JetBlue and Norwegian intend to establish an interline partnership, allowing passengers to transfer more easily between the two carriers on a single ticket. They announced the Letter of Intent for such today, with hopes of passengers traveling under the new agreement by Summer 2020. If fully established the interline agreement will enable passengers to connect through from a Norwegian transatlantic flight to JetBlue’s Americas network at JFK, Boston and Fort Lauderdale.
Interline agreements are the most basic level of partnership between airlines. They allow foe a single ticket covering both carriers and for bags to be checked through to the final destination. They do not cover frequent flyer reciprocity, nor do they necessarily deliver preferential pricing or even a guarantee that certain segments can be combined on the booking. Those commercial terms will determine whether this announcement proves truly useful to passengers or not. JetBlue currently operates interline agreements with eleven other airline partners; most are not TrueBlue partners. Indeed, in many cases the fares produced across the agreements are simply the sum of the JetBlue and partner fares to and from the connection city. Often those end up less competitive than other carriers or Joint Venture agreements.
We are very excited to partner with JetBlue as this will make international travel even smoother and more available for our customers. JetBlue is the largest airline at several of our key gateways in the United States, specifically New York JFK, Boston and Fort Lauderdale, and this partnership will create a plethora of new route connections for customers on both sides of the Atlantic. The partnership will provide travelers throughout the U.S., Caribbean and Latin America with more affordable fares to Europe and vice versa. And not least it will offer seamless connections with two of the most awarded low-cost airlines in the world.– Norwegian’s Acting CEO and Chief Financial Officer, Geir Karlsen.
The initial value of the basic interline agreement is clear for Norwegian. Its long-haul flights can feed passengers to and from JetBlue’s 100+ destinations across the Americas. But it also comes roughly a year before JetBlue intends to launch its own Transatlantic services from JFK and Boston to London. Norwegian serves those two JetBlue hubs from other airports in Europe but the London routes are some of its strongest performers. JetBlue entering those markets in 2021 would seem to be in direct competition with the feed Norwegian is establishing next year.
Should JetBlue end up flying to Gatwick – its London airport plans are still uncertain – the interline agreement could help deliver further connections onward into Europe thanks to Norwegian’s significant operations there.
While the CEOs from the two carriers speak of seamless connections between the airlines the reality is likely to be rather different, at least for passengers at JFK. Fort Lauderdale and Boston can facilitate easy transfers between the gates but JFK is a very different story. Travelers would be required to move between T1 and T5, outside the TSA secure area. Plus, Norwegian’s operation at JFK often finds itself running delayed thanks to a combination of crowding at T1 and swapping aircraft to third-party charters owing to 787 reliability issues. Then again, JetBlue’s on time performance continues its hold on worst in the USA, so perhaps the two are more alike than not.
Ultimately the interline agreement is good news. But it is just a base on which real partnerships can be built, not a true partnership unto itself. Just how successful it is for passengers will be determined by the willingness of the two airlines to drive deeper commercial ties rather than settle for end-on-end pricing and printing a single bag tag for travelers. Code share or joint venture would be a significant move. Even some frequent flyer reciprocity could be compelling. But, to start, this is relatively benign to most travelers.