October 20, 2011

ViaSat-1 Launch Trip: Blast Off!

Congratulations!  The ViaSat-1 satellite successfully launched at 12:48 AM Baikonur time on Thursday, October 20.  This marks the completion of a major milestone in our plan to reinvent onboard connectivity for our customers by providing a robust and reliable product experience.

We did it!

Before I give you the brief synopsis of the events leading up to the launch, let’s get to the good stuff: blast off.  Moments before the big event, the launch team assembled on the deck of the Proton Club, a viewing spot a few kilometers away from the launch pad.  With the live feed playing in the background, everyone got very silent as the countdown clock struck zero.

Almost immediately, we saw an amazing flash of light which suddenly lit up the pitch black skies of Kazakhstan.  However, the silence remained as we could not hear a sound!  It was not until the glowing satellite was up toward the stars before we heard a loud blast which rumbled through the few surrounding buildings on the base.  Certainly, the satellite was traveling much faster than the speed of sound.

The photos below show the first few seconds of the launch.  For those who were not able to see the launch live, a recap has been posted by International Launch Services (ILS) here.

It was a tremendous experience to be there in person.  Getting the ViaSat-1 satellite to this point had been the life’s work of so many people for the past three years that it became quite emotional.  Many showed signs of relief, a few shed tears of joy, and everyone cheered in excitement.  The JetBlue team was nothing but grateful for everyone’s hard work.

Baikonur: a city of history

Although we came to Baikonur for the main event, there was more to it than just the big launch.  We had an opportunity to spend some time in town before and after the launch which gave us an interesting look at this land in the middle of Kazakhstan with a rich Russian history.  This was a surprise to us since there wasn’t much to see during our initial approach (below)!

The entire city is focused on the Russian space program and the Cosmodrome.  In fact, the city of Baikonur’s population would be a faction of what it is today without its frequent rocket launches.  Even the flag on the administrative building honors the town’s core competency:

We also had a chance to visit the Baikonur Space Museum.  Highlights included a close-up view of what it was like to be part of the first manned space excursions, the vast array of Russian space food (none of which looked appealing), and learning that JetBlue already has ties to the Cosmodrome – both the DIRECTV and Sirius/XM satellites were launched from Baikonur!

However, the biggest treat was being able to sit inside the cockpit of the original Russian space shuttle.  Pictured below is Collin Wolfe peering inside while your blogger sits behind the controls.

Mission: accomplished

If you’ve been following along with the mission overview, you’ll see that we’ve made great progress since the launch.  The latest status as of 9:00 AM eastern time on Thursday, October 20:

  • Nine hours and 12 minutes after blast off, the launch vehicle released the ViaSat-1 satellite into its geostationary transfer orbit
  • The gyros were activated and thrusters were tested
  • The satellite was prepared for sun acquisition and all solar panels have unfolded

While there is still a sequence of events before ViaSat-1 is in its final stages, most of the risk is behind us and we’re ready to call the launch a success!  This makes for a very happy launch team.  Rear, left to right: Daymien Villasenor, Chris Hoeber (Senior Vice President, Program Management & Systems Engineering at Loral Space Systems), Robyn Larson, Mark Dankberg (Chief Executive Officer of ViaSat), Collin Wolfe, Rachel McCarthy.  Front, perched awkwardly in front because he’s too tall for group shots: your blogger, Don Uselmann.

We’ve enjoyed sharing our experience with you and thank you for reading.  This is our final update and we’ll see you in the States!

Don Uselmann

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October 19, 2011

ViaSat-1 launch trip: From the Kremlin to Kazakhstan

After an exciting first day in Moscow, and being reassured that all was well with the ViaSat-1 satellite at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, your fellow JetBlue Crewmembers who are attending the launch took advantage of a restful night of sleep. This proved itself necessary for the jam-packed day of tourism that lay ahead, followed by an early departure to Kazakhstan the next morning.

Dreams of a successful launch

After our busy day exploring the city, it was time to prepare ourselves for the journey to Kazakhstan. Before turning in for the evening, each of us opened our mission guides and immersed ourselves further into the “satellite launching 101” crash course (no pun intended, of course).

Just in case “recent satellite launches” is a category at your favorite watering hole’s trivia night in the near future, here are some interesting facts that may come in handy:

  • This is the 369th Proton launch, the first being in 1965 (if you recall from our earlier blog post, the Proton is the launch vehicle that will propel the ViaSat-1 satellite into space)
  • The height of the Proton rocket is 58.2 meters
  • 705,000 kilograms of fuel are required for the launch
  • The mass of the ViaSat-1 satellite is 6,740 kilograms

We also learned that the Baikonur Cosmodrome has a history as interesting as what we experienced during the day in Moscow. As you may have read, the Cosmodrome is one of two major space launch complexes owned by Russia. Human space missions as well as scientific flights to the moon and other planets are part of the Baikonur Cosmodrome’s operations. In fact, Yuri Gagarin, the first human into space, blasted off from Baikonur on April 12th, 1961. This was just four years after the first launch of a satellite in October of 1957.

While Baikonur may not be a household name in the United States, it is well known to Russians – just as Cape Canaveral is to Americans. The city is located east of the Aral Sea, about 2,100 kilometers from Moscow, with flying time of just over three hours. Russia actually leases this part of the land in Kazakhstan and the lease is valid for another 40 years. We were informed by our hosts that only a handful of Russians have the fortune of visiting Baikonur. We’re part of a special group and feel very fortunate to see this part of “Russia”!

Our journey would begin at 6:00 AM local time the following morning, so we all did our best to calm some of the excitement to get some rest before our early departure.

The latest report from the Cosmodrome

We’re just hours away from arriving at the launch site and our Business Partner reports that we are not seeing any issues with neither the ViaSat-1 satellite nor the Proton launch vehicle. Both are pictured below at launch pad 39, enveloped by the mobile service tower.

Earlier in the day, the State Commission approved the fueling for the launch. We’re currently about five hours from launch and fueling of the Proton has commenced. The team has also started topping off the spacecraft battery charge. Winds – both on the ground and at altitude – are within allowable parameters.

As the big event quickly approaches, we’re equally excited and nervous. There have been so many contributors from JetBlue, LiveTV, ViaSat, and other Business Partners who have worked so hard to make this day possible, and this project has been years in the making for ViaSat. The successful launch is such an important milestone, symbolic of more than just onboard internet access. It will solidify our position as the forward-thinking airline that isn’t afraid to take risks, always with the Customer in mind, and with the end goal to bring humanity back to air travel.

Time to launch the satellite!

We must sign off for now, but we’ll be sure to share our experience of the launch with you. Until then, goodbye from your JetBlue team, pictured below in Red Square with the famous St. Basil’s cathedral in the background. (Left to right: Robyn Larson, Rachel McCarthy, Don Uselmann, Collin Wolfe, and Daymien Villasenor).

Thanks and don’t forget to email any questions or comments to product@jetblue.com!

Don Uselmann

Manager Product Development

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October 19, 2011

ViaSat-1 launch trip: Day 1

Greetings from Moscow!

This is a very important week in JetBlue’s product history for both Customers and Crewmembers. As you likely already know, we’ll be launching “our” satellite, called ViaSat-1, with Business Partner ViaSat! Five lucky Crewmembers will be there for the occasion in addition to a large team of Business Partners who have joined together to make this possible.

From JetBlue, we have Rachel McCarthy (Director Product Development), Collin Wolfe (Manager FP&A), Robyn Larson (Manager Contracts & Negotiations), Daymien Villasenor (Director Corporate Counsel), and your blogger, Don Uselmann (Manager Product Development). All of us have worked together on the ViaSat project and have decided to chronicle our journey this week on BlueTales.

In case you need to be brought up to speed…

The satellite will blast off from Baikonur, Kazakhstan (yes, of Borat fame) in the early morning hours of Thursday, October 20th local time. That’s mid-day on Wednesday, October 19th for those of you back in the United States. However, our itinerary called for us to visit Moscow, Russia to meet up with the rest of the launch team.

If you’re wondering why we’re first going to Moscow, it’s because the Baikonur Cosmodrome – the space launch facility – is run by the Russian Federal Space Agency on land leased to Russia from the Kazakh government. Charters from Moscow are a common form of transportation to and from Baikonur. We’ll spend two nights in Moscow, then head to Baikonur on Wednesday, and return to Moscow on Thursday before heading home.

Mission overview

After a brief nap and taking advantage of the hotel’s express dry cleaning service (so yes, my clothes were clean!), we had a wonderful dinner at the Russian Bolshoi Restaurant in downtown Moscow.

The dinner was hosted by International Launch Services, also known as ILS. ILS is a joint venture between the United States and Russia and is responsible for the satellite’s launch vehicle, called the Proton, which will propel ViaSat-1 into space. The Proton has been used in more than 360 launches – currently about twelve per year – and has a 95% success rate.

Before dinner, each launch participant was given a copy of the mission overview. Of particular interest is the track that the satellite will take as it circles the globe with tremendous speed. A number maneuvers are planned to ensure the satellite finds its appropriate location. During this time, ViaSat-1 will still be attached to the Proton. The two will separate approximately 9 hours, 12 minutes after liftoff.

What’s next?

An important step was realized when the State Commission approved the rollout to the launch pad. Formal approval will be necessary to fuel the rocket and launch ViaSat-1, but we expect this to occur without concern in a subsequent State Commission meeting about six hours prior to launch.

While the five of us have yet to see ViaSat-1 in person, our contacts in Baikonur have sent us the following photo of the satellite on the launch pad. They tell us that the electrical connections have been verified and the links between the satellite, the mobile service tower, and the control room have been successfully tested. The spacecraft is in excellent health and its batteries are now being charged.

Talk about a great report card just hours before the launch!

Until next time…

Signing off for today is launch team, pictured below from Sparrow Hills. Pictured left to right: Don Uselmann, Robyn Larson, Rachel McCarthy, and Collin Wolfe. Not pictured: Daymien Villasenor.

Thanks for reading and feel free to send us an email at product@jetblue.com with any questions or comments!

Don Uselmann

Manager Product Development

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April 4, 2011

Agreement with ViaSat formalized

We’re pleased to announce today a definitive agreement with ViaSat to deploy the first Ka-band commercial aviation broadband network using ViaSat-1, the world’s highest capacity Ka-band satellite. The agreement formalizes the memorandum of understanding, entered into last September, in which the companies announced their intention to create the industry’s best in-flight broadband for commercial aviation, using ViaSat’s innovative Ka-band satellite technology. Ka-band has the ability to offer higher transmission speeds, more bandwidth for each customer, and more attractive airtime pricing than other high-speed in-flight Internet access alternatives. The agreement includes an order valued at over $30 million for Ka-band airborne terminals and services to outfit our fleet of more than 170 aircraft.

Under the agreement, ViaSat will provide satellite broadband terminals for installation on our E190 and A320 aircraft along with two-way transmission bandwidth services using the WildBlue satellite broadband network, including the high-capacity ViaSat-1 satellite. We will be the first airline to receive the ViaSat Ka-band system, and those initial installations are expected to be quickly followed by deployment onboard the Continental Airlines fleet. Installations are expected to begin in 2012.

The system, the first of its kind for commercial aviation, must be certificated by the Federal Aviation Administration. LiveTV will manage the certification, integrate the ViaSat broadband and related components onboard our aircraft, and provide the Wi-Fi enabled services into the cabin.

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July 11, 2013

Fly-Fi Update

As Summer hits its stride, we wanted to take a moment to give an update on a topic of great interest to our online audience: WiFi onboard!

Earlier this spring we announced some details on our upcoming service we’re calling Fly-Fi and we’re well on our way to bringing this innovative solution to our customers. Bringing faster internet connections than the other guys isn’t without it’s challenges though. If we want to have a better connection, we can’t just use the same technology, so we turned our eyes to the sky… about 22,000 miles up!

As the first U.S. airline to use Ka Band satellite technology to deliver high speed internet to our aircraft, it also falls to us to prove that the technology and equipment used to deliver it is safe, and have the FAA certify that the equipment is ready to be installed in additional aircraft. With safety as our number one value, we don’t take this responsibility lightly.

In June, we took one of our planes out of service and gave it an experimental designation so we could install the necessary equipment. Aside from the electrical work to be done throughout the cabin, there’s the small matter of outfitting the external equipment as well. It’s no small feat to install rotating, pivoting blades that constantly track the orbiting ViaSat-1!

After several ‘proving flights’ to test the air-worthiness of the added equipment and new radome (the bubble on top of our planes containing antennae), we were able take another flight to test the Fly-Fi system and any impact the signals may have on other aircraft systems or equipment. The tests were VERY thorough, we even tested the lavatory lights!

The most exciting tests were of the system itself though, and the team reporting back was thrilled with the results and download speeds they  were seeing. Needless to say, our excitement is high and we itching to start rolling it out, but there are a couple final steps to go.

One of a flurry of photos sent from the experimental aircraft using Fly-Fi

One of a flurry of photos sent from the experimental aircraft using Fly-Fi

With testing done, the experimental aircraft must now sit and wait for the FAA to review the documentation and data collected to issue a Supplemental Type Certificate that will allow us to return the plane to service, and begin the process of installing Fly-Fi on our fleet. We expect that process to take a bit of time, but once complete, we get to take to the air once again for final preparations. Once the plane is completely vetted, it’ll return to service, and we’ll be able to begin rolling out Fly-Fi to the rest of the fleet.

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March 20, 2013

Analyst Day Updates

Today we’re hosting Analyst Day, our annual opportunity to take a deep dive with the financial community and share what makes JetBlue different and unique in our industry.

In addition to reviewing the current landscape with our investors, we’re sharing some new and exciting plans that we have on the horizon. Check out some of our updates below and stay tuned throughout the year for more details to come!

Inflight Wi-Fi

On our road to deliver the fastest in-flight wireless experience, the finish line is in sight! Today we’re pleased to share our latest milestone, the name of the best in-flight wireless service will be: Fly-Fi!

Most fliers probably agree that in-flight Wi-Fi is a cool concept, but those who have tried it don’t love the options they have today. Our service promises to up the experience to satisfy the increasing appetite for connectivity across multiple devices. Fly-Fi will be smarter, newer, faster and better than anything on the market today for commercial aviation. The up-side is, you’ll soon be able to experience Wi-Fi connections that do more than just frustrate you, the down-side is that because it’s a completely new way to deliver connectivity, there’s still a lot of testing to be done before the FAA, signs off, and our customers start seeing it on their JetBlue flights.

Check out this video demonstration where ViaSat compares the time required to load 10 web pages on our new Wi-Fi versus the existing service. 

* Real-time example of current services alongside Exede Internet satellite-to-ground test (not yet tested in-air). Actual speeds for all products will generally vary.

Extensive ground testing is currently being conducted by our partners, LiveTV and ViaSat, to make sure our Wi-Fi works well when deployed in the sky. We plan to install the Wi-Fi equipment on our first aircraft coming soon, at which point an extensive FAA certification process begins. Barring any setbacks during certification, we expect our first Wi-Fi-enabled flight with customers to take to the skies later this year.

Learn more about our Ka-Band-powered Wi-Fi

Premium Transcon Product

We announced this morning our intent to introduce a premium transcon product. Just as we started JetBlue with the mission to “bring humanity back to air travel,” we’ll continue to deliver the best core product and service in the skies with the things you’ve come to know and love like: the full can of soda, free TV and radio at every seat, the most legroom in coach, first checked bag free, and excellence in customer service.

We’ll plan on introducing a premium experience that offers a better product at a lower price in the highly competitive transcontinental market. We’re approaching our plans around a premium transcon product with a target launch date in 2014. Stay tuned for more plans to be unveiled later this year!

Growth in South Florida 

We’ll continue to focus our growth in the Northeast and New England, where we’re the largest domestic carrier at New York’s JFK and Boston’s Logan, and we’ll also look to grow our service in South Florida. Think: Fort Lauderdale south. Oh, the possibilities! Palm trees anyone?

We’re excited about our growth strategy and look forward to continuing to expand our network and product and service offerings through responsible and sustainable business practices.


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September 18, 2012

Ka-Band: This Won’t Be Your Grandfather’s Wi-Fi

Robin Hayes, our Chief Commercial Officer, announced yesterday at the Low Cost Carrier conference in London that our intention is to launch our first Wi-Fi enabled aircraft in early 2013 and that we will have a free basic Wi-Fi service to start.

We know there already are many carriers out there with connectivity, but we also know something else: If our customers are impatient with our speed to market with a solution, they’re likely also frustrated with the level of service they’re getting on the other guys. If you have tried one of those other products, you know what we’re talking about. You’d never pay those kind of prices for that level of service on the ground, why would you take it in the air?

Rather than jump on the bandwagon of a product that can barely handle the usage needs of today’s travelers, we decided to look to where the demands are headed. With more people traveling with more gadgets (hello tablet users!), demanding faster speed connections, we’re willing to take the short term pain for long term gains. As an airline that take innovation to new heights, we believe that our inflight Wi-Fi should be heads and shoulders above the rest. We think it will be worth the wait.

As such, we partnered with Live TV and ViaSat to build something from the stratosphere down that, like all of our products and services, will provide the best possible customer experience. The Ka-band satellite we launched last October is the latest generation, with capacity equal to 100 last-generation Ku-band satellites. It’s smarter, newer, cheaper and better than anything on the market today for commercial aviation. We plan to make JetBlue the very first commercial airline to offer this product on board, at altitude!

Learn more about our agreement with ViaSat.

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September 13, 2012

A Day in the Life: Product Development

Welcome to A Day in the Life, where we take you behind the scenes at JetBlue to learn more about the important jobs that work in concert together to run a major airline. This time, we visit with Caroline, Ashley and Donny from Product Development, one of the most innovative teams at JetBlue.

Ever wonder how those scrumptious Terra Blue Chips that we freely hand out made its way onboard our flights? From giant decisions like onboard Wi-Fi and designing our new fleet, to smaller (though no less important) choices like what snacks and movies we offer, our Product Development team is responsible for innovating and creating the best possible customer experience.

Caroline, Donny and Ashley are three of the nearly ten people who are focused on developing our products. Of course, there are many others from just about every workgroup here, from Inflight and Airports to Marketing and beyond, who work with the Product team from the moment a light bulb idea is born and throughout the entire process as it comes to fruition.

From left to right: Ashley, Donny, and Caroline

Everything that the Product team touches is conceived and executed through a highly collaborative, cross-functional process. Data is collected for new products and offerings from customer surveys and crewmember panels, with feedback from every level at JetBlue across many departments to evaluate the feasibility of a given idea. A big part of the team’s job is serving as a spokesperson and a negotiator to translate what the various players want and to find a solution that matches everyone’s sensibilities from a experience, brand, technical, and financial standpoint. Depending on the project, outside players like the airports, the FAA and other business partners will be an integral part of the decision-making process as well.

Though Caroline, Donny and Ashley have a shared goal of keeping JetBlue’s offerings fresh and of value for customers and our company’s balance sheet, they oversee very different areas of development at JetBlue. The three travel a lot, whether to observe the customer experience or test out new products in the airports that we serve, or to meet with business partners. The job also involves some very unique tasks like traveling to Kazakhstan to launch a satellite or staying late at work for a wine tasting for our onboard wine selection.

Caroline spends her days divided between the current inflight airport customer experiences, which includes everything from the boarding announcements to what’s the new snack we’ll offer onboard (SECRET REVEALED: stay tuned for a new holiday snack coming to a plane near you), and everything in between. Her job involves looking at every touchpoint in the JetBlue experience from the moment a customer sets foot on the curb outside the airport until they get off the plane at their destination. Her goal is to ensure customer satisfaction throughout that entire travel ribbon.

Ashley spends her days with LiveTV, ViaSat and media content providers, as well as many of our JetBlue engineers moving the connectivity project and in-seat power projects forward. As we near the date when we’ll begin to outfit our current fleet with the new technology, Ashley is entrenched in ensuring that the process is streamlined and flowing as efficiently as possible given the many moving parts and players.

Donny has been focused on developing and delivering the A321 customer experience, and spends his days working with multiple business partners, our engineers and brand team, to define everything from seats, to lighting to lav designs on our new fleet which we’ll start flying next year. His job is very forward-thinking, answering questions like, “What should JetBlue look like in ten years,” and “How can we continue to refresh our look and feel and offerings and still maintain our core product and service?”  To that end, he has also recently partnered with our airports team on the Airports of the Future project and will be analyzing the long-term vision and strategy of our Even More product suite.

The team relays that the most exciting part of their job is that they get to work on some of the most innovative projects that impact all aspects of the customer experience. The most challenging part? Working within the matrix of stakeholders and facilitating solutions that meet all the needs of those players. All in a day’s work for the Product Development team!

Check out the previous editions of A Day In The Life and meet Frank and Jerry in Technical Operations, Kristi in Customer Support, Rick, an Executive Coordinator for our CEO, Chris, Lashonne and Jaclyn from  Brand Design Jeff and Greg from Schedule Planning, Loretta in Security, Chris in InflightMorgan in Social Media, Don in Air Traffic System Control, and Mike in Ground Operations, and stay tuned for the next edition!

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March 7, 2012

Announcing New Leaders in Operations and Inflight

We’re pleased to announce a new leadership structure for our Operations teams, designed to serve our customers and crewmembers and with even better planning and execution.

Jeff Martin has been named Senior Vice President – Operations for JetBlue, reporting to Chief Operating Officer Rob Maruster, and will be responsible for our safe, efficient and productive operation. In this newly created position, the following departments will report to Mr. Martin: Flight Operations, Technical Operations, Operations Planning & Analysis, and NextGen initiatives. Mr. Martin comes to JetBlue after a 22-year career with Southwest Airlines, most recently as Vice President, Operations Coordination where he oversaw the operation of over 3,200 daily flights and a fleet of 550 aircraft. Mr. Martin is also a pilot who flew the line at Southwest his entire career there, even as he took on a multitude of leadership roles of increasing responsibility. He also served in the Unites States Air Force flying KC-10′s prior to beginning his commercial aviation career.

Mr. Martin graduated with a BS degree in Marketing from Pittsburgh State University. He and his wife Susan will be relocating from Dallas to the New York area and will work out of our new Long Island City Support Center. He is also currently in the process of completing his Airbus A320 type rating and certification.

Alex Battaglia, formerly Vice President-Airports, will continue to report to Mr. Maruster with expanded responsibilities. Mr. Battaglia will now oversee Airports and System Operations (SOC), an area he has led since June on an interim basis.

Mr. Battaglia joined JetBlue in 2007 as Vice President of our JFK Operations in New York. His role expanded to Vice President, Airports in 2009. Mr. Battaglia came to JetBlue after a 24-year career with Delta Air Lines in roles of increasing responsibility, culminating in the position of director of JFK Operations.

Also today, Rachel McCarthy was named Vice President, Inflight Experience, effective April 2. Currently serving as Director, Inflight Field Operations, Ms. McCarthy will report to Robin Hayes, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer. She will be responsible for cultivating the environment that helps JetBlue’s Inflight crewmembers evolve and deliver the award-winning JetBlue Experience.

Ms. McCarthy joined JetBlue in 2009 as director, Product Development, where she was responsible for creating and implementing a number of innovative products and services, including JetBlue’s Even More Space, EatUp snack boxes and the launch of JetBlue’s partnership with ViaSat, the company powering the airline’s upcoming inflight connectivity offering. Ms. McCarthy began her airline career in 1987 and has held a number of commercial roles of increasing responsibility at Delta Air Lines and United.

Ms. McCarthy succeeds Vicky Stennes, who will retire from JetBlue effective March 31. Ms. Stennes served as JetBlue’s Vice President, Inflight Experience since the role was created in 2003.

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January 23, 2012

JetBlue Executive Appointed to U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board

Robin Hayes, our Executive Vice President, Chief Commercial Officer, has been appointed as a member of the 2012-2014 U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board (TTAB). There are 32 newly appointed members – click here for a complete list, and information on the TTAB. Below are photos from the swearing-in ceremony conducted by U.S. Secretary of Commerce John Bryson.

Robin at Magic Kingdom, where President Obama announced the Advisory Board

According to Secretary Bryson, the Board represents the “eyes and ears of our nation’s travel and tourism industry” and he is committed to working with each of the esteemed members to bring more visitors to the U.S.

Robin joined JetBlue in May 2008 and has led numerous initiatives including the current Wi-Fi implementation with ViaSat; growing our network, most recently in Boston and the Caribbean; and the order for our new A321 and A320neo aircraft.

President Obama speaking at the Travel and Toursim announcement at the Magic Kingdom, declaring that "America is open for business." The President spoke about the goal to increase travel and tourism in the U.S.

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