It was a tale of two airlines at Mike Boyd’s recent International Aviation Forecast Summit. JetBlue CEO Dave Barger and Gail Grimmett, senior vice president of New York City for Delta Air Lines offered updates on their carriers.
Barger used the event to talk about Mint, the carrier’s new long-haul product that debuts in 2014. When asked by Mike Boyd why a premium cabin, Barger said you have to change over time.
“We’re excited to have the [Airbus] A321 in the fleet. You have routes like LAX and San Francisco that aren’t performing,” said Barger. “Customers tell us they’re flying American, Virgin America and Delta because we don’t have a premium experience.”
JetBlue will not out-corporate the network carriers in New York City, bit there are still opportunities, said Barger. “It can cost up to $6,000 to fly coast-to-coast on network carriers. We will have Mint or core service – not coach or premium,” he said.
The carrier has aircraft equipped with the new product now that is being tested, said Barger. “We’re investing because we need to bring in revenue and not leave money on the table,” he said. “We need to have more brand customer loyalty.”
Grimmett said her carrier is working hard to set itself apart from a crowded marketplace. “When I started at Delta 18 years ago, I did not have an airline background. I was in economics,” she said. “I was told that the airline was a commodity and a seat was a seat. But you have to be different because people will pay more for a higher-end product.”
Delta has invested $1.6 billion in New York, and you can’t invest that much without talking to the board about a return on that investment, said Grimmett. “One lesson we learned is that you can never stop investing in the customer. On the operations side, the product side, and the experience side, we have to be ahead of things with passengers.”
Grimmett used Delta’s facilities at JFK as an example. “Terminal 3 by itself was handling five million passengers a year, and it was never meant for that kind of traffic,” she said. “Delta has also invested in its International Terminal and its Sky Clubs.”
By summer 2014, Delta will have new lie-flat seats on all its widebodies, said Grimmett. “All of our domestic aircraft have WiFi.”
Delta’s partnership with Virgin Atlantic is a “huge opportunity,” said Grimmett. “You can’t get business traffic with three flights a day between JFK and London Heathrow,” she said. “The Virgin deal strengthens our portfolio. To buy that would have taken a lot of time, and it would have been costly. Now we have an airline partner with a great brand.”