Barger: Sabre will play key role in JetBlue-Lufthansa partnership

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JetBlue CEO Dave Barger expects the switch from Navitaire to Sabre will help internationalize the low-cost carrier and optimise its new relationship with part-owner Lufthansa.

Barger told ATI yesterday JetBlue and Lufthansa expect to begin transferring passengers in the second half of this year and the SabreSonic system will in particular help JetBlue sell Lufthansa tickets on its website. JetBlue announced earlier this week SabreSonic would power its reservation, departure control, inventory and booking engine functions starting next year.

JetBlue and Aer Lingus have been transferring passengers since last March and JetBlue has been talking with Lufthansa about a similar arrangement since the German carrier acquired a 19% stake in JetBlue in late 2007. But so far Aer Lingus-JetBlue combined itineraries are only sold on the Aer Lingus website and not the JetBlue website. Meanwhile, JetBlue and Lufthansa have been slow at figuring out how to implement a partnership from an information technology standpoint.

Barger says once JetBlue turns on SabreSonic it expects to finally start selling on its website tickets on Aer Lingus as well as Lufthansa and other foreign carriers. JetBlue is currently using Navitaire's Open Skies reservation system but the carrier is not using any of the system's codeshare functions and elected against upgrading to Navitaire New Skies, which has more comprehensive codeshare functionality.

Several low-cost carriers with extensive codeshares use New Skies, including Australia's Jetstar and Brazils' Gol.

Barger says switching to SabreSonic rather than upgrading to New Skies made more sense because of its new relationship with Lufthansa. "This optimises it," he says.

He says overall SabreSonic also is a better fit with JetBlue's new strategy, which calls for the carrier to become more international and attract more corporate traffic. In 2006 JetBlue signed an agreement with Sabre covering its global distribution system as part of an effort to boost the carrier's corporate sales.

Barger expects the commercial partnership with Lufthansa will be turned on in phases as JetBlue will not be moving to SabreSonic until next year. While the two carriers have been talking about the commercial partnership for over one year Barger says talks are really progressing now that the IT issues have been resolved.

"We're trying to get more surgical now," Barger told ATI on the sidelines of yesterday's Wings Club lunch in New York. "We want to make sure we do it right. Information technology is really a very important investment."

While JetBlue spoke in 2006 and 2007 to several other non-aligned foreign carriers which serve JFK, Barger says now the carrier is focused on only adding Lufthansa and subsidiary Swiss as partners. "It's not about how many, it's about taking care of the customers and the transactions," he says.

Barger says the internationalization of JetBlue is also important as it differentiates it from other US low-cost carriers. When asked about Southwest's announcement yesterday to launch services at Boston Logan, a JetBlue stronghold, Barger pointed out that "we're going to offer Bostonians 360 degrees on the compass. I think what we offer at Boston is second to none".

Barger adds that JetBlue operates more non-stop flights to more sectors than any other carrier at Boston and already transfers passengers there to Aer Lingus as well as small regional carrier Cape Air. He says JetBlue expects to also eventually connect with Lufthansa and Swiss in Boston.