Flying High (Book Review)

Can a hyperactive, teetotalling, non-flying entrepreneur, whose first business went bankrupt and who was fired by a top company, do anything significant in the airline business?

If your name is David Neeleman, the answer is a high-flying “yes,” as told in the new book “Flying High, How JetBlue Founder and CEO David Neeleman Beats the Competition Even in the World’s Most Turbulent Industry,” a fascinating look at one of the most impressive airline startups in history – JetBlue.

Raised in Utah as a third-generation Mormon, Neeleman was off and running as a businessman while still in college. When he was just a junior, the small travel company that he founded had 20 employees and $8 million in annual sales. But when the airline that he depended on for flights went out of business, so did Neeleman.

From there he went to work for another company, Morris Travel, and developed a charter operation that turned into a scheduled airline. By 1993 Morris Air had reached annual sales of $250 million. The startup was subsequently bought by Southwest Airlines. Neeleman went to Southwest as part of the deal, but soon ran afoul of the Southwest way of doing business and was dismissed.

While he could not compete in the airline business for several years as part of the sale, he could plan, and during that time the concept for JetBlue was developed. On Feb. 11, 2000, JetBlue’s first scheduled flight pushed back from its gate at JFK airport in New York, bound for Fort Lauderdale.

The new airline, with discount fares, new planes, live in-flight television, electronic ticketing and a focus on customer service, was an immediate success.

With a talent for marketing as well as for picking just the right people to work for him, Neeleman’s story is worth reading as much for its business lessons as it is for its accounts of the rough-and-tumble airline industry.

Written by aviation and business reporter James Wynbrandt, who also writes occasionally for General Aviation News, the book is an absorbing account of how one man’s vision became a reality that has made a major impact on the airline industry in the United States.

Flying High, published in hardback, runs 250 pages and is priced at $24.95. Published by John Wiley & Sons, it is available in bookstores and online.

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