Jet Blue’s Masterful Approach

Photo by Lori Shepler (LA Times)At about 6pm yesterday I got a call from my friend Calvin.

“Are you watching the Jet Blue plane drama right now???”, he asked.

The first thought that went through my head, of course, was 9/11 and the chance that something terrible was happening again.

“Uhhh, what Jet Blue plane drama?”, I responded uneasily.

“A plane took off from Burbank and its landing gear turned 90 degrees after takeoff. It’s been circling above LAX for three hours trying to land. Turn on your TV!”

The first thing I did was check the major news sites., to their credit, was showing live video of the plane circling around. To their extreme discredit though, the video wasn’t viewable on a Mac. This is off-topic, but now is as good of a time to bring it up as any: MSNBC, get your shit together. Seriously. I know what it takes to deploy cross-platform video on a major news site. I’ve done it at ABCNews and ESPN. It’s not hard. Even if you use Windows Media as your format. Step it up already and support cross-platform video. CNN is kicking your ass in this department.

Anyway, end MSNBC rant.

Luckily, my new office is a six-minute walk from my place so I jammed home and turned on the TV. The jet was just beginning its final approach onto the runway and the tension was intense. Ordinarily, this would be when viewers might start thinking bad thoughts about Jet Blue. Instead though, here are some of the snippets heard from the TV commentators during the next few minutes:

  • “As anyone who’s flown Jet Blue knows, they have individual TVs in every seat. There is no first class. The idea is that everyone is first class.”
  • “I wonder if the passengers have been watching this unfold from their television sets. All sorts of news channels are available through the live DirecTV service.”
  • “This sort of thing has happened on an Airbus before and the outcome was a safe landing. This is more likely a mechanical failure of Airbus than an error on the part of the Jet Blue crew.”
  • “Jet Blue’s safety record is among the best in the business and all their planes are new, so the passengers are in good hands.”

Wow. How can you not want to fly Jet Blue after hearing that commentary? Almost regardless of how the drama plays out. The great thing about it was that the commentators weren’t paid endorsers of Jet Blue… they were just speaking the truth, and with a company like Jet Blue, the truth sells itself. It’s simply a great airline, and even in a potentially disastrous situation like this, people just can’t help but sing its praises.

Over the next minute, I watched the plane approach the runway and make the most graceful landing I’ve ever seen. Back wheels down. 20 or so seconds of light deceleration. Front wheels down. 5 or so seconds of the perpendicularly turned tires actually withstanding the burn of the concrete. Tires disintegrate into a brief, compact fireball and then extinguish. Plane glides to a stop on its perfectly standing front struts.

It doesn’t get any better than that. The pilot even managed to hug the white centerline of the runway the entire time, despite the fact that without functioning front tires, you can’t steer.

Several minutes later, the passengers began exiting the plane, many with smiles on their faces. The channel I was watching managed to get a phone interview with one of them.

“How did the landing feel?”, the interviewer asked.

“Honestly? It was the smoothest landing I’ve ever felt.”

Congratulations Jet Blue. You can’t buy that sort of PR.

48 comments on “Jet Blue’s Masterful Approach”. Leave your own?
  1. Anonymous says:

    JetBlue is a very impressive company! I’m a big fan and I’ve never even flown them. Sadly they do not fly out of any airports by me. If you find their company philosophy interesting then I highly recommend Blue Streak: Inside jetBlue, the Upstart that Rocked an Industry by Barbara Peterson.

  2. Bryan Veloso says:

    If I can take JetBllue, I will. Although, I never get any sleep on those flights because I’m always stuck watching TV. I’ve read a lot about the company and their CEO really impresses me (unlike the Ballmer example in my blog). It’s just such a great experience overall and I wouldn’t recommend any other.

  3. Steve Ray says:

    JetBlue is great. I’ve flown them three times now and had great experiences every time. They rock.

  4. ethan says:

    You can steer without front tires. They used differential braking to do so. In fact a lot of small private plans don’t have a steerable front gear (its free castering), and rely entirely on differential braking.

    Just me being pedantic :)

    Having flown JetBlue, I agree with you. The most interesting thing about flying them is how damn quiet flights are. For the whole duration of it, eyes are on screens, ears covered by headphones. It gets kind of creepy.

  5. Collin says:

    I flew Jet Blue a long while back. The TV’s didn’t work but I imagine that was just a temporary problem. The flight was ok though. If I’m not mistaken they are also one of the cheaper airlines to fly as well.

    Is it just me or do other airlines have some strange torture of their passengers setup by always playing re-runs of the show Becker with Ted Danson?

  6. Caleb Jaffa says:

    A few times a year some friends and I hop down to Southern California out of Salt Lake on Jet Blue. You don’t fully realize how much better Jet Blue is than other airlines until you fly another airline soon afterwards. I am now a 100% loyal customer if I can fly on Jet Blue to my destination, which thankfully hasn’t been a problem yet.

  7. I was working late (UK) and had Sky News showing but muted and turned on the sound to see what was going on… I too was really impressed how the front gear held out – perfect results in the FMEA (failure mode effects analysis) sense.

    So long as the cause doesn’t turn out to be shoddy maintenance, I think this incident will actually benefit Jet Blue from the positive comments and outcome. I was also glad nobody got hurt.

  8. Great to see, especially now when older companies like United and like are treating their customers worse, and running themselves into bankrupcies annually.

    I’ve liked flying JetBlue before, I had wished they flew to Chicago so I can visit family, though they hit every other major city. My only gripe with them was after 9/11, they voluntarily gave all passenger information (including credit cards, SS#, and the like) to the FBI to help spawn the do-not-fly list. That being said, so did a majority of other carriers.

  9. Jay says:

    Most people can’t even drive that straight… nevermind land a plane with a crooked front landing gear that straight!

  10. Dave Simon says:

    Not knowing much about piloting a plane like that, I was very impressed with that landing. Seemed smooth and s/he put it right down the middle. Well done.

    On the other hand, my wife and I were talking after the landing, just speculating with all of the TV stations breaking in to show the landing, were the news stations a tiny bit disappointed by the great landing? I mean, they would have had a “better” story had the plane become a fireball.

    Sad commentary on the current state of the media.

    Anyway, congrats are in order for jetBlue, but also to the pilot, and the passengers on the plane. Happy ending!

    P.S. jetBlue also has very nice looking planes!

  11. Dustin Diaz says:

    Now that’s the kind of pilot I want flying my planes. Must have been crazy watching themselves on TV.

  12. John says:

    I’ve flown Jet Blue a few times. Everything about the airline is great except for two things.

    • Frequent flier program stinks – You accrue points with them instead of miles. To get a free ticket you must earn 100 points. The problem is that the most you can get domestically 24 (coast-to-coast). So they make you fly an additionall 5th flight to get you over the 100 point hump. And your “points” expire after one year.
    • They have some very weird rules about rescheduling flights and flying standby. For instance, if you know you are going to miss a flight, you can only reschedule before the flight actually takes off. Call after the flight leaves and you’re out a ticket. Additionally, if you choose to fly standby and don’t get on a flight the same day, you lose your ticket.
  13. Chad Edge says:

    I agree with the positive PR, the good feelings overall; however, the stations showed raw, live footage of the landing with no idea what the potential outcome. This frightens the hell out of me.

    What would have happened if the landing weren’t smooth or, heaven forbid, the landing was a disaster and death ensued? We’re glued to our TV’s, watching this footage. This brings back feelings of 9/11 to be sure (that “the air has been sucked out of the room” feeling). It’s silly to compare the two events, but seeing raw, live footage like that terrifies me (and I’m no proponent to censorship).

    How does everyone feel about live footage like this, taking into consideration that we might have witnessed something disastrous?

  14. Mike D. says:

    Chad: That’s a good question for sure. I’d like to think they are on a 5-second delay but in a situation like this where everyone is scrambling to be the first to report everything, I’m not sure they were. I know that cable and satellite have built-in delays of a few seconds each but that’s mainly technical and not for editorial reasons.

    I, for one, would not mind viewing this sort of footage on a 5-10 second delay (it’s the same as live to me) as long as the network was VERY conservative when deciding whether or not they had to take action and cut to black. I mean, if the plane blew apart and people began falling out, then fine. But if the front strut snapped off and there was just a big fireball, I don’t know. Tough calls, tough calls.

  15. Evan Madow says:

    I agree Mike,

    I have been an MSNBC fan for a long time–both on the air and on the web. To their credit, however, they really have pioneered free news video on the web some years ago.

    Because of their partnership with MSN, video is only available on one browser on one platform. That’s unacceptable. I hate firing up IE just to watch a video, and even when it works only half of the time. For this, I have switched to CNN–accessible on virtually all platforms, and offers seemingly better quality video.

  16. Mike D. says:

    Evan: It’s a natural tendency to think that the PC-IE only aspect of’s video is due to their partnership with MSN — and I’d certainly believe that as well if I didn’t know otherwise — but at ESPN, we also had a tight partnership with MSN. So tight, in fact, that for two years (ending last summer) the entire site was wrapped in MSN chrome. We still managed to make our video cross-platform and cross-browser just fine and MSN had no problem with that whatsoever.

    Now, I can’t say for sure what the exact business relationship rules are in the MSNBC/MSN partnership, but I’m pretty sure it only dictates that video is shown in the Windows Media format… which I totally understand and am fine with. The lack of Mac compatibility is more likely due to a simple lack of caring. I know a couple of really good people at and I’m certainly not calling the staff talentless at all — they do some great stuff over there — but it’s always been clear to me that Mac users are not first-class citizens when it comes to features and compatibility on MSNBC.

  17. Chad Edge says:

    Mike, not to have set you up, but I am dealing with the same feelings on the answer: If you’re comfortable with a delay, aren’t you giving up control of your own decision, allowing FCC, broadcaster, or (heaven forbid) the government to make ethics decisions?

    This has been a very tough call for me; I don’t consider myself a conservative, however, I am appalled at the outfits of 16 year olds on MTV – all while still calling ‘foul’ over the uproar about Janet Jackson’s boob.

    I think my brain will explode shortly.

  18. Aleksandar says:


    Call after the flight leaves and you’re out a ticket.

    is reasonable approach to me. If you don’t show up when the plane goes off and did not call earlier, that is your problem, not theirs. If I was running any service company, this would be one of first rules: respect our time and effort and we will respect yours.

  19. Matthew says:

    I’m not sure which reporter it was, but I remember seeing this:

    As the plane began final approach, the reporter had the wherewithall to realize that the passengers might be watching all the news casts. He used the opportunity to say things like “If you’re all watching me from the plane, this type of thing has happened before and the outcome was flawless. They are waiting with foam on the ground and all emergency personnel are deployed and waiting for your safe return.”

    That was a highlight of the whole ordeal for me. A reporter that had the brain to think about the people involved in the incident rather than broadcast it as a type of reality show.

    He showed a human-side you don’t often see in the somewhat mechanical world of broadcast journalism.

  20. kingbenny says:

    If I’m not mistaken, I think the front wheels are actually hardly necessary for taxi steering.

  21. Nick says:

    Aleksandar –

    … If you don’t show up when the plane goes off and did not call earlier, that is your problem, not theirs. …

    That’s not necessarily true; you need to also think about connecting flights (even/especially those from another airline), customs, security, terminal changes, etc. Long distance flights have an especially high variable, and a lot of times a flight agent or online booking will recommend a set of tickets that has less than 2 hours (sometimes far less) between flights. I would hate to be out of luck because I was still on the plane or colllecting my baggage. Flights average only 70-90% capacity, so to me, I feel a ticket is a ticket, whether or not you made your specific flight.

  22. Dave says:

    Hmm is jet blue an american travel company? As i’ve not heard of them in the uk..

  23. Mike D. says:

    Chad: Honestly, I don’t mind it. I definitely don’t mind a few second delay and as long as the decision to censor is conservative, it’s fine in my book. You’d think that each network would have its own level of oversight and action on something like this and if the network you’re watching made a bad decision, maybe you don’t watch that network anymore.

    Matthew: That’s awesome.

    Kingbenny: From what I’ve read, the front wheels are indeed used for steering while taxiing, but in cases like this when you can’t use them, you essentially try to steer with engine braking.

    Nick: Interesting. Well, I’d hope that if the cause of your missing a flight was a connecting flight being late, Jet Blue would issue a refund. If not, yes, that would suck. In most other cases of not calling to cancel ahead of time though, lack of a refund is probably fair.

  24. ethan says:

    OK, a lesson on brakes :)

    Steering on the ground is done through a combo of the front wheel (using the tiller in the cockpit, as well as rudder pedals once on the takeoff roll), differential braking on the back wheels (using the upper part of the rudder pedals, which control right and left brakes), as well as differential thrust on the right or left engine.

    To turn right, it’d be turning the tiller to right (keeping the wheel on the taxi line) and adding right brake, and left engine thrust (only if needed to maintain inertia).

    Besides the front wheel, larger planes also have steerable back wheels. The 777’s back two wheels on the rear trucks turn a bit, as do the two middle rear trucks on the 747.

    The 747 can also land with its nose up to 45 degrees off the centerline. Usually a plane will point the nose into a crosswind, but above the runway, put the opposite wing low to straighten out. Because the 747’s engines are so low on the end of the wing, it can’t do this.

    Some pictures:
    An example of a 747 doing some extreme crabbing into a crosswind.
    A 747 landing with its nose gear offcenter, just like the JetBlue plane.

  25. To their extreme discredit though, the video wasn’t viewable on a Mac. This is off-topic, but now is as good of a time to bring it up as any: MSNBC, get your shit together. Seriously. I know what it takes to deploy cross-platform video on a major news site. I’ve done it at ABCNews and ESPN. It’s not hard. Even if you use Windows Media as your format. Step it up already and support cross-platform video. CNN is kicking your ass in this department.

    Best rant I’ve seen in months. Thanks, Mike, for summing up what is a much larger problem spanning throughout most “Windows World Inhabitants”.

  26. Aleksandar says:


    That’s not necessarily true; you need to also think about connecting flights (even/especially those from another airline), customs, security, terminal changes, etc.

    I sense that John was talking about simple “going to the airport” case. If not, my bad, sorry.

    My point was that reasonable approach from both sides is necessary. My (somewhat limited) experience is that 1h gap is the best-case scenario for connecting flights. Anything below that is running on luck and then it all goes with “no risk no gain” rule, complete with the other side of that rule. :)
    But if you have a connecting flight and the reason of your late arrival is not your fault, a good approach from flying company is not to p*ss you off anymore. That is actually a very good chance of bying customer’s loyalty.

  27. Brian Wolfe says:


    Did anyone notice that the white stripping on the tarmac seemed to ignite the tires? When the tires hit the black tarmac, the fire reduced or when out.

    In the video you can see it ignite when it barely touched the white line, than full fire when it was on the line, than reduced when it was not on the line to finally extinguish when it stopped on the black tarmac.

    I think that if the strut had followed the line all the way, there would have been a fire at the stop.

    Aren’t they using fireproof paint? shouldn’t the tarmac be fire resistant or better yet, ask as a fire extinguisher?

  28. PhilipJ says:

    Brian: I don’t think the paint had much to do with it, it was simply a consequence of high friction between two surfaces. As the wheels’ rubber burned off and eventually exposed what I imagine to be metal, you are going to get sparks like that no matter what you are rubbing against. The commentators on MSNBC (the feed I was watching) mentioned before and while it was happening that this was more or less exactly what they would expect.

  29. spk says:

    while this happened we were in the midst of a helluva storm/power outtage here in minneapolis – when the clouds cleared – i couldn’t believe these cats could land the plane with f*d up front landing gear.

    very impressive.

  30. ethan kaplan says:

    There have been instances where the front landing gear on a plane would not extend and lock properly, and a pilot has had to land without it. The only pictures I’ve seen of that was with a B1 bomber. That plane had extensive engine damage. They had it land at Edwards Dryden dry lake bed, and the engines ingested a lot of dust (not good).

    Landing gear can extend and lock via gravity (if the hydraulics don’t work). So a pilot could, in theory undo the lock and pull the plane up sharply to help. You can also (in the event of hydraulic fluid loss) replace the fluid with any liquid, including urine.

    Large airplanes have a RAM air turbine that extends from the mid fuselage in the event of hydraulic failure. It looks like this. It can power the pumps if need be.

    Small planes can have the gear extended and locked via a handcrank in the cockpit, or in planes like a learjet, compressed air.

    The difference between the paint and the cement is most likely a coeffecient of friction issue. Runway paint is acrylic and highly durable and subject to a LOT of testing because of its close proximity to things moving fast, hot and hard. Jet engines don’t like paint flakes, for instance.

  31. Todd Dominey says:

    Stating the obvious, but it’s the “MS” in MSNBC that’s likely the problem.

  32. Mike D. says:

    Ethan: Wow, great info. So I guess the burning question is, has anyone successfully landed a plane on urine-assisted hydraulics?

  33. ninetynine says:

    ok fire is my dept. the paint used on runways would have actually reduced the friction between the ground and the nose gear. it was more of a coinsidence that it was at that time that the rubber of the tire had been totally ground away or had been pushed off the wheel to cause the flare up.

    the wheel. being made out of magnesium will burn incredibly hot. fires using magnesium as fuel will burn more white than yellow. i am suprised that the rest of the wheel did not continue to burn as the plane came to a rest, much like if you have witnessed a VW bug burning on the side of the road. a lot of fire departments will just let that burn as water is not going to do much good, purple K yes, water no. foam isn’t going to help much there.

    foam? it was interesting to hear the commentary on the news about what airports would pre-foam a runway and which ones would not. SFO for example does not as standard procedure. it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to expend your foam and not have any at the other end of the runway when you might need it. not to mention that it would greatly reduce the stopping power of the airplane. fyi- foam is not really anything special. it is basically soap added to the water so the water will have a lower surface tension and enable the water to seep into the wood. it is also used to lay a blanket (over a gas spill or other combustible liquid) to seperate the fuel from oxygen. break that seal (i.e. by walking thru it) and the fire will flare back up. an old training video shows a firefighter walking through a foam blanket and you see little fires pop up where his feet had broken the blanket.

    the question that keeps popping up in my head is: is Airbus getting too ahead of themselves by allowing computers control that plane. yes there are redundancies but Boeing doesn’t have to synthetically add control response to give the pilot the feel of what he is flying thru. imho better pilots feel their aircraft, better drivers feel their cars, etc…

  34. Reed Morse says:

    If you’re gonna take a leak in the hydraulics, just don’t jerk any hydraulics around. You don’t want it to flash and explode :P

  35. Hearher says:

    I actually did an interview to work for Jet Blue while the plane was attempting to land, very ironic experince!

  36. John says:

    Aleksandar, the problem is mostly that they’re doing things differently than the rest of the industry and not telling us. Fly any other airline, and if you miss your flight, no problem. They’ll get you on the next flight they can. Not Jet Blue. And their odd policy, even if it is a better policy, is not stated on their website when booking nor on the actual ticket.

  37. Chip Adams says:

    If anyone is interested, I have posted a few pictures of the landing gear on my site.

    They were not taken by me, I was pointed to them by a friend. Go check ’em out, the damage done to the rims is amazing.

  38. AlBrown says:

    Chip’s pix are actually not from the LAX incident. They are from Nov 2002 in JFK. The large body of water in the background is a clue…

    A friend of mine emailed me and suggested it would have been easier if the pilot had landed on a runway that was 90 degrees from the one he chose…

  39. Chip Adams says:

    Good eye! I didn’t notice that… or the guy standing standing there in a winter coat. I changed the description with the pictures to say they are from JFK.

    Sorry about that, but at least the pics probably give you an idea of the damage that was done during the landing at LAX.

  40. Johari Lanng says:

    Chad: This may come off as insensitive, but I don’t mean it to be.

    Surely it is your own responsibility to decide whether you can handle the possible outcomes of what you are watching? If you are watching a plane landing with faulty landing gear, you know that one of the possibilities could involve fatalities.

    That said, a five second delay would show some respect for the victims, should anything dreadful happen.

  41. Gonzoid says: has a feature every Friday called ‘Ask the pilot’.

    The foam question was answered by saying that the foam made more of a mess and made things very slippery and would get into the engines and cause problems. Yes the front wheels are used for steering on the ground. Even a Cessna 172 uses the front wheel to steer, you use the rudder pedals on that make to steer, and can use the brake extensions off the top of each rudder pedal to use braking to assist turning, but you do have to ‘steer’ and it’ssometimes not as easy as it looks.

    Are the pilots ‘hero’s’? No. They were just ‘doing their jobs’ as highly trained pilots. He even dealt with the ‘Aw shucks’ of the media for the safe landing…

    I’m glad that the gear didn’t collapse.

    He also dealt with the why LAX question: longer runways. Why 3 hours circling: 320 has no fuel dump capability and landing right away would be an over weight landing. Most smaller jets don’t have fuel dump capabilities because they carry so little fuel compared to something like a 777/747. Why not land on grass: Too unpredictable and would definately take gear off plane making landing very unsafe and is strongly avoided.

    If you can, check out. I look forward to his column every Friday. I was taking lessons prior to 9/11 and due to a wide aray of feelings, logistics and the cost have not taken it up again. :-(

  42. jennifer mendola says:

    I flew jetblue for the first time leaving newerk nj and I had a great flight,the staff was great friendly and understood children i have 2 kids.flyin back my flight was delayed 2 hours.The crew came out with snacks for everone,jet blue is also the only airline that give you the choise of snack. the tvs also come in handy with the kids. i have nothing but good feelings about jet blue airlines.

  43. Robert White says:

    I just suffered through over 6 hours in a NorthWest Airlines A320.

    No video, no movies, no entertainment that I didn’t bring with me… ‘Snacks’ that cost money. FIVE DOLLAR domestic beer!

    I feel like I was shaken down by a pick pocket. Mugged at 30,000 feet.

    And I read that the pilots are thinking of striking after giving back something close to 45% of their wages and being asked to give back more and more…

    I’d support a strike. Where has the money gone? Attorneys trying to kill the contracts? Ironically named ‘golden parachutes’ for the executives?

    Is this an ‘american company’ or a communist agency?

  44. Witze says:

    In any case a fascinating landing :)

  45. Dan says:

    “Congratulations Jet Blue. You can’t buy that sort of PR.”

    hehe thats really really true. i wish i can make such a PR for my clients but for sure not under this circumstance :-)

  46. Rider says:

    This was a lucky day for all participants. Does feel good to read such an article close after 911 anniversary.

  47. Scott says:

    jetBlue is the best, but I wish everyone would stop calling them a “low cost airline.” They have great deals to Florida, other than that they are consistently higher than every other airline.

  48. Suzanne says:

    I worked for JetBlue. They treat customers well but employees (crewmembers) not so well. Most of the big 6 departments(pilots, flight attendants, customer service, reservations, technicians, etc) are trying to unionize.

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