Next month one airline will celebrate a very odd anniversary, and although it won’t be announced with parties or banners, or even logo-printed cupcakes, it is something for that airline to be proud of. For, in November, JetBlue reaches three years of delighting passengers with a particularly brilliant piece of experience design: a partnership between the airline and Rockbot to improve and crowdsource the music that plays in Terminal 5 at New York’s JFK International Airport.
Launched at T5 in 2013, the partnership pairs JetBlue’s directly managed terminal with Rockbot, “a social jukebox service that lets you engage with the music right from your phone”. Digital displays around the terminal clue travelers in on what’s playing, but if it’s not to someone’s liking that’s easily amended by downloading the Rockbot app and casting votes to sway the playlist or put in a request of one’s own. Other companies employing the “social jukebox” include Gap, Buffalo Wild Wings, and The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Currently Terminal 5 is the only whole airport-based building onboard (pardon the pun) with Rockbot.
Y'all the JetBlue JFK terminal music choices are ???: Call Your Girlfriend when arrived for check-in, now La Roux's I'm Not Your Toy (!!!)
— Josh Ropiequet (@JRRnotTolkien) June 26, 2016
Gone is the muzak and constant cacophony of announcements found at most other airports. Line up for security at T5 and you might find yourself swaying along to Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out.” Grab a muffin and coffee before an early morning flight to the Caribbean while the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” plays. Throwback songs like “Return of the Mack” by Mark Morrison and “Pop Life” by Prince are in rotation and, as I write this, I can visit the dedicated Rockbot x T5 partnership site to see that “New York State of Mind” by Billy Joel is serenading the gates. Morgan Johnston, corporate communications manager for JetBlue, admitted to RGN that the system can be twisted for fun, saying: “I know [frequent, famous passenger] delights in Rick-Rolling the terminal when passing through.”
JFK's JetBlue terminal has a crazy good music mix. So far CHVRCHES, Neutral Milk Hotel, Ryn Weaver, Sharon Jones, Rilo Kiley
— Chris Schodt (@ChrisSchodt) September 26, 2016
Johnston also explained to RGN the genesis of the partnership:
“Music absolutely sets the stage for a customer’s trip, and ever since we opened T5 in 2008, we’d made an effort to offer our customers music that would entertain and inspire. We heard countless compliments for the music at T5 from our customers, and started our Live From T5 concert series to bring the surprise and delight element to the terminal, and got even more feedback! For many, the feedback was requests to showcase some of their favorite artists. So we In 2013, we brought on Rockbot to allow our customers help curate the music at T5.”
In 2014 Rockbot and JetBlue agreed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ first arrival to the U.S., landing at JFK (which had only been renamed from Idlewild the year before) on Pan Am flight 101 in 1964. A special playlist at T5 allowed travelers passing through to specifically select and listen to songs by popular British Invasion artists, to “enjoy a slice of music history while awaiting their next flight.” Featured artists included Herman’s Hermits, Petula Clark, The Kinks, and The Moodie Blues. That’s quite a departure (again, pardon the pun) from the generic classical and pop-chart-standards so typical of airports and other spaces of waiting.
In today’s age, where Twitter replaces the comment cards of old, it’s easy to measure how this one aspect, of T5’s approach to airport experience design, is received. A quick search on Twitter using the terms “jetblue,” “music,” and “jfk,” return overwhelmingly positive mentions combined with the occasional critique. When the music gets too loud, passengers are quick to call it out.
Please. @JetBlue, I'm begging you. Turn the music down at JFK. Or if you really want to be radical, turn it off.
— William M. Briggs (@mattstat) April 30, 2016
And just as ready to reprimand when the playlist spends too long in the 1990s.
— Lynne Rosenberg (@LynneRosenberg) June 9, 2016
Since its opening in 2008 much has been written of Terminal 5’s innovations that elevate a traveler’s experience through sight, touch, and taste. With the Rockbot partnership the terminal counts sound into the mix. All that’s left is smell, but JetBlue hasn’t joined the airline signature scent movement as has Delta, United, Iberia, and Turkish Airlines. Putting some boogie in their passengers’ step is much more aligned with the youth and fun of the JetBlue brand than spritzing an Eau de Airline; “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is more of a Terminal 5 specialty.