JetBlue Airways Corp. (NASDAQ:JBLU) CEO Dave Barger will step down in February and be replaced by the company's president after months of speculation about leadership at the airline, which is profitable but has lagged its rivals.
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The new CEO, just the third in JetBlue's 14-year history, will be Robin Hayes, a 48-year-old former British Airways executive who joined JetBlue in 2008.
The change was announced after a meeting of the New York-based airline's board. Hayes will take over on Feb. 16, after Barger's contract expires.
Barger, who has been CEO since 2007, said the decision to leave was mutual between himself and the board, and that his departure wasn't due to any single event or trend.
"You just kind of know when you need the next level of ideas, innovation, evolution," Barger said in an interview. "It made sense to me and it made sense to the board."
Barger credited Hayes with pushing recent changes at the airline, including Mint, its premium seats on some transcontinental flights.
Hayes was named president in January. That promotion and his recent acquisition of U.S. citizenship helped fuel speculation that he was being groomed to take over.
Wall Street analysts have expressed hope that Hayes might take steps to increase revenue, including adding a fee for the first checked bag and putting more rows of seats on its Airbus jets. Hayes declined to comment on either of those potential moves.
JetBlue has been profitable but has made thinner profits than many rivals and seemed to underperform in other ways. For every 1,000 miles JetBlue flew in the first half of this year, it collected an average of $119 for each available seat — less than Southwest Airlines, at $135, and Delta Air Lines' domestic routes, at $166.
JetBlue just repealed a generous booking policy that let passengers get money back if the price of a flight fell after they booked. Wolfe Research analyst Hunter Keay had called the refund policy "destructive" and said it was "emblematic of a 'shareholder last' strategy."
Shares of JetBlue rose 13 cents to close at $11.33 before the announcement. In extended trading, they were up 47 cents, or 4.2 percent, to $11.80.