corporations from this JetBlue example is that building customer loyalty is very difficult but maintaining it over time is just as hard. And just as important. When Apple cut the price of its iPhone by $100 right after launch and made its loyal early-adopter fans feel like suckers, it didn't lose them immediately but it did erode their loyalty. It gave them mixed feeling about the Apple brand, made them just a bit wary about their next purchases, and just a little bit more open to looking at the competition. Lucky for Apple, there isn't any. Unlucky for JetBlue, there is.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.