Can JetBlue crack the Atlantic?

by Business Travel iQ | 11 April 2019

Long-haul, low cost is a risky business. Will a new entrant make it work?

On the heels of the failure of long-haul low cost airline WOW, another airline has announced it intends to try to make the idea work.

New York-based JetBlue has announced it is to launch multiple daily flights from both Boston and New York to London in 2021 using Airbus A321LR single-aisle aircraft.

The airline says it is developing a “reimagined, transatlantic version of its premium Mint product which will feature more lie-flat seats than currently offered on the airline’s existing A321 aircraft”.

Joanna Geraghty, president and chief operating officer of JetBlue, said of the announcement:

“London is the next natural market for JetBlue to be successful and make a positive impact on consumers.”

She added, “Twenty years ago, our founders had a simple formula for choosing a new market – it had to be overpriced, underserved, or both. London is the largest metro area JetBlue doesn’t yet serve from both Boston and New York, and we could not be more thrilled to be changing that in the years ahead. The fares being charged today by airlines on these routes, specifically on the premium end, are enough to make you blush.”

What was missing from the announcement was which airport the airline will serve on this side of the Atlantic, saying it is “evaluating which London airports it will serve”.

Our chart this week looks at traffic on those routes in 2018.

Heathrow is the key airport on what are some of the busiest airline routes in the world, served by numerous airlines, including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, Delta and United.  

The choice of airport may be crucial. Will it go down the traditional low-cost route and choose Stansted or Luton? Or will it go down the route of choosing Gatwick, the traditional choice of “grown-up” airlines that were unable to get a foot in the door at Heathrow.

By saying the routes will launch in 2021, JetBlue is testing the water. It will want to know whether corporates on both sides of the Pond are willing to give it a try. JetBlue, which launched in 1998, now carries 42 million passengers a year on more than 1,000 flights.

Travel buyers will welcome another option on the route and the ability to connect to the airline’s domestic network will be crucial.

But with margins at a bare minimum, the risks of launching major routes like this are enormous. Many airlines have tried – remember SilverJet and Eos – and failed.

JetBlue’s product offering may be crucial. It is known for having lots of legroom, TVs at every seat and free broadband on its domestic services. Innovation in business class on the Atlantic routes will be welcomed by buyers and travellers alike.

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