At last, your group is called to board the plane. You approach the gate agent and head down the jetbridge, which you find half-filled with passengers. You must stand and wait, for the third or fourth time that day, before finally entering the plane’s cabin. You slowly move down the blocked aisles behind passengers who are fighting for overhead bin space and trying to maneuver into their seats. After many minutes or hours spent navigating the airport, passing through security, waiting to board, and jostling through the jetbridge and aisle, you collapse into your seat near the back of the plane, relieved to finally be on your way.
Boarding a plane can be a painful process, but on my Thanksgiving flight back to Boston, I had a different experience. I flew with the airline, JetBlue, which uses a back-to-front boarding process, meaning the back of the plane boards first, followed by the front rows, preventing the usually clogged and inefficient scenario described above. My entire boarding process took less than 5 minutes. This is just one way in which JetBlue optimizes its operations in order to fulfill its business purpose.
Business Model: JetBlue strives to create a positive flying experience for its customers while maintaining low fares. JetBlue has been able to differentiate itself since its inception: offering low fares, serving less-competitive airports, and selectively removing “perks” that are often undervalued by customers at other airlines. By striving for internal cost-efficiencies, JetBlue is able to maintain its cost leader position for many of the airports it serves.
JetBlue also differentiates itself from other airlines by the company’s adherence to its five values: safety, caring, integrity, fun, and passion. These values are communicated to the public through its humorous “Air on the Side of Humanity” advertising campaign which essentially compares the treatment of pigeons to how other airlines treat their customers. These values are also apparent through the JetBlue experience: friendly employees, in-flight entertainment, and multiple free snack options.
Operations Model: In addition to the back-to-front boarding policy, JetBlue optimizes other aspects of its operations to lower their costs, enabling them to continue to offer the lowest fares while providing a great flying experience. Since many of JetBlue’s operational costs, including fuel prices, are out of its control, the company has managed to find other ways to enhance its operational model:
- No meals: Regardless of the length of the flight, JetBlue does not offer meal service for any of its flights. Not only does this save the company around $3 per passenger in costs (not counting spoilage), it also improves their turnaround time between flights. They do not have to spend additionally time cleaning up spills, loading & unloading food items onto the plane, or preparing the food during the flight. However, by offering a variety of snack options, JetBlue is able to still provide hospitable service to its passengers.
- Aircraft selection: JetBlue’s fleet consists of Airbus A-320 aircraft instead of the more popular and less
expensive Boeing-737. Despite their expensive price tag, these planes have lower maintenance and fuel costs, and the uniform fleet streamlines pilot training and spare parts, thus improve operational efficiency.
- Use of secondary airports: Rather than vying for gates at the most popular domestic airports, JetBlue establishes its hubs in secondary airports (i.e. Long Beach instead of LAX in Southern California, JFK instead of La Guardia in New York, etc). By doing so, they are able to spend less on airport fees and be the largest provider of smaller, less catered to airports.
- Use of technology: As part of JetBlue’s desire to be “fun”, they look to technology to add interest for customers (free in-flight Wifi and entertainment) as well as increase efficiencies. For example, it was one of the first airlines to accept digital ticketing on smartphones which improves operations through 1) faster check-in and boarding and 2) decreased clean-up from paper boarding passes.
- Single-class travel: JetBlue does not offer separate cabins for business or first-class passengers. Since it targets middle-income travelers, the need for a separate cabin is unnecessary. This further decreases operational costs through consistent seating, food and beverage service, and decreased maintenance costs due to the uniformity of the cabin.
Flying, while a great modern convenience, can also be stressful and exhausting. JetBlue is working to change that. The company’s mission has been to bring humanity back to flying and it has done so by providing a fun flying experience at a low cost. This was made possible by reducing operating costs through strategic cost-cutting initiatives and operational efficiencies. JetBlue’s ability to reduce operational costs is critical to its ability to offer low fares. Therefore, their superb operational model is an essential element to their business model.
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Team, Trefis. “JetBlue Is Worth $9.10 on Its Low-Cost Advantage.”Forbes.com. N.p., 28 May 2014. Web. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2014/05/28/jetblue-is-worth-9-10-on-its-low-cost-advantage-high-value-geographies/>.