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Super Fly

Exploiting Kennedy during its down times is also key. Neeleman points out that there are only fifteen flights departing from JFK between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. "We're going to be able to taxi and take off in 8 minutes, whereas at Newark, in the morning, once you push off, it's 42 minutes before you're airborne."

Former Department of Transportation official Patrick Murphy agrees: "Kennedy airport is only busy in the evening, for the international transatlantic flights. For most of the day, it's underutilized."

Wonky,sound-bite-averse Neeleman might be just the man to launch New York's new low-fare airline, but he's not necessarily the guy to sell it.

That's where the three Virgin expats come in. Last year, Neeleman went directly to the most guerrilla-marketed brand in the business, Virgin, and came away with a trio of credentialed image-builders: Gareth Edmondson-Jones, Richard Branson's Australian-born head of public relations, Amy Curtis-McIntyre, who put in two years with Branson, and Tracy Sandford, a ten-year Virgin vet.

The marketing executives with double-barreled names work together a lot, and their every conversation is a steady escalation of winks and Tanqueray-dry punch lines. It's an Avengers-like pairing, especially since Curtis-McIntyre looks like a young Diana Rigg -- if Rigg had a New Rochelle accent, that is.

The whole JetBlue concept actually sprouted out of Neeleman's desire to launch a Virgin America with Richard Branson. Branson almost went for it, but eventually pulled back, hoping to start his own venture after American laws limiting foreign ownership of domestic airlines to 25 percent are eradicated by Congress (where they're currently under review).

"There were people at Virgin who felt that, in order to protect the brand in the long term, we needed 51 percent of the company," Branson says. But, he adds, "If anyone could pull it off in America, Neeleman's got as good a shot as anybody. I would put money on him -- I was willing to put money on him. I liked him enormously. I kick myself for not finding a way to make sure we'd all work together."

The Virgin steal-aways have been charged with getting the best mileage out of a $10 million advertising budget. At first, they planned to splash the tail fins with Benetton-like photos of random people of all races. "But since we only had a few planes to start off with, we thought it would just look weird," Edmondson-Jones says. "Like, Why is that person on the tail fin?"

As for the all-important name, "we had hundreds of possibilities," Jones says. "Thousands," Neeleman interjects. When the airline was still temporarily known as "New Air," ad agency Merkley Newman Harty took a run at the name.

"The first three they came up with were Blue, Egg, and It, Edmondson-Jones remembers. "Egg is great because of the graphics. But it was like, 'Think about it, man: Crack an egg . . .' It just wouldn't sound right."

"It really stuck," Neeleman says animatedly. "It we loved. But we just didn't like how it would look in newsprint; there was just no way It would work.

Others also-rans included Zoom, Civilization, Yes!, Home, the Competition ("only ten years from now, it would be like, Shut up, it gives me a headache," says Neeleman) and Taxi. "My people in Utah loved Taxi because they hadn't spent half their life in a New York taxi without air-conditioning," says Neeleman.

Consensus soon became impossible. As a name, Blue had it all: an airy, futuristic vagueness (think of American Express's opaque new "Blue" credit card). It's just that you can't copyright the word blue.

Curtis-McIntyre was pushing for True Blue. It had all the upside of Blue and was trademarkable. Which was the problem: Thrifty Car Rental already owned it.

"When negotiations to buy the name from Thrifty fell apart, it was Friday night, and we had scheduled the press conference to announce it the following Wednesday," remembers Curtis-McIntyre. "David kept saying, 'Why can't we just call it Blue?' And I'm like, 'For the ninetieth time, you can't trademark blue!' Finally I said, 'David, just make up a word with blue in it, and I'll train the rest of the world to just call it Blue. Like FlyBlue. Only no one's going to want to say they're going to fly FlyBlue. So how about JetBlue?"

"That's it!" Neeleman jumped in, excitedly.

This April, Neeleman's wife turns 40. Already, she knows what she wants. Vicki Neeleman smiles sheepishly, knowing it's as unlikely a gift as the crown jewels.

"I've asked David if he'll take Ritalin, just for my birthday. He keeps saying, 'I'm afraid it will kill my creativity.' And I said, 'David, please. It's just for one day.' "

Maybe, like her son Daniel, she should just opt for the stock, instead.


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