JetBlue CEO Dave Barger will be visiting every single airport in the system this year to celebrate the airline’s 10 year anniversary. Last week, he came through Southern California, and of course, spent a fair bit of time in Long Beach. While he was here, I had a chance to sit across the aisle from him for about half an hour. We had a wide-ranging conversation about everything from local issues (today) to American and other partnerships. Yes, I made sure to touch on snack boxes and the express beverage service as well since those have been hot topics here recently. Of course, we hit on wifi and even some nuggets about expansion in Mexico. This is part 1 of 3. Enjoy. (See Part 2, Part 3)
Cranky: Alright. We’re here in Long Beach, anything you want to say?
JetBlue CEO Dave Barger: Go Angels! How’s that? No, I think it’s really exciting to be at the airport and see construction taking place. I think to see the investment with the parking structure taking place in earnest . . . looks like we’ll be in the ground with the terminal redevelopment by the end of the year, probably two years with the phasing with that design . . . it’s exciting. Where we’re at today, we’re finally seeing the investment, plus the tarmac investment that’s been taking place, it’s exhilarating. We’ve needed it and now we can see the finish line.
Cranky: Yeah, I’m curious to see – you’re already using all your slots, when you have more terminal space are there going to be any thoughts about trying to get the Embraers in the commuter slots?
Dave: Specific to the commuter slots, we think that would add increased utility . . . looking at how best to optimize limited resources at an airport like Long Beach. What it means to the community, what it means to the vibrancy of the city and the surrounding airport. We respect the statute, the historical meaning of it . . . but the fact is that airplanes are totally different in terms of technology than when the statute was put into place. I think what’s most important is that the investment is taking place. It’s great to see concrete being poured at Long Beach.
Cranky: One thing about Southern California, we’ve heard a lot from you on the East Coast lately. Boston is growing, [Washington National (DCA)] is starting up. It’s been pretty quiet out here. Are there any plans in the future to have a west coast focus at all?
Dave: Actually, I believe there’s been pretty significant investment and focus that’s taken place in the last year. Let’s look at the video tape. Now we’re in LAX – we opened it with four flights and now we’re at six. Burbank is at four, Long Beach is at 30, so we have 40 today. A year ago we weren’t in LAX, so there’s been pretty significant investment. . . . Fact is we have 5 focus cities of which LA, the Basin, is one of those including Lauderdale, Orlando, New York, as well as Boston. Transcons appear to be doing quite well. The shorter haul flying out of Long Beach appears to be doing well. Is that the economy? Is that the competitive landscape? Is it oil? Is it the discretionary dollar? I think it’s all of the above, so we’re excited about what’s happening in the Basin.
Cranky: It’s good growth at LAX for sure, but I think from a Southern California perspective you haven’t added any new destinations FROM Southern California. Maybe frequency increases. So I think that’s more what I was talking about – increase in breadth as opposed to depth.
Dave: I think that increase in breadth includes adding frequency in a market. We’re at 30 in Long Beach, a historic high. And everything we’re doing here is 150 seats. So it’s a better use of a precious resource than a 50 seat jet. Multiple frequencies into Seattle, into Portland, into Oakland, into San Francisco, over to Las Vegas, plus the transcons, plus Austin, and Chicago. While opening more cities is something we’d like to do, we’re focused on just making the pattern of service relevant to the business traveler as well as the discretionary traveler. So I think it’s another way to look at what we’ve been doing. Our network is quite a bit different than what it looked like just a couple years ago.
Cranky: Absolutely. The long hauls have been trimmed down in favor of the short hauls in Long Beach, and then a lot of those have gone over to LAX.
Dave: Interesting because another opportunity would be a change in the commuter slots. I mean, if you only have 30 today, but you want a pattern of service that will appeal to the business traveler to Portland. . . . It’s still a finite number, so something has to give in there somewhere, and that’s why some frequencies have been relocated out of Long Beach. We respect the statute but I don’t think that drives best utility for the community.
Cranky: I’ll go back to LAX for a second. One thing LAX has that Long Beach doesn’t is international feed. You guys have been focused on the alliances, but they’ve all been East Coast so far. Can we look forward to seeing some of those opportunities where you might be feeding Asian carriers in LA?
Dave: I think it would be exciting. I mean, as I look at our second decade or part of our second decade, this open architecture, the opportunity to partner with really anybody. The Sabre investment has really allowed us to enable the relationship with El Al most recently, American, South African. Of course, we’ve been in place with Lufthansa but now to optimize it, Aer Lingus, Cape Air. I think it’s safe to say you’ll see more and more announcement regarding partnerships, and potentailly that could certainly be off the West Coast. A place like LAX or SFO, by definition that’s where it would have to take place.
Stay tuned for Part 2 and 3 later this week (unless something hugely awesome happens that postpones the rest of this).