Dear JetBlue: What happened? And can you please fix it? - The Boston Globe (2024)

Dear Marty,

I started writing this to you from the first row of an Embraer 190 as it rattled through the sky between Boston and Baltimore like an MBTA bus with wings. If this plane interior had a color, it would be called “Soiled.” Seriously, what is it, gray, tan, some unspoken shade in between? Windows all but whistle. My tray table won’t fold back into the armrest. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a message scraped into the scuffed and smudged walls: “Orville Wright was here.”

To be clear, though, I’m not writing to complain, but to ask one simple question: What happened? And a second, more important one: Can you please fix it?

Not to live in the past, but JetBlue’s arrival in Boston in 2004 was a transformative event. You quickly went from a single gate and a few departures a day to just about an entire terminal and the most flights of any airline out of Logan. You were credited with keeping everyone’s fares down because of the competition you brought. You had new planes, irreverent crew members, and leather seats with the biggest novelty in the sky: live television.

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You were basically perfect, plus you flew nonstop to pretty much everywhere – Charleston and Houston, Bozeman and Dublin, dozens of cities and islands and countries. You made Boston feel closer to the entire rest of the country.

Plus, you understood Boston – you, the airline, and you, Marty St. George. JetBlue sponsored the Red Sox and became ingrained in our culture. You might call yourself “New York’s hometown airline,” but we overlooked that bit of vulgar though understandable commercial pandering and knew you to be very much ours. And you, Marty, worked this place like few others, getting to know your passengers and workers and the self-reverential decision makers around town. Everyone liked you, right up until you left JetBlue a few years ago to join another airline. And we want to like you even more since you returned, this time as president, four months ago.

But a funny thing happens to an innovative startup. It eventually gets old. The question always is, does it age well? JetBlue has most decidedly not. So many of your planes are exhausted. Your finances are under water. Others caught up to your innovative ideas, and you lost your innovative spirit, unless you want to count your failed purchase of the universally loathed Spirit airlines, which cost you hundreds of millions of dollars with precisely nothing to show for it. These days, your five-inch screens in the back of your often scruffy seats look like a throwback to another time. So you keep pushing “name brand snacks,” as if an especially small bag of plantain chips is going to rock anyone’s world.

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I’m honestly not trying to pile on here, but you own last place in The Wall Street Journal’s annual survey of airlines. You are last among the largest airlines for on-time performance. Even Frontier beat you last year. Who loses to Frontier?

Your stock is down 73 percent from pre-pandemic levels, underperforming other major airlines, because your profit margins, are, well not in the profit column. You continue to lose money every quarter, every year, since the pandemic, and now Carl Icahn controls a pair of board seats, which very few CEOs think is a good thing.

And let’s not even bring up the misery of so much of Terminal C, that trudge down the darkened central ramps to the crowded gate areas that are among the oldest, unrenovated outposts of Logan Airport.

The point is, Marty, Boston needs you. We need you to be better than this. We need you to figure this out. You are our version of Dunkin’ Donuts or Matt Damon – known to the world, but still intrinsically ours.

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If we don’t have a thriving JetBlue, then we have no more nonstops to Grenada and Presque Isle, Maine. If we don’t have JetBlue, then we’re all suddenly spending a lot more time dining on Auntie Anne’s pretzels during two-hour layovers in Charlotte and Chicago and Atlanta. If we don’t have JetBlue, then all airfares out of Logan will rise and Boston will become just that much more distant from the rest of the world.

Sure, there’s your biggest competitor in Boston, Delta, with whom you’ve run neck and neck in recent years for most passengers out of Logan. Truth is, when you canceled your Baltimore route in May, I got on a Delta nonstop, looked around the immaculate plane, and thought, so this is what it feels like to be treated like a fully formed adult.

But Delta, considered the gold standard for US airlines, at the top of the WSJ list, with the best on-time performance in the industry, and a sun-splashed terminal at Logan, isn’t ours, as much as it says it is. It’s generic, it’s Starbucks, it’s Atlanta. We’ll fly it, but it’s hard to have real feelings.

JetBlue is different. You were always the underdog taking on the huge legacy airlines, in the way that Boston was essentially born with a chipped shoulder. You carved out a unique spot, between the budget airlines and the proud national carriers. You were creative in the way Boston likes to think it is. And now you need some discipline, and a reinvention, in the way the Patriots and Red Sox and our mass transit system and housing markets all do.

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We get it. We’re with you. But you’ve got to prove to Boston that you’re as committed to us as we’ve been to you. It all starts with something pretty direct, Marty. Let’s not fly aimlessly. Show us a plan.

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Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at brian.mcgrory@globe.com.

Dear JetBlue: What happened? And can you please fix it? - The Boston Globe (2024)
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