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Fast Takeoff


Inside JetBlue, the Upstart

That Rocked an Industry

By Barbara S. Peterson

Portfolio -- 262pp -- $24.95

The most interesting character in Blue Streak: Inside JetBlue, the Upstart That Rocked an Industry isn't mentioned much. The book zeroes in on JetBlue Airways Corp. (JBLU) founder and media darling David G. Neeleman. But Neeleman rarely escapes the shadow of Southwest Airlines Co.'s (LUV) Herbert D. Kelleher. Herb breezes into this narrative infrequently, each time stealing the show. Kelleher, who fired Neeleman in 1994, months after buying Neeleman's former airline, Morris Air Corp., is a hard-drinking, high-living Texan who has outfoxed -- and out-earned -- the major carriers for a quarter century.

Blue Streak author Barbara S. Peterson, a contributing editor at Cond? Nast Traveler, paints Neeleman as a man-who-would-be-Herb. He's part shrewd entrepreneur, part customer advocate -- Neeleman aims to "bring humanity back to air travel," she writes -- and part human sponge. The managers Neeleman assembles to build JetBlue are drawn primarily from Southwest and Britain's Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. Like cost-obsessed Southwest, JetBlue started with a single type of plane, treated employees well, and stressed quick-turnaround, point-to-point service. And like Virgin, JetBlue used buzz and hip marketing to present the flying experience as much more than simply getting from Point A to Point B.

Too often, Peterson seems to have "drunk the blue Kool-Aid," the phrase JetBlue insiders apply to true believers in the carrier. For example, she once describes Neeleman -- a squeaky-clean Mormon father of nine -- as "young, fit, an advertisement for clean living." But readers escape sugar shock when Peterson moves beyond personalities to detail how Neeleman crafted more of a branded travel experience than an airline. For that alone, Neeleman's place in the often-unfriendly skies is secure.

By James E. Ellis

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