New Woman Piloting Jetblue Faces Headwinds

In January, a federal judge halted Jet Blue’s $3.8 billion acquisition of Spirit Airlines, citing the likelihood that the merger would result in higher prices for cost-conscious customers. According to then-CEO Robin Hayes, JetBlue needed the deal to get done to compete with the so-called “big four”: American Airlines Group, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines Holdings, and Southwest Airlines.

Now, Hayes is out and Joanna Geraghty, the first female leader of a major US airline, is in. And the 25-year-old company is at a crossroads; the new chief must either lead JetBlue in a successful appeal of the judge’s decision or devise an entirely new strategy to offset sagging domestic demand and low profitability.

JetBlue management recently floated a few ideas on how to repair the balance sheet, including getting rid of some routes, among them flights from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport to Portland, Oregon and San Jose, California. Geraghty must also plug the revenue hole that was left when JetBlue nixed its partnership with American Airlines, a move meant to sway regulators to greenlight the Spirit deal.

JetBlue “has long been a disruptor,” Geraghty said when the news of her appointment was confirmed in January. She praised the company’s 25,000 crewmembers for “challenging the status quo and bringing humanity to an industry long dominated by the legacy carriers.”

In recent years, however, JetBlue has faced high costs and capacity in the US airline market. Its reputation as an affordable carrier began to dissipate as ambitious ventures such as transatlantic routes impacted profits. Whether Geraghty can change course remains to be seen. She first joined JetBlue in 2005 as a director within its legal department. Nine years later, she was named executive vice president of customer experience, and in 2018, she became the airline’s president and COO. Within the US, Cape Air is the only other airline with a woman—Linda Markham—at the helm. Several non-US carriers currently have women in the top position, however, including KLM, Air France, Aer Lingus, El Al, VietJet, Virgin Australia, and Austrian Airlines.