Here's an idea I think will catch on. As I wrote for Aviationweek.com, JetBlue yesterday became at least the second airline--and the first in the U.S.--to offer customers a refund on their ticket if they lose their full-time jobs before they take their flights.
It's not quite an original idea--JetBlue said Hyundai's "Assurance" program, offering to buy back cars from customers who lose their jobs after purchasing or leasing them, inspired the idea within its company. Also, as JetBlue subsequently discovered, European low-cost carrier Flybe already had implemented such a policy for its customers for the month of January (and then extended the offer through February). But JetBlue's new policy is notable for a couple of reasons: it's the first U.S. carrier to do it and its offer is for bookings through June.
JetBlue's offer does include some caveats and conditions (you can read the policy in full here). So does Flybe's. Nonetheless, I think the policy offers some comfort to people who are nervous about spending money on any big-ticket items (or moderately expensive items) because of insecurity about their jobs, and there are a lot of such people right now. JetBlue and Flybe certainly are betting their offers will attract more bookings than it costs them in refunds, and I doubt Flybe would have extended its offer for another month if it did not see some signs it was working. They certainly have reason to try: JetBlue, for example, saw its traffic drop 7.1% in January, exceeding its 5.1% cut in capacity. In that regard, JetBlue is hardly alone, and this policy, which is a sign of the economic times, also could be a sign of similar policies to come.
Postscript: Flybe said in its Jan. 30 press release that "other leading travel companies" have copied its policy. I'm awaiting an answer from Flybe on which companies it is referring to, and when I get that answer I will update this post.
Update: Flybe referred me to this article in the Guardian, which notes that the travel companies Thomson and First Choice offered a simiilar deal in January (and also talks about other innovative steps companies have been taking to try to reassure and attract customers). That offer appears to be done, but you can read the company press release about it here.
Update #2: I just received an e-mail from a company called Skyroll, which makes rollable garment bags, to let know that this month began offering its bags for half-price to people who can document that they have been laid off. The company is promoting the offer as a way to assist job seekers who need to travel for an interview. Just another example of the recession-related deals and incentives I think you'll see more of.