JetBlue’s Nussbaum Urges Collaboration, Creativity As Air Travel Ramps Up Again

JetBlue Airways’ Jacob Nussbaum struck a collaborative tone in remarks yesterday, stressing that all parties in aviation should work together to ensure passengers feel safe and secure as they return to flying. Nussbaum shared his thoughts on the weekly conference call discussing “survival and revival” of the concessions industry, hosted jointly by the Airport Restaurant & Retail Association (ARRA) and the Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC).

Nussbaum, who leads JetBlue’s ground experience team within product development, acknowledged that these early months are challenging as both businesses and travelers become accustomed to new protocols.

“The more comfortable customers are getting on an aircraft flown by one of our competitors, the more comfortable they will be also getting on an aircraft flown by JetBlue,” Nussbaum said. “We’re very hopeful that a rising tide lifts all boats. We’re all very much in this together and we all have a role to play in adding that comfort.”

Nussbaum noted that JetBlue is currently not selling food or alcohol onboard its flights. “We’re working to be really upfront with our customers about what the experience is going to be,” he said. “We know from our research that customers really want to be in control of the situation. They want to have the tools at their disposal to make their journey as customer as comfortable as possible.

“That’s where, where our partnership comes in,” Nussbaum said of airline relationships with airports and concessionaires. “[We need to] make sure that on both ends of, of that flight their concessions option that are appealing to customers.”

Still, the dearth of passengers is weighing heavily on concessionaires. JetBlue sees that first hand, as it operates Terminal 5 at John F. Kennedy International (JFK). On guidance from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, JetBlue waived the minimum annual guarantee for concessionaires in its terminal.

“I think, as challenging as things are now, we will get through this eventually as a company and as an industry,” he said. “And we want to make sure that we’re still providing the same great customer experience we were providing before COVID-19. Our partners in the terminal help us create that experience, we want them to be around as well.”

He also called for innovation while following rules set forth in response to the pandemic. “There may be ways for us to get creative to, first and foremost, ensure that we’re keeping customers safe, but also do as much business as we’re able to do and provide a good experience for our customers.”

Nussbaum noted that customer behavior will have shifted in light of the pandemic, and airports and concessionaires should look to technology to meet those changing needs. “I think leaning on technology is one way to ensure that we’re providing the services that we’re set up to provide in a way that it still meets the needs of our customer,” he said.

While JetBlue manages JFK T5, the company’s core business is, of course, flying. JetBlue recently announced more than two dozen new routes, signaling its readiness to ramp up service in markets where it believes traffic will return early.

“I think in the case of these routes we were looking at where we are seeing recovery,” Nussbaum said, noting that JetBlue will be offering its premium JetBlue Mint service that offers passenger privacy on some routes. He also noted that JetBlue has assets it needs to get into revenue flying. “Before this, we couldn’t take delivery of a new aircraft quickly enough. There were more places that we wanted to fly to than we had aircraft capacity to do,” he said. “I’m sure everyone has seen the images of the planes parked in the desert. We’re really in the opposite situation now.”