The chief executive of JetBlue Airways, Robin Hayes, said on Monday that he planned to step down after nine years in the role and while in the middle of trying to carry out a merger with Spirit Airlines that could reshape the industry, if it isn’t blocked in court.
Mr. Hayes will be replaced by Joanna Geraghty, the company’s president and chief operating officer, on Feb. 12, which would make her the only woman to lead a major U.S. airline. Mr. Hayes, 57, will remain on JetBlue’s board and serve as a strategic adviser to the company.
In a lengthy statement, Mr. Hayes described the decision to retire as “bittersweet” and suggested that unspecified health concerns had driven it.
“The extraordinary challenges and pressure of this job have taken their toll, and on the advice of my doctor and after talking to my wife, it’s time I put more focus on my health and well-being,” he said. “I am deeply grateful for these many exciting years, and I feel very lucky to have worked at an airline with a brand, culture and team that are simply unlike any other in the world.”
JetBlue announced plans in 2022 to buy Spirit for $3.8 billion. The Justice Department sued last year to prevent the deal, and the federal trial in that lawsuit concluded last month. The presiding judge has not yet issued a ruling, which could allow the deal, require that JetBlue and Spirit make some concessions, or prevent the merger altogether.
Mr. Hayes joined JetBlue in 2008 from British Airways. He became the chief executive in February 2015. The company said in a securities filing that Mr. Hayes notified the board on Sunday of his intention to step down, with the board voting to approve the appointment of Ms. Geraghty, 51, the same day.
In a message to employees, Mr. Hayes said he had been thinking about stepping down for a while.
“This decision to retire was a difficult and deeply personal one, and I’ve been putting it off for some time — first when Covid threatened our future and again when we had the opportunity to acquire Spirit,” he said.