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Thu, May 10, 2007

JetBlues: Neeleman Out As CEO Of Airline He Founded

Retains Chairman Title; Barger Named As Successor

Alas, not even an appearance on late-night television was enough to spare JetBlue Airways CEO David Neeleman the ax. On Thursday, the low-cost carrier replaced the airline's founder as chief executive, less than three months after a series of weather-related operations snafus shut down the carrier for days.

The Associated Press reports JetBlue Chief Operating Officer Dave Barger has been appointed as the airline's new CEO, effective immediately. Neeleman -- who had been JetBlue's CEO since 1998 -- will retain his title as chairman of the airline.

"This is a natural evolution of our leadership structure as JetBlue continues to grow," Neeleman said. "As Chairman of the Board of Directors, I will focus on developing JetBlue's long-term vision and strategy, and how we can continue to be a preferred product in a commodity business."

Considered by many to be a darling among low-cost carriers  -- bringing such innovations as inflight entertainment and more spacious seating to the budget airline sector -- JetBlue saw its 'preferred product' status slip significantly in the aftermath of storms in February and March that led to the cancellation of nearly 1,700 flights.

As ANN reported, thousands of passengers were stranded throughout the Northeast following the Valentine's Day storm, as JetBlue struggled to redistribute its fleet. The airline promised change, even drafting a "customer bill of rights" and promising vouchers for delayed customers... which the carrier was forced to make good on, when a St. Patrick's Day storm once again caught the carrier flatfooted.

Neeleman issued a series of apologies for his airline's failures, saying he was "humiliated and mortified" by the routing issues. He even went on the David Letterman show, to appeal to customers.

Analysts say the canceled flights and vouchers cost JetBlue some $41 million, contributing to a first quarter loss of $22 million for the carrier. That was less than analysts had originally expected, though an improvement over the same quarter last year.

Barger joined JetBlue as president and chief operating officer in 1998, shortly after Neeleman founded the airline.

FMI: www.jetblue.com

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