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 Condé 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.

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