JetBlue‘s struggles at its Long Beach focus city are no secret. The carrier pushed to expand at the southern California airport a few times over the past decade but faced challenges at the airport with operations limited and unwillingness by the local community to expand the airport’s operations. JetBlue wanted to see international service added but plans to build a customs and immigration facility were scuttled after pushback from locals. Most recently the carrier cut its flights at Long Beach, relinquishing slots. It also experimented with less traditional destinations such as Hayden and Bozeman, hunting for higher-yielding ski traffic while trimming transcon service to Fort Lauderdale. In short, JetBlue has tried all sorts of things to make the Long Beach focus city a success for the company. And none of it has really worked.
Reports tonight suggest that several of the airline’s senior leadership team are headed to the west coast for meetings with the Long Beach crewmembers on Thursday and that the station’s status as a focus city/hub is on the table as a talking point. Or, more bluntly, on the chopping block.
All crew based at the Long Beach station received an email invitation to “a station meeting with JetBlue leaders” late on Wednesday. The company President, VP Inflight and VP Tech Ops are reported to be among the team headed west. It is hard to see too many options where this ends up as good news for JetBlue operations in Long Beach.
The company cannot reasonably announce an expansion as the slots are tightly controlled. It could just be a meet-and-greet with lots of senior executives but that is a relatively rare scenario. And even more rare with so little advance notice.
That JetBlue has no currently announced plans to grow routes out of Long Beach certainly doesn’t help the station’s position. In recent months the airline focused on growth at all five of its other focus cities while leaving Long Beach in the lurch. And with the company’s fleet growth planned for 2020 it is hard to see how a hub that is not growing can survive even at the status quo.
Competition on the west coast is also brutal, with Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines all fighting to grow share in the region. At Long Beach in particular Southwest has taken advantage of available slots and eroded JetBlue share on head-to-head routes with impunity.
Maybe this is much ado about nothing. Senior leaders should visit their employees and interact with the front line more often. But when a meeting with top executives is scheduled with less than 24 hours notice that’s rarely a good sign.
JetBlue did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.