JetBlue marks anniversary with free travel offer

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JetBlue Airways Chief Executive Officer Dave Barger, in his first trip to Pittsburgh as CEO, celebrated the carrier's one-year anniversary at Pittsburgh International Airport with an offer of free travel for all Pittsburghers -- while acknowledging that JetBlue is not pleased with its performance here so far.

"Pittsburgh is taking longer to ramp than we thought," said the 49-year-old Mr. Barger, who took over last month from the hyperkenetic founder of JetBlue, David Neeleman.

"Try us," he added, "and give us the benefit of lowering fares."

Mr. Barger's local appearance is part of a larger campaign to boost the carrier's performance at Pittsburgh International Airport, where it began service last June to Boston and New York. Fares to both markets have dropped 46 percent and 62 percent, respectively, since JetBlue's arrival, but JetBlue gained only 20 percent of all Pittsburgh-New York travelers and 26.6 percent of Pittsburgh-Boston travelers.

US Airways, matching JetBlue's fares, is still No. 1 on both routes by a wide margin.

Mr. Barger said he would like to see JetBlue control two-thirds of the traffic to both cities. He knows that to do so, JetBlue needs to win over business travelers accustomed to choosing US Airways and racking up frequent-flier miles.

"We are looking for your support," Mr. Barger told a group of executives gathered yesterday morning at the Omni William Penn, Downtown.

As an enticement, Mr. Barger announced a "gift" of free travel to any Pittsburgh-area resident who books a flight on the Forest Hills, N.Y., carrier by Saturday. To qualify, you must be a member of JetBlue's frequent-flier program, TrueBlue, and the flight must take place between June 26 and Nov. 15.

Travelers who book flights through www.jetblue.com will receive 100 TrueBlue points at the conclusion of their travel, which can be redeemed for a free trip anywhere JetBlue flies. JetBlue serves 54 cities with up to 575 daily flights. The TrueBlue points will expire in one year from the date of issuance.

The promotion is the first of its kind for the 7-year-old company that gained fame for its customer service (it recently won top prizes in two separate rankings) and TVs with every seat.

After a fast start and several years of hefty profits, JetBlue has been struggling recently with losses and the need to keep pace with its dramatic growth.

One of Mr. Barger's first tasks as CEO is to conduct a review of the company's operations, especially the 16 new airport stations it opened last year, including Pittsburgh. While Mr. Barger made it clear yesterday that he was committed to Pittsburgh, he also noted in a response to a question about slower-performing cities that "if we believe a city is not progressing as it should be, we would make a tough decision to redeploy assets."


Dan Fitzpatrick can be reached at dfitzpatrick@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1752.


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