US airline JetBlue has announced that its current president and COO Joanna Geraghty will take over from Robin Hayes as CEO in February. Geraghty said she would “bring humanity” to the airline sector.

Geraghty will become the first woman to lead a major US airline when she steps into the CEO position, taking over from Hayes who will stay on as a strategic advisor to the company for “the coming months”, after his nine years in the role. 

She said: “I’m excited to continue working with JetBlue’s 25,000 crewmembers who are as energized as I am about challenging the status quo and bringing humanity to an industry long dominated by the legacy carriers. 

“I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished over the last 20-plus years, and I am looking forward to building on this momentum as we execute on our strategic initiatives, return to profitable growth, and generate sustainable value for our shareholders and all our stakeholders.” 

The long-time JetBlue employee will take charge of the company as it navigates the next steps of an acquisition process that has been ongoing since July 2022 with the airline’s proposed merger with rival Spirit

The acquisition has been challenged by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) during a trial that began in November 2023 where the department has alleged that JetBlue would increase fares if it was able to eliminate its rival “and the competition Spirit provides”. 

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As a decision is expected from the judge overseeing the trial in the coming weeks, Geraghty will no doubt be leading the airline as it either completes the $3.8bn acquisition, or dealing with the fallout of a ruling against it. 

Despite the ongoing legal drama, Hayes has attributed his departure to a desire to focus more on his health after 35 years of working in the aviation industry, saying he was confident in the leadership Geraghty will provide. 

He described her as “the right leader at the right time”, he said: “She guided the operation through the most turbulent time in airline history, has overseen the development and execution of new commercial initiatives, and has tirelessly worked to make JetBlue a better place for our crewmembers and customers. 

“She has been actively engaged in our integration planning with respect to our proposed Spirit transaction. In addition, Joanna and the team have developed a strong plan for JetBlue as we work to return to profitability.”