Slots are swapping. Routes are growing. And JetBlue is about to venture into uncharted territory. Phase two of the North East Alliance with American Airlines brings much of the change we were promised back in February, plus a few extra bits to digest.
By connecting with American’s large customer base and international network, we can add new markets that we have been eying for many years. The alliance quite literally gives us room to grow as we get greater access to airports that we’ve been locked out of for years.– Scott Laurence, head of revenue and planning, JetBlue
Canada and Middle America
Two major markets JetBlue consistently avoids are Canada and “fly-over country” in the Central United States. The carrier received approval from Transport Canada to operate flights in December 2007. But until the NEA approval came through JetBlue was more than happy to pick up customers in Buffalo (e.g. the LAX service) rather than fly across the border. That changes next year, with Vancouver service planned from JFK and seasonally from Boston. American Airlines will also offer Boston-Toronto service as part of the cooperation.
Back in February JetBlue’s Head of Planning and Revenue Scott Laurence told employees to be on the lookout for more flights to the middle of the country. He specifically named Milwaukee, Kansas City, St. Louis, and San Antonio at that time. Three of the four will soon see service on JetBlue from both Boston and New York-JFK. St. Louis won’t see JetBlue service, but American will add the market from Boston, along with flights to Cincinnati.
The February internal docs called for JetBlue to grow to 50-60 daily departures at LaGuardia over “the next few years” with the NEA online. Turns out that will happen within a year. By taking over underutilized slots from American, JetBlue can add a number of new markets and expand others. Jacksonville, Sarasota, and Savanah will launch later in 2021. New Orleans, Nashville, and Portland will follow in 2022.
American will add Houston, Oklahoma City, and Omaha as markets from LaGuardia as the NEA matures.
American Airlines will bring its low-density, premium-focused A321T to the Boston-Los Angeles market beginning in November 2021. At that point all premium seats on both carriers between Boston or New York and LA or San Francisco will offer flat beds. With coordinated schedules the two carriers can ensure travelers have access to a vaguely consistent product offering (i.e. “flat bed business class”) regardless of which carrier operates the flight.
Slightly more surprising is American’s planned return to India. The carrier will operate Delhi service from JFK, with a scheduled start date of 31 October, the beginning of the IATA winter season. The route will operate 3x weekly and, along with the planned new Athens and Tel Aviv service, depends on the JetBlue feed to augment local traffic.
To help facilitate those connections JetBlue and American finally committed to operate a bus inside security between T5 and T8 at JFK.
Loyalty still to come
Rolling out the alliance takes time and the route planning takes top priority at the airline (or perhaps second to fending off legal challenges to the alliance). The promised loyalty reciprocity for passengers will happen eventually, but the airlines are not committed to a specific (public) timeline.
Reciprocal earning is expected in “in the coming weeks” while redemption on the partner will happen “over time.” Recognition of elite status appears even further away, with the carriers “exploring opportunities” to make that happen.
Plenty of time
The two carriers seem pretty confident in these plans and the timing of the new routes. Still, given the state of the industry today they must be taken with a grain of salt. There’s plenty of time for things to change between now and when most of the routes are slated to begin. Whether India gets COVID under control, for example, will likely drive timing on that route launch. Ditto for demand in the other markets that the carriers are betting on with announcing plans as much as a year in advance.
There is also plenty of time to see what cuts come as a result. JetBlue cannot operate the planned full complement of new services without American drawing down some routes; there aren’t enough slots to go around. Plus American will have to shift some slots over to its new markets. But cutting service doesn’t get the fun press releases.
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