I don’t know AirTran that well, but I am impressed by one thing; their staff communication website appears to be on an open to the public internet site. You can’t get much more open than that.

JetBlue also impressed me with a post on the their blog discussing very honestly how they are going with their new Sabre platform. Some of the most open communication I’ve seen coming out of an airline for a while.

…Customers will call in for their choice of a rebooking or refund and hold times go up. Why don’t we just hire a ton more Customer Support people, to offset the wait times on the phones? While a good idea in theory, in reality it would take months to train new Crewmembers, and most of the time they would be sitting around, twiddling their thumbs. Guess what? We’d still have to pay them, thumb twiddling and all, and that means higher costs for us, which would then get passed along to you- the Customer- in the way of higher ticket prices. And NOBODY wants that! The correct solution? Automated services and online rebooking. Those tools are being worked on diligently behind the scenes and we’ll make them available as soon as possible.

A lot of companies talk about wanting to become social businesses and getting the benefits of participation in social media and the like, but embracing this model of business is so much more than just hiring an intern to set up a Twitter account and a Facebook fan page. Openness like the examples above is definitely a big step in the right direction. As I wrote once before when discussing this theme:

…social media is not for everyone – it implies a decentralization of the message, and for large companies used to command and control type communications, this is a very big shift indeed. There are two types of businesses that come to mind where blogging, or social media in general may not be appropriate. The first is the type of business where the brand is built on so much hype that exposing the inner workings of an organisation may actually be damaging to the carefully manufactured facade – luxury goods retailing of global brands would be a good example of this. The second example would be companies that have an antagonistic relationship with staff. A unionized coal mine wouldn’t really matter as there is no consumer brand to be damaged, but for an airline with tense labour relations, active engagement with social media could be a recipe for creating even more management headaches, especially if social initiatives are used to try and patch over things rather than as a broader initiative to actually change the corporate culture.

One person who definitely doesn’t belong in the social business category is the singer / songwriter Prince (see LotusFlow3r.com story on Techdirt). But then again, after he (or more likely his record company) complained to YouTube back in September 2008 that a video I had put together of my baby daughter featured one of his tracks as backing music and then had my file pulled from the web, you won’t find me shedding any tears for him any time soon. At least movie director Kevin Smith (7.25 minute mark) suffered a similar response as I got when he asked Prince for permission to use the same song in one of his films, so now I don’t feel so bad.