Welcome back to Part 2 of my interview with Dave Barger, CEO of JetBlue. If you missed Part 1 which discusses the problems in Long Beach along with the general product direction, then you might want to go check it out.
In Part 2, Dave and I talk about inflight wi-fi, big changes coming to the TrueBlue program, and some future international partnerships, including Lufthansa. Let’s get on with it.
Cranky: What about wi-fi? I know you have one plane, BetaBlue, with email and instant messaging, but what about a full broadband solution now that many other airlines are doing it?
Dave: We believe that narrow band [the BetaBlue product] is the model. We’re going to start a fleetwide campaign for narrow band by year end. But, if it makes sense for full wi-fi capability, we want to be able to respond. That being said, we believe narrow band included in the price of the ticket for the whole airplane is best.
Cranky: Do you like the narrow band product itself or is it just technically better for you?
Dave: We’re pleased with the product. For us, the product is TV, radio, and connectivity, not just wi-fi. It can also be a great tool for our crewmembers as well as the customer. It could be used for irregular ops. If we need a flight attendant to go to Rochester and overnight there, we will be able to email them on the plane. Then when they land, they can make a call to tell who they need to tell.
Cranky: Or they could just email them on the plane.
Dave: Yeah, exactly. As a quality of life application, it’s good.
Cranky: Let’s talk about TrueBlue. My wife and I were doing a fair number of flights to the Bay Area last year to prepare for our wedding. We flew JetBlue, but there was no way that I was going to ever reach an award with short haul travel, so I didn’t even want to sign up. The only reason I eventually did was because I wanted to use a credit from a changed flight online and I had to sign up for that purpose. Are you going to make changes to the program?
Dave: I totally agree that it’s not relevant right now. It’s interesting to hear your opinion, and I agree. It worked for its early life cycle, but it needs to change. We are going to roll out a new program in Q2/Q3. You can think of it as TrueBlue 2.0.
Cranky: Glad to hear it. Though I suppose it’s bad news for you that we flew you anyway and didn’t need the frequent flier credits.
Dave: No, these programs are important. They’re very powerful and we need to do better. Partners are an important piece of that. Can you accrue on Lufthansa? What about Hertz? These are important.
Cranky: What can we expect to see with the new program?
Dave: One of the biggest complaints we hear is that people say they can’t get seats. We do have a lot of availability, but people say they want last seat availability.
Cranky: Will you have last seat availability as a standard or will you be looking at tiered rewards like other airlines?
Dave: We believe we will have a best-in-class frequent flier program. It’s going to be very customer relevant.
Cranky: I know we’re running short on time, but really quickly I’d like to talk about partnerships. You mentioned on the panel today that you were seeing 100 passengers a day connecting into your network from Aer Lingus. That’s really surprising to me. What else might we see?
Dave: Partnerships with Lufthansa and Swiss are next. They’re strategic investors in JetBlue, and we will have partnerships with them. After that, well, I was serious with Ali [Al Rais of Qatar Airways] about doing something with Qatar [as mentioned on the panel today].
Cranky: Could we see some partnerships on the west coast, maybe with Asian carriers? I imagine that would have to go to LAX though.
Dave: Sure. The potential could be there for partnerships at LAX. We can’t do that in Long Beach, but there’s no reason two operations in the LA Basin can’t work for us.
Cranky: Thanks, Dave. Let me know next time you guys are out in Long Beach.
Dave: Will do. And congratulations on your wedding.
So there you have it. A Lufthansa partnership is on its way, and Dave really doesn’t see a need for full broadband right now. I’m not sure that I agree that the narrow band solution will be enough, but as long as they’re watching this closely and willing to change quickly, then they should be ok. I’m also glad to hear that TrueBlue is going to be fixed, because it really isn’t a compelling program as it stands today.
Again, if you missed Part 1, click here.