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JetBlue is examining the potential for in-flight text messaging, highlighting efforts by US carriers to exploit on-board communications as a way to boost revenues and differentiate their service.
David Neeleman, JetBlue founder and chief executive, shares the misgivings of many US airline executives about the on-board use of mobile phones for voice calls, but said text communications could prove attractive.
JetBlue was the first US carrier to offer live television on its aircraft, and bought additional radio spectrum in a federal auction this year which could be applied to launch the US first in-flight texting service.
European carriers are at the forefront of introducing mobile phone technology, with Air France-KLM due to start a six-month trial on short-haul routes, while Ryanair has announced plans to equip all of its aircraft to allow mobile phone use.
Southwest Airlines, the largest domestic carrier in the US, last week said it was exploring in-flight wireless access as part of its own shift away from a “no-frills” business model. This comes at a time when network carriers such as Delta are narrowing the expense gap with low-cost rivals after restructuring under bankruptcy protection.
JetBlue’s assessment comes as the carrier seeks to rebuild its popular following among travellers after a series of delays and cancellations in February prompted Congressional hearings into airline service standards.
Mr Neeleman, who apologised again at a House hearing last week, has received plaudits for accepting responsibility for the problems, which will see the carrier report a first-quarter loss today.
JetBlue responded with a passenger “bill of rights” offering a sliding scale of payments and refunds for delays deemed to be in the carrier’s control. But Mr Neeleman and fellow airline CEOs have rejected calls for a federally-mandated passenger charter, arguing the proposals would add to delays and compromise operations.