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JetBlue CEO on the Express Beverage Service, Wifi, and, Wait, Guadalajara? (Across the Aisle, Part 3)

And I’m back for round 3 of my across the aisle interview with JetBlue CEO Dave Barger. The express beverage service is topic number one today, but make sure to stay for the end when talk of LA to Guadalajara surfaces. (See Part 1, Part 2)


Cranky: It’s funny you talked about the beverage service. There was a lot of discussion on the blog about the express beverage service.

Dave Clark, Director of Route Planning: I forwarded your comments to our Director of Product Across the Aisle from JetBlueDevelopment [Rachel McCarthy].

Cranky: There were a lot of comments about it. For me, it was a minor thing, but I thought that was an interesting one, because people started getting passionate about it. I was just curious if that’s something that might be revisited.

Dave Clark: Rachel and I discussed this. Is it too limited? I mean, some people on the comment board said “Southwest does a full service from Oakland to Reno, 38 minutes block time. Why does JetBlue have an express service?” Rachel and her team were really enthusiastic to get that input. I think it’s something they’re going to be looking at in more detail. I think they’re worried about consistency where we’re not halfway through the cabin and then because of turbulence, the back half of the cabin gets nothing. One of the concerns is that everyone gets something. The comments, especially in your article, now they’re going to look at it. It created a good debate in our offices.


Cranky: I realize it’s not what’s keeping you up every night Dave, but still, it’s interesting.

Dave: Well, the aspect of exceeding expectations is so important, my heritage at New York Air with 146 seats on an MD80 flying from LaGuardia to Boston and DCA with a full service. So it’s not that it can’t be done, it’s can you be consistent? And what the people really want, because people are brining more and more onboard the airplane whether it’s inflight entertainment or food and beverage. But I do think that if someone’s flying from JFK to Syracuse or San Juan to Santo Domingo or Burbank to Las Vegas, the opportunity to say “hey, I’d just like to have a Presidente beer,” I’d like to be able to satisfy that.


Cranky: You talked about IFE there, wireless is something you’re happy to be a follower right now and coming out with something good and exciting soon?

Dave: We want to have a wireless application soon. By design, we were a follower. When you look at today’s offering, for the most part ground-based and the pricing is really something that’s being powered by the supplier and the branding as well. That’s something we do a little bit differently. So I think it’s been prudent for us to first of all validate, which we did through BetaBlue, the ability to use a ground-based network, because it also told us what we couldn’t do. Think about the Caribbean.

I think the ability to be a follower and to partner with some new partners in what their capabilities could be which obviously would be satellite-based, is pretty exciting. And at the same time, if we find that we have to go a traditional path for a couple years until technology is further enhanced, we’ll do that to. I think people think of JetBlue as a leader in inflight entertainment, Brett, which gives us pause too. We have 140 choices today with the TVs, with the premium entertainment, with satellite radio. We’ve had a little bit of a people understanding, but clearly people are looking for wifi especialy on the long haul. Satisfied to be a follower right now because we’d like to leapfrog what’s out there today.


Cranky: It does help when you have LiveTV already on the plane. I’m curious about LiveTV. When I flew down from Sacramento a couple weeks ago, the plane was dark, TVs weren’t working. The captain made it sound like, I don’t know if it’s an increasingly common occurrence or if it’s something that he’s just seen a lot. Have there been reliability issues? Is that something you’re focused on?

Dave: Very much so [as a focus]. Statistically, the system is very reliable. We track a metric called dark aircraft, a metric called number of seats inop by aircraft. We track even the channels if we’re having challenges with individual channels as well. The beauty of the system is that it downloads everything into our LiveTV group so we can track the wellness of the fleet. That being said, a year ago last summer, we were absolutely not pleased with what we were seeing, but we’ve seen huge improvements in the last year. It’s interesting too. What was it? I think a lot of it has to do with new equipment we were putting into the aircraft. I don’t think we’d see JD Power 6 years in a row if we had consistent problems because it’s such a hallmark of the JetBlue brand. We’re really pleased with what we’re seeing today.


Cranky: Sorry I’m kind of digging into the weeds on some of these things, but sometimes I think it’s fun to dig in to get that high level perspective on these things. . . . I think we’re out of time. I could do this all day, of course, but you have other things to do.

Dave: I appreciate the time to talk. As I shared in Phoenix, to come out here to Long Beach and see mounds of dirt and the construction . . . I’m really excited. The airport and the economic impact, and how we can continue to invest, whether it’s commuter slots or whatever it might be, doing it respectfully. Maybe Dave [Clark] can give you some more on that. So are we gonna go to Guadalajara? It’s on tape, come on.

Brett: Guadalajara?!

Dave Clark: There’s an open authority at LAX right now.

Brett: Are you looking at that?

Dave Clark: We’re looking at continuing to accelerate our growth to Latin America, including Mexico, so part of it is knowing where we can fly. It leads to the question of an FIS [customs/immigration facility] in Long Beach. We could fly to Cabo whereas at LAX we can’t.

Brett: Very interesting. Thanks guys.

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