Air Transport World

Avoiding the reset button: JetBlue has dodged the pitfalls that snag most new entrants in their first 10 years of operation.(Profile)(JetBlue Airways Corp.)

"HITTING THE RESET BUTTON" IS HOW JETBLUE PRESIDENT AND CEO Dave Barger refers to airlines that have gotten a new lease on life via the bankruptcy process or through a merger or acquisition. It is definitely not an appropriate characterization of JetBlue's trailblazing flightpath over the past 10 years. The New York-based carrier, which celebrated its first decade of scheduled service last February, has stayed aloft during the most tumultuous period in the history of commercial aviation without resorting to a Chapter 11 filing, out-of-court financial restructuring, merger, downsizing or layoffs.

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But JetBlue has done far more than merely survive. It has grown into the seventh-largest US passenger airline, offering 650 daily departures to 61 cities in the US, Latin America and the Caribbean while changing forever the notion of what a low-cost carrier can and should be by making cheap chic. From day one it operated the youngest fleet in the industry, offered assigned (leather) seats, generous legroom, friendly and enthusiastic customer service staff and a no-overbooking policy. Most memorably, it was the first airline to bring live television programming into the aircraft cabin. Others may have copied the template but JetBlue had to invent it first.

True, there have been low points, most notably the February 2007 operational debacle that stretched over several days and resulted in thousands of passengers being stranded on dozens of icebound aircraft for up to 8 hr. More recent was the globally publicized--and satirized--incident in which a flight attendant unleashed an obscenity-laden tirade over the intercom while a jet was parking at the gate, popped the emergency slide and departed. Yet operational performance generally has been near the top of the industry and it has received the J.D. Power and Associates Award for "highest in customer satisfaction" among North American LCCs for the past six years.

It also has been profitable in six of its first 10 years, including 2009 when it earned $58 million compared with aggregate industry losses of $2.5 billion. Net profit through the first six months of 2010 totaled $29 million on sales of $1.8 billion. This accomplishment is particularly noteworthy in light of the fact that for much of the period the main runway at New York JFK was closed for major reconstructive surgery, a situation that required JetBlue to maintain its winter schedule there through the end of June. …

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