BTN's annual answer book for business travel managers.
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New York - JetBlue Airways on Wednesday opened its new international arrivals hall extension at John F. Kennedy International Airport's Terminal 5 here. While JetBlue's international service from New York primarily includes such leisure markets as the Caribbean and Mexico, airline president Robin Hayes said the expansion provides expedited services that would be yet another tool for JetBlue to build on its budding corporate market share. During a preview event for the terminal expansion earlier this month, Hayes, who in February will become CEO, spoke to Business Travel News senior editor Michael B. Baker about the carrier's corporate business growth and its technology initiatives in progress. An edited transcript of the interview follows.
What will the new terminal mean in terms of growing corporate share?
Most of what we have in the New York area is a strong leisure franchise, but we certainly carry a lot of business travelers. This facility is going to make that even more pleasant. What people love about Terminal 5 compared with other terminals at JFK is: I arrive at the curb, get through security and within five minutes, I can be at the farthest gate. Some of the walks, like at Terminal 4, can be a 15- to 20-minute trek. People want to arrive, get to the airplane. In Boston, definitely, we have a network that is strongest in terms of the corporate travel market. We're going to continue to grow our share of the corporate travel market.
Now that you're implementing Prism, is that changing your approach to the corporate market?
That was just getting smarter, as corporate business is becoming a more important part of what we do. Not having access to that data was starting to become an impediment to understanding how we were doing, our relative performance and what we need to change. It wasn't worth making the investment before, because we were too small in that segment, but as we've gotten bigger, it's been worthwhile.
Are you looking to make any of your markets strong corporate centers like Boston?
Not for now. There's still some growth in Boston. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood is another area of growth for us, and that's a nice mix of leisure and business travel. Things like [premium-class product] Mint have been phenomenal in terms of making us more attractive to large New York- or Los Angeles-based corporates, and now San Francisco, where we just started. When we designed that product, we designed it around the leisure market and the small and medium-sized companies, but I've been pleasantly surprised how much large corporate business we've seen on Mint.
How do you intend to grow Mint?
By next February or March, we'll have eight on L.A. [routes] and up to five on San Francisco. Given the phenomenal success we've had on Mint, I see potential markets like Boston-San Francisco and Boston-LAX. You bet we're thinking about it, based on what we've seen. The most complimented feature is our flight attendants, who have done an incredible job.
What's the latest on inflight Wi-Fi?
We're across 82 aircraft in our fleet now, so we're more than halfway through the [Airbus] A320 rollout. It's going really well. There's still a few teething problems here and there, but they're very isolated now. We knew this was such a groundbreaking product that it would take some time to stabilize. Customers love it. I don't think people are choosing JetBlue yet because of it, because it's still on less than half our fleet, but that's going to change quickly as we roll it out. Particularly on longer segments of more than three or four hours, during the next few years there will be a basic expectation of a high-performing Wi-Fi system, and we'll get customers preferring us because of that.
What about the small business portal you've been working on?
I don't have the exact date, but I believe that's ready to roll out early next year.
When you take over as CEO next year, do you have any changes planned as far as the company's priorities and goals?
This is a company that's really been following the same strategy for 15 or 16 years, bringing humanity back to air travel. It's a company built on the bedrock of a very strong culture. My biggest responsibility is protecting and nurturing that culture.
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