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JetBlue Founder's New Airline Won't Have Customer Service

Oct. 27, 2018
5 min read
JetBlue Founder's New Airline Won't Have Customer Service
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Moxy, the US airline being started by the founder of JetBlue, won't have traditional customer-service phones and will rely instead on communicating with customers through its app. David Neeleman told attendees at a meeting in New York on Friday that Moxy's mantra is "we're just a technology company that happens to fly airplanes" — and that its customer experience will be "very high-tech, very high-touch."

Moxy — which will have a different name once it starts flying, not before 2020 —has bought 60 Airbus A220 jets and plans to fly them on long-haul flights from the US to Europe and South America, as well as within the US. In Neeleman's plans, its customer-facing interactions will be very similar to another airline he founded and still leads, Brazil-based Azul, which feels "like the original JetBlue."

But you won't necessarily get that from humans, at least before you board.

"I don't think people want to stand in line and talk to somebody," he said. The app will take care of a lot of those pre-flight interactions.

"We all use Uber. We all use Amazon, right? How many of you have ever spoken to a human at Uber?" he asked a room full of employees of the digital marketing agency BMF, which had invited TPG to attend. "They have apps that you can do everything on. The goal is (...) that you never have to speak to us, because everything will be functional in the app. You'll be able to change your flight, order a meal, cancel your flight." And what if things go wrong, as for example happens during storms? "If there's a disruption, we'll send your new flight, and you can accept it." There will be humans available, but the idea is that they'll get in touch only in case of absolute necessity.

Neeleman still wants his new airline to talk to its customers frequently and meaningfully, "so you feel like these guys, they know me, they like me, they care about me." Via digital means only, that is.

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The A220s flown by Moxy will be the -300 model, larger than the A220-100s that will start flying for Delta in January. With about 150 seats in a typical configuration, they will likely have fewer seats on Moxy since Neeleman wants them to be outfitted with lie-flat seats in business class, which take up more space.

An Airbus A220-300 (Photo by Zach Honig / TPG)

As for where they will fly, Moxy's studying a very wide array of possible destinations: "We have over 800 routes we are looking at," Neeleman said. Some of them will be across the Atlantic, for example Scranton, Pennsylvania, to London or Bozeman, Montana, to Maui — places that can only be connected now via at least one stop and plane change. Neeleman wants to do it "twice as fast and for half the price." That's ambitious, but the A220 offers very low fuel burn and maintenance costs, which helps keep ticket prices lower, Neeleman said. And since Moxy wants to serve places where there's currently no service beyond mostly regional flights, "I doubt we'll have a single route that has any competition."

Another huge focus area for Moxy will be northern Brazil, which the A220 can reach easily from the US East Coast, especially Florida. Azul will be able to feed passengers to Moxy flights, Neeleman said. He's also part-owner of the Portuguese flag carrier TAP, which he says might soon be part of an alliance with Azul and, possibly, with Moxy as well — an Atlantic-spanning group that may rival in some areas the larger alliances that have divided among themselves most passenger traffic in the world.

With all the focus on tech, though, Neeleman wants his new creature to be focused on people. In fact, he tends to hire managers based on one question — Are they a people person? To explain how much of a driving principle that is for him, he recalled an anecdote from the early days of JetBlue, when an experienced pilot with an enormous amount of flight time under his belt showed up for an interview. "He had 15,000 hours," Neeleman said, "but when we asked him to tell us about one instance where he'd gone above and beyond, he couldn't name it. So we didn't hire him. Why? Because he was a jerk."

As for the airline's new name, no one knows yet. There is one thing for sure: It will not be Moxy, because that is the name of a Marriott chain of hotels.

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