Since it first expanded to the transcontinental market in the early 2000s JetBlue used Long Beach as its base for west coast operations. But the recent history was strained, with the carrier wanting to expand and locals blocking that at every turn. The fighting will end in October as JetBlue halts operations from Long Beach, moving its flights and maintenance base to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The changes are slated for 7 October 2020, one week after JetBlue’s obligation to serve Long Beach under the CARES Act funding ends.
LAX is one of JetBlue’s most successful markets and offers the valuable opportunity to grow significantly both domestically and internationally while introducing our low fares on more routes. The transition to LAX, serving as the anchor of our focus city strategy on the West Coast, sets JetBlue up for success in Southern California. We continue to seize on opportunities to emerge from this pandemic a stronger competitive force in the industry.– Scott Laurence, head of revenue and planning, JetBlue
JetBlue will initially serve 13 destinations from LAX with more than 30 daily flights. The routes include transcon markets that exist at LAX today and add nearly all the short-haul routes from the Long Beach network; only Portland will disappear. The carrier intends a “strategic expansion” from there, increasing to 70 daily flights by 2025. This will include “multiple new markets, both domestic and international, some of which have never had nonstop service to and from LAX,” according to the company.
Internal conversations suggest that Guatemala City (GUA), San Salvador (SAL), San Jose (SJO), and Liberia (LIR) top the company’s international route wish list today, though it is unlikely any will be served before 2023.
The company also expects that the A220 will figure heavily into the LAX operation from the 2023-2024 time frame as more aircraft join that fleet. Service to Hawaii is also likely once ETOPS certification is realized from the European expansion.
JetBlue will grow from 2 to 3 gates at LAX by the end of the year to support the route expansion. A fourth gate has already been requested and to get to the 70 flights target more will be required.
The move will increase JetBlue’s operation at LAX from 150 to 700 employees as the crew and maintenance bases move. Further growth is anticipated as the route network expands.
Long Beach: A beautiful airport the locals love to hate
JetBlue’s history at Long Beach has been fraught with challenges. Strict noise abatement rules keep the total number of flights capped well below what is useful for a true hub operation. And even after renovating the airport into a gorgeous new facility in 2012 Long Beach has worked very hard to restrict growth at the airport. When JetBlue indicated in 2015 that it would like to add international routes the locals fought back, claiming (bizarrely) that the aircraft would be much louder than those same planes operating on domestic routes.
With the international expansion shelved JetBlue instead tried for less traditional routes to drag the operation out of the cellar in terms of yield for its network.That vaguely worked, but not well enough relative to other possibilities. As a result, JetBlue announced in January it would further cut the Long Beach operations down to just 15 daily flights. And now, with the opportunity to fully reset its route network, Long Beach will disappear completely.
Long Beach Airport Director Cynthia Guidry issued a statement on the news, expecting that other airlines will quickly back-fill the lost capacity:
We will always be grateful for the investment JetBlue made in our community and the tremendous service they offered our passengers. We understand that the aviation industry – now more than ever – is constantly changing and airlines nationwide are making difficult business decisions to stay competitive in light of the pandemic. We expect strong interest in the slots as they become available.
In the meantime, Long Beach transitions from an airport serving a broad range of markets across the USA to a very regional west coast airport.
The decision to shift operations to LAX raises questions about competition and alternatives. JetBlue does not want to give up on Southern California but LAX comes with massive competitive pressure. It is the largest O&D market in the world and handled roughly 60 million passengers in 2019, so the potential exists. But 70% of that traffic is handled today by the four largest US carriers, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines. Alaska Airlines covers another 8% of the traffic, leaving 22% for the large spread of other carriers, including international operations.
JetBlue is, at best, the number 7 player coming into the market today. That’s not a particularly strong position from which to compete.
But the market is much, much larger than Ontario, and it avoids many of the noise and operating restrictions of Burbank. At the end of the day, it is where more passengers fly and where the locals prefer to see the aircraft land. Even if they all hate the traffic getting in and out of the terminal.
A favor to ask while you're here...
Did you enjoy the content? Or learn something useful? Or generally just think this is the type of story you'd like to see more of? Consider supporting the site through a donation (any amount helps). It helps keep me independent and avoiding the credit card schlock.