Book review: Blue Streak

There are currently only two major airlines in the US that actually turn a profit: Southwest which has been around since 1973 and newcomer jetBlue which has been flying since 1999. They are both low-cost carriers, but that is probably not the root cause of their success – after all plenty of low-cost carriers have failed miserably. The likely cause of their ability to make money is the fact that they treat their people (employees and customers alike) well.

Southwest’s approach is famosuly described in the book Nuts! by Jackie and Kevin Freiberg, and now journalist Barbara Peterson has written an account of jetBlue called Blue Streak, Inside jetBlue, the Upstart That Rocked an Industry. The book focuses partly on David Neeleman, who may not sound like your typical CEO figure, being mormon, a father of 9 children and suffering from attention deficit disorder. But while he may be unable to sit still for very long, he has a deep understanding of the airline business and a faith in and commitment to treating employees and customers with dignity and respect.

The book’s other main focus is the decisions and people that have shaped jetBlue as it exists today. Neeleman assembled a dream-team of people from industry pace-setters like Virgin and Soutwhwest and sat down to design an airline that would “bring humanity back to air travel”. The book conveys a feeling of being present behind the scenes at the best and the worst of times. From opening routes to new cities to handling crises.

jetBlues main tool: Treating people well. Yes, they have nice planes. Yes, they have efficient online booking and low prices. Yes, they have TV’s at every seat with live TV. But any airline can do that. What they also have, is courteous, friendly service on board the planes. It sounds simple but few airlines manage to deliver that experience. And those who do triumph.

Neeleman often flies on his own planes serving snacks and talking to customers. In this way he stays in touch with his customers AND his employees. He even has his own apron with his name and “snack-boy”. Brilliant!

The book is well written and very interesting. It gives you a real feel for the people involved, and there is no doubt that the author knows both jetBlue and the airline business inside out.

BTW: Inc.com has a nice mini-portrait of Neeleman here.

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