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From the PublisherAs veteran airlines writer James Wynbrandt shows in his excellent new book, Flying High, it took JetBlue's hyperkinetic free spirit David Neeleman to extend the revolution started by Southwest's Herb Kelleher into a heady new frontier—by putting the discounters in a nose-to-nose rivalry with the major carriers. A devout Mormon with nine children, Neeleman, from Salt Lake City, learned about customer service as a kid on a milk crate in his grandfather's convenience store. When customers demanded a product his granddad didn't have, young David would bolt out the back door to Safeway to buy it. After a stint as a missionary in Brazil, Neeleman—a college dropout with ADD—started a travel agency, a charter airline to Hawaii, and a low-cost carrier called Morris Air, which he sold to Southwest. After just five months, Kelleher fired Neeleman, who'd barge into meetings and loudly lecture Southwest's proud managers on where their airline was screwing up.
By the time he founded JetBlue in 1999, Neeleman had already pioneered many of the boldest innovations in aviation, including e-ticketing, automatic ticket machines, and at-home reservation staffs. Backed by farsighted investors, among them George Soros, JetBlue busted the biggest myth in airlines by proving that a low-cost carrier can also beat the majors on service. While Wynbrandt clearly idolizes Neeleman as a curious blend of saint and gladiator, his idol does deserve our gratitude. It took this hyperactive dreamer to put a fresh face on a tired industry, to show at long last that customers, not old-line carriers, are charting the future of commercial aviation. (Fortune, June 28, 2004)