Barger shuns Mannion for Mayruhber

Dave Barger turned in his business class ticket on Aer Lingus last night for a first class ticket on Lufthansa.

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The JetBlue chief executive had been scheduled to join Aer Lingus chief executive Dermot Mannion in Dublin this morning to announce their long-planned transatlantic tie-up. But, in a last minute schedule change, Barger (pictured above) ended up instead flying to Frankfurt to attend a press conference with Wolfgang Mayruhber, the chief executive of much larger European carrier Lufthansa, to announce that Lufthansa is taking a 19% stake in JetBlue.

Barger’s decision to meet up with Mayruhber instead of Mannion forced Aer Lingus to postpone at the last second its press conference with JetBlue, which was to include a tour on a JetBlue Airbus A320 which JetBlue had specially flown into Dublin for the event.
Aer Lingus, which has been eager for months to announce the details of its new tie-up with JetBlue, says it is now waiting for word from JetBlue on when the event will be re-scheduled and when the partnership can finally begin.

“Following the announcement by jetBlue that Lufthansa is to make a minority equity investment in jetBlue, we continue to monitor the situation and await further developments and clarification,” Aer Lingus says. “We remain optimistic that the partnership remains on track, and that we will be able to update you on progress soon.”

Barger says the Aer Lingus tie-up, which involves JetBlue feeding Aer Lingus transatlantic flights, will still take place. The tie-up was first revealed in February by Aer Lingus but it took nearly a year to hammer out the details and prepare for implementation. The two carriers plan to transfer bags and passengers at New York JFK and cross-sell tickets on their websites, but there will not be a formal codeshare.

The Aer Lingus deal does not preclude JetBlue from cooperating with other foreign carriers. In fact JetBlue has been looking to work with several foreign carriers that serve JFK as part of a new strategy that takes it well outside the normal low-cost mould.

For now the Lufthansa-JetBlue deal is purely financial and does not include any cooperation. But it would be natural for the two carriers to start cooperating at some point in the future although what Lufthansa’s two US partners, United and US Airways, may not like that idea.

For JetBlue the opportunity to work with Lufthansa was an opportunity too good to pass up. JetBlue can use the cash – Lufthansa is paying about $300 million for the 19% stake – given the gloomy outlook for the US domestic market for 2008. JetBlue has had a horrible 2007, stung by the impact of two highly publicised operational failures early this year which resulted in Barger replacing David Neeleman as CEO. As a result it heads into the downturn without as much cash as some other US carriers which had more profitable years in 2007.

To view a replay of today’s press conference with Barger and Mayruhber click here.

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