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JetBlue Maturing as Airline

Stocks in this article: JBL LUV CAL

The denouement to overly rapid expansion came in 2007, when a Valentine's Day storm revealed that operational infrastructure had not kept pace with growth. The result was 1,200 canceled flights, thousands of stranded passengers and $41 million in costs. Subsequently, founder David Neeleman departed, and down-to-earth operations guy Barger took over. He promised, in a 2007 interview, to "calm it down." And that is exactly what he has done.

JetBlue remains unique. It is one of the four principal carriers in the world's largest aviation market, second in total passengers behind Continental (CAL).

In October, it opened a modernistic new terminal at Kennedy and it continues to offer a compelling coach travel experience, with free food, free entertainment and plenty of leg room. Oddly, JetBlue offers a premium seat called Even More Legroom, which generated $45 million in 2008 revenue.

In labor relations, JetBlue emulates Southwest (LUV) with a no-layoff policy. "Others will look at it as an expense, but it positions us well," Barger said. "It allows us to springboard into growth (when) we want to dial it up." Not coincidentally, JetBlue pilots voted this month not to form an in-house union, enabling the carrier to remain the largest U.S. airline without labor representation.

Meanwhile, JetBlue continues shuffling its aircraft, hunting profitable routes. In the fourth quarter of 2008, 32% of capacity was in transcontinental markets, down from 42% a year earlier. The Caribbean accounted for 16%, up from 11%. Florida had 36%, up from 33%. The rest is short-haul and medium-haul markets in the Northeast and the West.

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