JetBlue CEO on dispute with family: "It was not about the birthday cake"

JetBlue CEO addresses cake incident

The airline industry is struggling with backlash from a string of recent confrontations with passengers. One of the latest involves a family that accused JetBlue over the weekend of kicking them off a flight for storing a birthday cake in an overhead bin reserved for safety equipment.

But according to JetBlue president and CEO Robin Hayes, "It was not about the birthday cake. It was about the need to work together."

"It got to a point where the captain felt, you know, in the interest of all the other customers on the airplane and the crew, the right thing to do was ask that family to leave the airplane. It is rare, but the crew – our number one value is safety at JetBlue. We have to have access to those lockers," Hayes said Tuesday, only on "CBS This Morning." "When those doors shut and the plane is in the air for five hours to Vegas, our crews need to know everyone is going to work with each other to make it a civil flight."

JetBlue disputes family's account of getting kicked off plane over birthday cake

The airline said in a statement that the customers "refused multiple requests from the crew to remove the items" from the bin and they "became agitated, cursed and yelled at the crew, and made false accusations about a crewmember's fitness to fly." 

The family claims they were not combative.

Hayes acknowledged flying can be stressful for many customers and highlighted ways his company tries to accommodate passengers, including not overselling their flights and providing free snacks and Wi-Fi.   

"We are very proud of the customer service that our crew members provide," Hayes said, adding, "I think at JetBlue, we're doing our bit. But at the end of the day, I think civility is important. And when you're in an aluminum tube for a few hours and we've got new neighbors, if we can all just be nice to each other, I think it's just going to make the flight go better for everyone."

Not only is Hayes thinking about customer service these days, but he's also concerned about the consolidation of airlines in the U.S. Roughly 80 percent of the U.S. market is controlled by four airlines: American, Delta, Southwest and United.

"It means for airlines like JetBlue, getting into new markets sometimes can be very challenging. When we come into a market, we lower fares. We started flying Boston-LaGuardia recently. Fares came down by up to 70 percent. We just started flights to Atlanta. That is an airport with 193 gates, and we were told we only could get one, and we had to share it."

He said the issue of giving smaller airlines access to congested airports is worthy of a national conversation.