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A different approach to flying

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

Dave Barger, president and chief executive officer of JetBlue, said the airline industry has struggled to reap profits in the 98 years since the first commercial airline flight in America. To buck that trend, Barger said JetBlue has put an enormous focus on innovation and excellence in customer service in its nearly 12 years in existence.

“By definition, we have to be doing things differently. We have to fight against the tide, because the pull of history is just too strong,” Barger told 150 people in attendance — and many others viewing online — for Northeastern University’s CEO Breakfast Forum on Wednesday morning, held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston.

JetBlue, he said, has pursued these goals in many ways, from its low-cost model to in-flight enhancements such as satellite TV and radio — with onboard broadband WiFi coming next year. Other strategic decisions include not overbooking flights and pursuing aircraft designs with new engines and wings that improve fuel economy. Crew members even carry snacks for customers in baskets to avoid jamming up the aisles with rolling carts.

“You have to listen to your customers,” Barger said.

Click here for a full video of the event.

One of the leading business forums in the country, Northeastern’s CEO Breakfast forums feature top CEOs speaking to an audience of other chief executive officers and senior executives from the Greater Boston area, and beyond.

Barger commended President Joseph E. Aoun for Northeastern’s own innovative, forward-thinking initiatives, such as the global expansion of its signature co-op program, as well as the university’s plans to open regional campuses across the country, which commenced in October with the launch of the campus in Charlotte, N.C.

“We were talking about the co-op partnership between Northeastern and JetBlue — what can we do with each other to optimize some of the experiences,” Barger said. “I’m really excited about that.”

In the future, Barger said airlines in the United States still face great challenges, including the industry’s heavy tax burden and the task of transitioning to a satellite technology-based system of managing commercial air traffic.

Barger fielded questions from the audience and via social media — including one submitted via Twitter about how social media itself affects JetBlue’s approach to customer service.

Barger said JetBlue uses social media to disseminate real-time information to its more than 1.6 million Twitter followers and another half-million Facebook followers. This includes posting everything from company promotions and schedule extensions to flight updates and airport information.

“Social media has been a terrific advantage for us,” he said. “It’s part of our DNA, and it’s going to be there for a long time.”