How JetBlue creates a culture of security

VP of Security Keith Slotter and his team have tapped 600 employees across the organization as part of a Security Champions program. The result is a strengthened security presence and an employee population engaged in security.

Fragmented image of a Boeing 787 airplane represented in encrypted data.
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JetBlue’s 45-person security team has “a lot of territory to cover, both domestically and internationally,” says VP of Security Keith Slotter.

Headquartered in New York City, JetBlue is the seventh largest airline in North America by passengers carried. It has over 20,000 employees and operates over 1,000 flights daily.

“In order to be effective, in a company this size with a department as small as we are, we have to be able to leverage other resources,” Slotter says.

That realization led Slotter and his team to launch a Security Champions program, which earned the company a CSO50 award in 2021 for outstanding thought leadership and business value.

Slotter sat down with CSO’s Bob Bragdon to discuss the award-winning project and how it has fostered a culture of security across the organization. What follows is edited excerpts of that conversation. For more insights, watch the full video here:

On enlisting Security Champions:

As a small department, with so much territory to cover, we wanted to see how we could be most effective in leveraging resources outside the security department to help with the security mission.

So, we came up with this concept of Security Champion, which is a collateral duty for many of our employees, not just in airports—we have flight attendants and maintenance personnel and others who participate. But these are employees who take this on because they are passionate about safety and security. They want to be involved.

And they do a variety of thing for us from simply talking about the latest security trends to participating in aircraft searches, TSA-mandated initiatives that all airlines must follow, and responding to incidents, participating hands-on in security audits, and a variety of things that they had not historically done. But put all that together, and it has really strengthened our security presence throughout the airline in a lot of different ways.

On bringing the program together:

First of all, we had to generate the interest, right? We had to explain to employees, convince them as to why they want to do this and why they should be involved. You have to be able to not only stress the importance of it, and tap on the passion, but you have to be able to dangle a little bit of a carrot too. And the carrot for us was it could be very well helpful from a career advancement standpoint. It really gets you engaged in what is going on.

There is a big pride factor for the individuals who do this. And we had to learn that as we went. And then find out, also, what are the most meaningful tasks and interactions that we can get our champions engaged in? If they are not feeling useful, then they are not going to be motivated to be a part of this program. So, I think that is where a lot of the learning curve was for us, was to try to find that sweet spot as to how we could best utilize them where they were feeling valuable, knowing that they were truly making a difference. And once we were able to do that, the program grew dramatically. And now we have well over 600 champions throughout the company assisting us.

On lessons learned:

We had to kind of get out of the mode of worrying too much about summary reporting and expectations along those lines. Initially, we had a lot of expectations as to what would be reported into us corporately, as to what they were doing and how they were doing it. We still do that, but there is much less emphasis in that area.

And then the other piece we learned as well is communication is key. You cannot just create a program and then send them on their way. You have to really interact with them regularly and that is an area that we have learned and grown through both in-person annual conferences dedicated exclusively to this program and just regular virtual meetings where we bring them onboard and give them the latest and greatest from our perspective so that they are constantly feeling engaged and involved in corporate security.

On the program’s payoff:

If you take two of the biggest risks that airlines face, especially those who operate internationally, which almost all do, No. 1 is narcotics trafficking and our aircraft being used to import illegal narcotics into this country. That is one area. And a second would be baggage theft that occurs in every airport, almost on a daily basis.

And what we have seen since we implemented this program are tremendous reductions in those two areas. Other areas as well—we have seen our audit scores go up dramatically, based on the audits we do. But if you are talking about real value to the company, whenever narcotics are illegally found on an aircraft, airlines are subject to heavy fines from either Customs and Border Protection, primarily, but also TSA. And then on pilferage and baggage theft, you have got to make the customers whole, at least to the greatest extent you can.

So those are real cost factors for any airline, and I can tell you that in both of those areas, those costs have decreased and the number of incidents has decreased dramatically since we instituted Security Champions because we have that many more eyes out there, in the network, at the airports, involved, engaged on a daily basis, preventing this from happening.

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