Turbulence at JetBlue: Stock Plunge and Operational Woes Followed By CEO’s Exit

JetBlue announced on Monday that CEO Robin Hayes would step down effective February 12, 2024, and will also leave the board at that time. If this were a voluntary transition it would likely be longer. However if misconduct were involved it would likely be immediate. Update: JetBlue emphasizes that the transition is health-related.

Hayes, clearly, was a failed CEO – having failed both shareholders and customers.

  • Over the last 6 months JetBlue shares had lost 38% of their value. They’re down by two-thirds over the last 5 years. Both measures are even worse than American Airlines.

  • Hayes was installed due to Wall Street clamoring for better stock performance. Under his leadership the airline eliminated free checked bags, densified aircraft, installed thinner seats with less cushion, and started selling basic economy fares. In other words, prior to Hayes they’d resisted joining the race to the bottom and he accelerated it.

  • Meanwhile the carrier had the worst on-time performance in the United States last year. They’re consistently at the bottom, and they’re underperforming Frontier and Spirit.

JetBlue is still decent in the air, and their business class is generally quite good, but they really suffer on the ground where in my experience confusion reigns relative to their larger airline cousins.

The carrier made several strategic deals under his tenure:

  • They tried to buy Virgin America, losing to Alaska Airlines

  • They entered into an alliance with American Airlines. This was approved by the Trump administration, but then the Biden administration reversed course and sued to undo it. They had a good case, but lost at the federal district court, and JetBlue decided not to appeal in order to focus on their deal for Spirit Airlines instead.

  • They did a deal to acquire Spirit, outbidding Frontier for the carrier. That, too, was opposed by the Biden administration. We await the results of that trial – but they overpaid for an airline that’s underperforming financially and they’re already paying Spirit shareholders.

Replacing Hayes is airline President Joanna Geraghty, who becomes the first female CEO of a major U.S. airline. There’s little to indicate at this point a different direction for the carrier, however.

Geraghty joined JetBlue in 2005 as Director of Litigation and Regulatory Affairs, later becoming their associate general counsel (she was their lawyer) and then head of HR. Prior to being elevated to the role of President in June 2016 she served as head of Customer Experience during the period in which JetBlue was cheapening its onboard product.

The remaining question, I suppose, is why certain other airline boards are more forgiving.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. JetBlue will be acquired, eventually and merged into one of the US3. It won’t be DL and it won’t be UA.

  2. JetBlue need root and branch clean out of the C-Suite, this is just moving around the deck chairs

  3. This is the propane overdue verdict on Robin given the horrible metrics the airline put up under his command — operational, financial, strategic. But he’s probably lucky to be removed before the Spirit thing is finalized. The post-merger B6 will make the pre-merger B6 look like a purring Swiss watch. And that future catastrophe will be too big to be eligible for a US3 rescue merger.

    In the meantime maybe Geraghty can make the website work, if nothing else.

  4. The Jet Blue-Spirit merger is starting to remind me of the merger of the Pennsylvania and New York Central railroads into the Penn Central in 1968. Two failing railroads focused on their merger to the exclusion of modernization. By the time regulators approved the deal (forcing the inclusion of an even sicker New Haven railroad), it was much too late and Penn Central went bankrupt less than two years after the merger. With Jet Blue-Spirit, it won’t come to a bankruptcy, but one of the big carriers will end up getting the merged airline for a song.

  5. Stock sis the same price as yesterday. I knew Gary was a bad tabloid writer but the amount of crap this guy puts on the internet is insane.

  6. sammons wrote:

    “The Jet Blue-Spirit merger is starting to remind me of the merger of the Pennsylvania and New York Central railroads into the Penn Central in 1968. Two failing railroads focused on their merger to the exclusion of modernization.”

    Good reference point, except in those days passenger trains were dying and in this era passenger air travel is a license to print money unless you’re doing it very badly, as JetBlue is.

    At any rate we have plenty of modern documentary evidence proving that when you glue two sick airlines together, you don’t get one healthy one. You get a bigger, sicker one. History tells us the JetBlue-spirit mashup with be in Airline ICU within three years; B6 can’t even run the shoestring operation it’s got, never mind scaling up to add 200 more planes.

  7. I don’t care much for Jetblue, but like that they offer premium cabin competition to the majors. So in that respect i hope they find a footing.

  8. They’ve never been the same since they let Marty St. George walk out the door. It’s been a nosedive ever since he left. Geraghty is just another lawyer cosplaying an airline executive. She will just continue his failed policies

  9. The departure of Hayes signals that they expect the merger to be rejected and he wants to exit before the fallout (regardless someone will be on the hook for the financial ramifications) or the Board has been planning his departure be it willingly or coerced to step down. Neither JB or SPIRIT are financially sound operations and overpaying to acquire a competitor rarely works out (Alaska did it with VA) but generally unsuccessful. The integration of these two very different AIrlines never made any sense from the getgo and the consumer will be a loser in the grand scheme of things.

  10. Improving on time performance & re-accommodation of pax when flights are canceled and/or during IROPs so that they’re NOT left in the lurch when that happens would be a good start, as these two recurring/chronic problems over the past ~5 years are the reasons why we avoid the airline for our own travel, and/or for bookings I do for others.

  11. When a business is poorly run the results trickle down.and when your employees morale starts to sink so does your business.

  12. JetBlue is probably better off being parted out at this point selling off certain assets (JFK slots/Operation to AA, BOS to whoever not named DL and FLL to either UAL or DL). JetBlue’s biggest mistake was straying from their original blueprint and trying to take on the Big Three with their version of Premium FC and then the TransAtlantic flying. They are attempting to be More than they can handle and You cannot be Everything to All types of Customer. Either you offer FC fleet wide or forget about it. TransAtlantic on a Narrowbody…..no thanks. Once Neelemann left JB it has been downhill in a continuous spiral. Merging with SPIRIT is a colossal mistake……serious miscalculation of an integration going smoothly.

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