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JetBlue’s founder crafts new, tech-centric airline

‘We’ll get you there twice as fast and for half the price’ is the promise

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Come 2021, fliers will have a new, low-cost, tech-oriented airline pioneered by JetBlue’s founder David Neeleman.

His angle?

Flying “hundreds of routes” that the airline will likely have all to itself, according to a recent interview Neeleman did with Skift.

Most, if not all, of those routes will be Europe and South America, concentrating on origination cities that are competition-free and leisure destinations, or where there’s an abundance of flier friends or family.

As examples, he used Scranton, Pennsylvania -- a market with a metro population of 570,000 and flights that are mostly connectors to Chicago, Washington D.C., Charlotte, Chicago, and Philadelphia -- and Florida, where there’s an abundance of potential fliers who have friends or family in Brazil.

Using the 130- to 160-seat Airbus A220-300, Neeleman’s brainchild will have the ability to take off from “really short runways, and can fly for 11 hours (and) we’ll get you there twice as fast and for half the price,” he told Skift.

The Airbus plays right into Neeleman’s plans as a differentiator. Compared to how most of the low-cost carriers are configured, the A220 has large, rotating overhead storage bins, a wider aisle that allows for faster passenger boarding and disembarking, and the ability to have first class, lie-flat business class, and extra legroom seats if that’s something Neeleman wants to make happen.

“I’ll just do stuff they can’t do,” Neeleman said, throwing down the gauntlet to the other carriers.

“You don’t have to speak to us”

Neeleman’s current plans have Salt Lake City, Utah as the technical and customer service hub for the airline, but if you’re a flier who depends on the human touch, you should call someone else.

“You don’t have to speak to us. You won’t be able to speak to us,” Neeleman said. “You won’t be able to call us because everything will be functional.”

His reasoning? Neeleman makes a good point that, in today’s world, a lot of consumer-to-company connecting is done via an app or a computer. He figures consumers are content with that setup since relatively few people ever call, say, Amazon or Uber.

If a customer has an issue they can’t work out on their own, they’ll have to use the online chat, but agents can always call the customer in a pinch. However, fliers should expect everything else -- from booking, changing, and cancelling flights to check-in to ordering meals -- to be done through the airline’s app.

“I don’t think people want to stand in line to talk to someone,” said Neeleman when asked if he feared the human element of customer service would be weakened by technology.

Are you sure you can pull this off, David?

While there’s no substantiation that Neeleman can pull off all of his promises, his track record shows he has the ability to make it happen.

In 1984, he co-founded Morris Air, a low-fare charter airline, then sold it to Southwest Airlines for $130 million. He then turned Open Skies, a touch screen airline reservation and check-in systems company, into a winner acquired by Hewlett-Packard.

Next on his checklist was WestJet, now Canada’s second largest airline; then he moved on to JetBlue, where he scored major customer-sensitive kudos. Most recently, Neeleman’s domestic carrier Azul (Portuguese for "blue") became the fourth largest airline in South America.

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