Among the strong and freely offered opinions of David Neeleman, America’s most successful living airline entrepreneur, is that the world has largely overreacted to Covid-19. “I think people who wear masks outside when they’re social distanced are complete morons,” he says. Double-maskers drive him particularly nuts: “I just want to go up and shake them and go, ‘What the f— is wrong with you!’ ” On the sunny March day when we met, in an indifferently furnished office suite in Darien, Conn., Neeleman did have a mask with him. Plain and black, it didn’t bear the logo of his new airline, Breeze, or his next-newest one, the Brazilian carrier Azul SA, of which he remains the chairman and controlling shareholder (and in whose satellite office we were talking). Nor was it from JetBlue, which he founded in 1999 at the age of 39 and ran until he was pushed out as chief executive officer eight years later.
Indeed, with his mask on his broad, still impish face, the 61-year-old looked like anyone else doing their part to end a global pandemic. But then, grinning, Neeleman unhooked the ear-loops and showed me the fabric: a mesh with holes so big they just might keep out mosquitoes. “It lets me breathe,” he explained, setting his Potemkin face covering in front of him on the conference table. Neither of us had been vaccinated yet. Still, the medical-grade mask I was wearing felt suddenly conspicuous. I took it off.