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16 AUGUST 2021
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The numbers look tantalising. In 2019 around 3m people flew between the world’s most important financial centres.
For an airline such as JetBlue, established 20 years in the United States as a low-cost single-aisle operator, the idea of challenging the established carriers on what is (or was pre-pandemic) the busiest long-haul international air route was simply one not to be missed.
Last Thursday at 09:36 BST a JetBlue 138-seat Airbus A321LR landed at Heathrow just over seven hours from its New York Kennedy Airport departure.
The chances of making the route work are daunting.
Remember these airlines (in alphabetical order) BA CityFlyer (LCY), Eos (STN), La Compagnie (LTN), Laker (LGW), Maxjet (STN), Norwegian (LGW). They all tried and failed on the London to New York air route mainly due to being underfinanced. One could also add Peoples Express (an American version of Laker which merged into Continental, now United). TWA, was gobbled up by American Airlines and of course the most famous of them all Pan Am simply collapsed.
JetBlue has one great advantage over previous attempts. It is valued on the New York Stock Exchange at $5bn (£3.61bn) and is part of the American airline establishment with 276 aircraft flying around 40m people a year mainly in the US. Every JetBlue passenger in the air as you read this piece is being marketed to fly to London. What a way to spread the word.
Let us make one thing clear. Low cost it might be, and it is currently the lowest priced airline across the North Atlantic but it is not a ‘no-frills’ carrier. At the back-end of the Airbus (Coach Class) passengers are offered news and film selection, full wi-fi access, complimentary drinks, and dining by Dig Inn, a well known New York fast food supplier. Seating is 3+3 with the Economy rest rooms at the rear. Mint is the name given for Business Class, a lie-flat seat with aisle access, and there is also a pair of two-place suites at the very front, the equivalent of First Class.
The big question is ‘will it work?’
JetBlue plans to quickly build up to a daily Heathrow service. In September it will add Gatwick, a perfectly logical expansion with no New York competition and a massive catchment area. Its attraction from New York is less so but, as with all the routes, the outbound have to return. Boston will be added next year plus seasonal service to Manchester and Glasgow.
There is a saying in the airline business that ‘big is beautiful’ and hence the introduction of first the Boeing 747 and later the Airbus A380, these four-engined giants now history. But the smaller ‘twins’ have worked and can carry up to 400 passengers, very comfortably for those up front, less so if you are sitting at the back.
Seat-mile costs are what it is all about. Airbus has a foot in both camps. What would it prefer to sell? An A350 or an A321? Or is there room for both?
At the moment JetBlue is just a pin prick for American Airlines, British Airways, Delta Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic. They have adjusted their fares making them appear to be more competitive. Their millage schemes are very attractive particularly with BA and its expansive European, Asian and African network.
The slots problem seems to be a red herring. Whilst the pandemic continues, and its after effects, both Heathrow and Gatwick will be keen to fill every available landing position assuming the big players do not come back with their previous high frequency operations. This seems very unlikely.
The real question is “Has JetBlue boss Robin Hayes done his sums right, or is the obsession to take on his old employer British Airways one step too far?”
BTN wishes him luck. Only time will tell.
All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum
John Richmond, LochwinnochUnited Kingdom
JetBlue will be very welcome to Glasgow.
Titus Johnson, United Kingdom
A well written article. The chances of transatlantic success don’t have to be daunting, however they must get ‘all’ the elements right. They have the right aircraft in terms of size, economics, configuration. They have high, deep and wide network distribution & market penetration in the US. Their ‘Achilles Heel’ is how they approach market penetration in the UK/Europe. It’s a different animal and they will need experienced people. Longer term market share growth takes a nuance different to what they are used to. Although Virgin America were robust on the West Coast, they never managed to crack the East Coast. That was their ‘Achilles Heel’. The other Airlines mentioned also have their reasons for failure. Over the last decade I have market launched four lower cost and ‘different’ Transatlantic Airlines in the teeth of much better established and funded incumbents. Rapid and profitable market share can be achieved but for sustained success all the cogs need the right lubricating to turn freely. I wish Jet Blue well and admire their tenacity to continue their launch in this current ultra-challenging environment.
JAMES COLE, UK
The advantage JetBlue have that the other new entrants lacked is an extensive feeder network behind their transatlantic flights. The A321LR changes the operating economics, and they don\\'t have too many seats to fill. Launching into a post Covid world is brave, but makes sense. Old habits have been broken and people will give a quality new operator a chance. But don\\'t underestimate the Heathrow slot issues. Incumbent airline slots have been protected since March 2020, so JetBlue don\\'t yet have slots they can call their own. They risk having the Heathrow carpet pulled from under them when the slots go back to their original airlines.
Philip Zeus, London
What I like about the Virgin operation to New York is the flying lounge in Upper Class and the ability to stretch my legs. This will not happen with JetBlue unless I am in the front of Coach and want to use the facilities.
Felix Angle, New York
He is a brave man Mr Hayes and brave backers. He has enough problems with the US domestic and local international routes without attempting London!
Peter Smart, London
A well-conceived COMMENT. JetBlue is brave in entering the market at this time with too many extra’s to deal with. Will the regular Transatlantic travellers return, and then will they forfeit their Avios points and see what it is all about?