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Flying High: How JetBlue Founder and CEO David Neeleman Beats the Competition... Even in the World's Most Turbulent Industry [Hardcover]

James Wynbrandt
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 5, 2004 0471655449 978-0471655442 1
Flying High traces the incredible career of the founder and chairman of JetBlue, David Neeleman, from his teenage ventures and beginnings in the travel industry., to his short stint at Southwest Airlines and the ultimate launch of JetBlue. In a series of interviews with Neeleman's friends, associates, and high-ranking officials in both business and aviation, this books tells the store of Neeleman and explores the rules of success he both lives and builds his companies by.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As the founder by the age of 40 of three successful discount airline companies-most recently the billion-dollar JetBlue-David Neeleman and his story deserves in-depth analysis. Unfortunately, this largely uncritical profile doesn’t provide that. Veteran aviation and business writer Wynbrandt presents Neeleman’s life in a lively and highly readable style. The first half lays out the details of Neeleman’s major successes: turning the small leisure business Morris Travel into a national air charter by developing the concept of ticketless reservations, which Wynbrandt correctly claims "would forever revolutionize airline bookings," and brokering a deal with Southwest Airlines, which purchased Morris and then cut Neeleman loose. But the bulk of the book describes the development and success of JetBlue and presents a superficial look at some extremely troubling aspects of Neeleman’s business philosophy, such as his disdain for unions ("I think they did a great thing for our country at a certain time") and his allowing JetBlue to share records of five million passenger transactions (a violation of its own privacy policy) with an army contract company working on post-9/11 security problems, a decision Wynbrandt too easily explains as a product of Neeleman’s Mormon-based "respect for patriarchal authority."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


As 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)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (July 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471655449
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471655442
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #909,721 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Attitude Is Altitude August 26, 2004
This really isn't a biography of David Neeleman (pronounced "Neel-Mun"). Rather, Wyndbrant carefully integrates relevant information from both Neeleman's life and his career to explain JetBlue's success to date. Neeleman would be the first to point out that, in the airline industry (de-regulated since October 28, 1978), it is a fool's errand to predict which airlines today are totally secure and which are doomed. All airlines have problems which vary only in nature and degree. However, JetBlue is probably in better shape than most others are even as Neeleman explains that how it can become better while becoming larger "is the question that we're wrestling with at JetBlue, and I think it's something that we focus on a lot." He adds, "I believe we are going to be able to...have a thriving, prosperous company, that we're setting the standard in what we're doing in customer service, and that we'll continue to grow in the future."

Of special interest to me is what Wyndbrant reveals about the major influences on Neeleman's life and career, notably his membership in the Church of Latter Day Saints, his career successes (e.g. leadership of WestJet and then Morris Air) as well as career failures (e.g. bankruptcy and liquidation of The Hawaii Express and being fired by Southwest Airlines), the impact of having A.D.D., and his efforts to plan, obtain financing for, and then launch JetBlue.

With regard to JetBlue's business model, it clearly indicates what Neeleman learned during his associations with the three airlines (WestJet, Morris, and Southwest Airlines). According to Wyndbrant, as JetBlue was about to be launched at John F.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The JetBlue Story July 13, 2004
Very readable and highly entertaining. I haven't even flown on JetBlue, but was curious about the company's history because everyone seems to be talking about it. I was pleased to find that the book offered a combination of JetBlue's history and the CEO's own journey in the business. I really like his way of doing business and how he treats his employees and customers. Hopefully other company executives will read this and apply some of JetBlue's practices as well.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some redeeming qualities August 15, 2004
Flying High reads more like an authorized biography than a work of edgy journalism. Mr. Neeleman appears to have very few faults. He rarely experiences failure, has no sense of greed, and is motivated almost exclusively by the betterment of mankind. I'm a little suspicious that the marketing department at JetBlue may have helped just a bit with this book.

My suspicions aside, the book does have redeeming qualities. First, Mr. Neeleman has been undeniably successful at launching airlines -- an impressive feat. I find it particularly impressive since he is not an airline industry veteran. Second, Mr. Neeleman has built a culture at JetBlue based on a well-defined set of core values. These values are obvious to anyone who has flown this young airline. The chapter on JetBlue's values, "Preserving the Culture," is the best part of the book. Third, Mr. Neeleman relies on technology to stay ahead of the aging airline industry. The book isn't about technology per se, but it makes a pretty good case for aggressive uses of IT. Finally, Flying High is a quick read. A round-trip from JFK to Oakland should give you plenty of time to get through it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read July 13, 2004
I was so excited to see this book featured in a recent issue of "Fortune" magazine, which called it an "excellent" read. JetBlue is my favorite airline, and I was happy to see a book had been written about it. This book does a great job of laying out Neeleman's business approach, which he began developing as a young man. I really enjoyed the insider look at how JetBlue was formed. This is truly an inspirational story that even non-JetBlue fans will enjoy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommended! October 25, 2004
James Wynbrandt has penned a well-researched, colorful account of the life and guiding principles of commercial aviation pioneer David Neeleman. The book is written in a clear, straightforward style, and offers insights into what made discount carrier JetBlue an unlikely success. The book appears, however, to reflect Neeleman's artful capacity for generating positive publicity for himself. While this is not exactly a hagiography, once you have read it, you may well envision a halo floating above Neeleman's portrait on the book's jacket. Then again, as Muhammad Ali once said, "If you can do it, it ain't braggin'." Certainly, Neeleman's accomplishments rocked the commercial aviation industry, encouraging the major carriers to launch value-based alternatives such as Ted and Song. We recommend this book to professionals seeking useful ideas to help their businesses gain altitude.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This fast moving, well written book provides a detailed insight into the success of JetBlue and its famed CEO. More than just the operating details of the airline, this book explores its very foundation in the life and personality of JetBlue's CEO. You come away from it thinking of all the ways you can improve your own business, and with a strong appreciation of your customers. Flying High is well written and holds your attention from start to finish. This is definitely a must read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Good overview of David Neeleman and the early days of JetBlue
I work for one of JetBlue's competitors but have always admired Neeleman. The book takes a comprehensive look at the man and the methods to his madness. Read more
Published 20 days ago by Rory Francisco
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative, but a PR piece also
A quick and informative read, but certainly a PR piece. It gives you the Neeleman side of the story with a lot of background info, but not very objective.
Published 1 month ago by Rob
4.0 out of 5 stars This is a good book. Still reading it after Blue Streak.
I'm currently still reading the book "Flying High". So far so good. Just finished "Blue Streak" which is an excellent story.
Published 1 month ago by Christopher Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read
I enjoyed reading the book. It was a fast paced read. I agree with some of the other reviews saying that it was written to only highlight Neeleman's successes and how great he... Read more
Published 3 months ago by John Lewis
4.0 out of 5 stars For JetBlue enthusiast this book is an awesome insight into the...
If you are a pilot or would be entrepreneur this book proves that people, and not the bottom line, are the driving force of successful dynamic companies like airlines.
Published 4 months ago by Samuel Torres
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Read
Great book describing the vision David Neeleman had in airline start ups. Lots of inside info on JetBlue history! When can I start?!
Published 5 months ago by DARRELL GUY
5.0 out of 5 stars Page Turner
If you are into aviation this is a great read. Front line employees are the most important asset to a company and it was nice to read that a CEO cared about that.
Published 6 months ago by Mike
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommend
Good book for any young entrepreneur, I found the insights used by David to be very useful and practical, love it!!!
Published 7 months ago by Dhani
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Read about an Incredible Success Story
The birth of JetBlue is a fascinating story and Wynbrandt captures the difficulty of breaking into and enacting change in the airline industry. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Peter Orler
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just an airline analysis -- a great business book!
This analysis of Jet Blue goes well beyond your standard airline industry analysis, although Wynbrandt has written about aviation for decades. Read more
Published 9 months ago by J.G. Sandom
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