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JetBlue CEO talks about the airline industry, potential foreign flights from TIA and annoying fees

JetBlue CEO Dave Barger gestures as he talks about the company Thursday at Tampa International Airport. He was in town to meet with employees and contractors, part of a 61-city tour during the airline’s 10th anniversary year.

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

JetBlue CEO Dave Barger gestures as he talks about the company Thursday at Tampa International Airport. He was in town to meet with employees and contractors, part of a 61-city tour during the airline’s 10th anniversary year.

JetBlue Airways has a lot to be happy about 10 years after its launch as a sassy, well-capitalized startup. The carrier finished 2009 with a nice profit and continues to grow at a measured pace. JetBlue ranks as the largest domestic airline in its hometown of New York City and expects to take over the top spot in Boston this summer. Chief executive Dave Barger is making the rounds of JetBlue's 61 cities to meet with employees and supporting contractors during the anniversary year. Barger, 52, visited Tampa International Airport on Thursday and talked with the Times about public perceptions of the airline industry, those annoying fees and Caribbean destinations his airline might fly to from Tampa.

Why do you think so many people have soured on airlines and air travel?

By and large, people are being gouged. The traveling public wants fair pricing policies. If you're (in coach), there's the lack of in-flight entertainment, the lack of food service, the nickel- and dime-ing, the fees and charges. The bar's been fairly low for us to break out.

We look at the core JetBlue experience as a really terrific value. One-way pricing. The youngest fleet in the sky. A comfortable cabin and the most comfortable coach seat in the industry. We don't overbook, and we offer 140 channels of in-flight entertainment.

You do charge for a second checked bag and other stuff.

We like the idea that if you want additional services like (seats with) even more legroom … you can buy up. The first bag is free, and well over 50 percent of our passengers check zero or one bag. We will charge if someone cancels or changes a flight. That's reasonable. We don't overbook, and if you cancel, it's a seat we can't sell.

Your live satellite TV has been called the killer app of the airline business. Will WiFi become the new satellite TV?

I don't think so. Live TV is where it's at. People want to watch CNN and ESPN. WiFi is important, too. People look at the airplane as their office. We had the first (in-flight) WiFi called Beta Blue. Our strategy now is … to follow the others out there. We're about a year away from rolling out our own.

We've seen 2 percent, maybe 4 percent (usage). A lot of people don't want to be tapped by the office. Then there's the price point. If you're going on a 250-mile flight, why should I charge you $14.95?

Will you resume the nonstop flights from Tampa to Cancun that were eliminated last fall?

Now it's mainly through Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. I can see the ability to do that kind of service here. Also, there are communities of interest between here and Puerto Rico. I don't think it's a matter of if we're going to do it. It' a matter of when.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

JetBlue CEO talks about the airline industry, potential foreign flights from TIA and annoying fees 06/24/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 25, 2010 9:56am]
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