JetBlue, the cut-rate New York-based airline that soared into the aviation world six years ago, is about to land in Portland.

Service to the state’s largest city starts May 23 with four round-trip flights daily to and from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.

One-way tickets bought 14 or more days in advance start at $59 – $54 if customers buy the tickets online at JetBlue’s Web site – plus taxes and fees. Last-minute ticket prices range as high as $129 each way plus taxes and other charges.

The airline boasts that its jets offer spacious cabins with leather seating and exclusive satellite TV and movie reception at each seat. It’s also known for its brand name in-flight snacks and vintage wines.

Kristie Sargent, the office manager at Auburn’s Quest Travel, said having JetBlue service available to Mainers adds choice and could boost competition.

“Look for future opportunities to save money,” she said. “If JetBlue offers low prices like Southwest Air does, there could be some really good fare cuts.”

The airline’s arrival in Portland also could make it easier for travelers to get where they want to go. In some instances, she said, people will be able to make their connections using JetBlue out of Portland as easy or easier than using other carriers flying out of either Manchester, N.H., or Boston.

But Paul Dube of Dube Cruise and Travel Center in Lewiston said he has “mixed feelings” about the newcomer.

“It’s great in one sense,” he noted of the likelihood of lower fares, but if the competition puts a crimp on other carriers, “we could all lose.”

“Delta has already pulled back,” he noted. Ditto for United, which offers only two flights a day out of Portland now.

And all of the airlines operating out of Portland after Independence Air pulled out recently have swapped out their larger jets for smaller planes.

“I’d hate to see Delta pull out,” Dube said. “We can’t afford to lose another big carrier.”

Dube said another drawback with JetBlue is that it doesn’t fly everywhere area people might want to go.

“It’s fine for Florida,” but flights elsewhere are more limited, he said.

Still, along with announcing the addition of Portland to its service area, JetBlue also announced plans to begin daily nonstop service from JFK to Bermuda.

“That’s an overpriced destination,” said Dube, so competition there could benefit travelers greatly.

Dube said one of his primary concerns with JetBlue is that it might be duplicating Independence Air’s rapid climb and subsequent fall.

“I just hope they don’t expand too fast.”

JetBlue’s story

JetBlue Airways took to the air on Feb. 11, 2000, with service between JFK and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It serves 32 cities around the country and the Caribbean with a fleet of 68 Airbus A320 aircraft.

JetBlue’s origins date to 1993, when CEO David Neeleman sold his first airline, Salt Lake City-based Morris Air, to Southwest Airlines. As a founder and president of Morris Air, Neeleman proved that innovative airline service coupled with low fares will attract a strong and loyal following.

Neeleman went on to help launch WestJet, a successful Canadian low-fare carrier, and to develop the e-ticketing system he had implemented at Morris Air into Open Skies, the world’s simplest airline reservation system. Neeleman sold Open Skies to Hewlett Packard in 1999.

In July 1999, having secured a hand-picked management team and with $130 million in capital funding, Neeleman surprised the aviation industry with the announcement of his plan to launch an airline that would bring “humanity back to air travel.”

“The introduction of new JetBlue service to the Portland International Jetport is vitally important to our business community and all of Maine,” said Jeff Schultes, the airport’s manager. “We’re looking forward to a long lasting partnership with them,” he added in a statement touting the airline’s arrival.



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