Well, that is a surprise, JetBlue finally getting off the fence and confirming an interest in operating from New York JFK and Boston to London using their A321LR’s. We hadn’t been expecting that at all! But the announcement seems a little odd; twelve or even twenty-four months ahead of a likely start and no London airport selected, so what’s the plan then?
Firstly, the announcement may be a response to other developments and recent announcements. Delta Air Lines and their increasingly obedient partner Virgin Atlantic have announced new services from London Gatwick to Boston and JFK. Delta Air Lines have added some 8% more capacity at Boston this Summer and 6% more seats at JFK whilst JetBlue’s capacity remains largely unchanged. Quite simply, could JetBlue allow Delta Air Lines a “free hit” at something for which they have had a long-term ambition?
Perhaps the gap in the market created by the demise of WOW created an opportunity not to be missed. In Summer 2018 WOW operated 2,600 flights across the Atlantic but in truth that was only a 2% share of the pond, and was fishing the low yield market. JetBlue will be looking for better traffic to WOW them (sorry, couldn’t resist) than the Icelandic stopover market.
Aircraft utilisation may be a key part of the thinking. The A321’s start being delivered at the back end of this year and certainly a typical westbound London – Boston sector of seven hours thirty minutes is only a forty-five minute “glide” further than a Boston – Los Angeles sector.
Scheduling and connectivity will also undoubtedly have been a consideration. A typical early afternoon arrival in Boston connects to the 16:00 departure wave from Boston to 12 onward cities and a later 19:00 arrival connects to a transcontinental wave covering markets such as LAX, SEA, PHX, SFO and DEN. Running eastbound, a similar inbound wave at 20:00 of 15 inbound services could create some strong connectivity to London from a range of West Coast markets. Similar connecting traffic could also be developed from New York JFK although with a larger local market that might not be quite as necessary to support the service.
Ultimately geography is the one thing you cannot change. With Boston, and to a lesser degree New York, as far “east on the west side” as you can get, developing real hubs requires that “circular” range of connectivity. For many years the barrier had been aircraft type and now that’s been removed this development is almost inevitable.
And as to the question of which London Airport. Just maybe they already have their position at Heathrow sorted via some type of slot loan agreement with an existing carrier at the airport. After all, any number of airlines would love to see the current Heathrow transatlantic carriers facing some new competition in what is one of the most lucrative markets in the world.
Ultimately, JetBlue may have been forced into coming clean a few months (or years) earlier than planned; we had September as a more likely month for an announcement. But the expansion into the transatlantic market was almost inevitable; some fresh competition, new products and services and that may well Wow the market......if it actually happens!