Schumer Worried JetBlue Will Take Off

80521719 Schumer Worried JetBlue Will Take OffThis afternoon, for the second day in a row, Chuck Schumer sent out a statement urging JetBlue–once known as “New York’s hometown airline”–not to make that oh-so-familiar move from New York down to Florida.

“I’ve spoken in detail with JetBlue and expressed that the State and City’s offer is very strong. JetBlue is New York’s hometown airline and, this is one time, we don’t want them to take off,” he quipped in a statement sent out yesterday. Today’s announcement was a full-fledged, five-paragraph press release.

Given his long, close ties to Jet Blue, it’s a bit odd to see Mr. Schumer apply pressure by press release. But Mr. Schumer’s public statements are as much a plea on JetBlue’s behalf as they are a shot across its bow.

“While Schumer understands that teams from the State and City have offered creative incentives through the formal programs available, the long term costs of New York remain a challenge,” said the statement. “This is why Schumer is urging both Paterson and Bloomberg to seek every possible option to address long-term costs, and other remaining issues, in order to keep JetBlue Airways home in New York.”

You see, Mr. Schumer and JetBlue go all the way back. As a downstate, Brooklyn congressman campaigning for Senate in 1998, Mr. Schumer plugged a low-cost airline as a kind of savior for the upstate economy. JetBlue’s founder, David Neeleman, apparently liked what he heard, and donated to Mr. Schumer’s campaign.

Three weeks after Mr. Schumer’s election, he had breakfast with Mr. Neeleman, according to the book Flying High. Mr. Schumer agreed to lobby for slots at Kennedy Airport if Mr. Neeleman agreed to fly to upstate destinations. They had a deal.

On September 16, 1999, Mr. Schumer hosted a press conference to announce 75 slots for the new airline–the most ever granted. “JetBlue is the perfect airline to break the monopoly power which other airlines used as ransom to hold upstate’s economy hostage,” he said. With that foothold, the airline got off the ground, grew, and expanded, and Mr. Schumer often flew commercial on the airline, as he criss-crossed the state and cemented his Senate seat.

And, rumor has it, he even kept a little JetBlue plane on his desk–a reminder, perhaps, of his trip on JetBlue’s inaugural flight, when Mr. Schumer and other politicians landed at Kennedy after waiting out a three-hour fog in Buffalo. (At least, that’s how Jayson Blair reported it.)