Once High-Flying, JetBlue Returns to Earth

An airline known for making its fliers feel special faces the industry’s very ordinary problems
Illustration by 731

Ten years ago this week, JetBlue Airways staged a festive initial public offering at the Nasdaq marketplace in New York’s Times Square. Although September 11 had plunged the airline industry into record losses, the then-two-year-old carrier was the envy of its peers. Out of the gate, it was funded by venture backers and strategically hubbed at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. It boasted brand-new, leather-seat-equipped Airbus A320s and fanatically loyal customers drawn to its free in-flight TV and help-yourself snacks. Its low costs and tight-knit company culture—founder and Chief Executive Officer David Neeleman could often be seen helping flight crews vacuum planes between runs—seemed set to reinvent the industry. JetBlue stock soon tripled as larger rivals Delta Air Lines and United Airlines rushed (unsuccessfully) to launch their own cheery, low-cost spinoffs.

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