June 24, 2007

JetBlue steers a new course

For nine years at JetBlue Airways Corp., Dave Barger played the quiet No. 2 executive to David Neeleman, the discount carrier's passionate, high-profile founder and CEO whose roots are in Utah, where he first got into the airline business.

Now, the reserved Barger is manning the controls when the airline most needs a steady hand. JetBlue lifted off in 2000 to rave reviews and four years of strong profit before plunging into losses as it struggled with its own rapid growth and rising costs.

Then, in February, the carrier and Neeleman infuriated customers with JetBlue's botched handling of an ice storm. Although the airline recently seems to have recovered by winning top honors in two airline polls and last week raised its second-quarter earnings guidance, JetBlue's board last month unexpectedly asked Neeleman to step aside and become nonexecutive board chairman.

Barger, 49, was named to succeed him.

The Detroit native, an ardent fisherman and Detroit Tigers baseball fan, comes from an airline family. His father was a United Airlines pilot, his mother and stepmother were flight attendants, and his brother was a Navy Top Gun aviator who now runs JetBlue's training campus in Orlando, Fla.

In an interview at JetBlue's headquarters in Forest Hills, N.Y., Barger talked about how he's revisiting the airline's strategy, his views on prospects for airline consolidation (including a rumored Delta-JetBlue deal) and how to deal with a customer crisis.
Read the interview from the source at: The Salt Lake Tribune

By Susan Carey, The Wall Street Journal

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