An inevitable consequence of a demand shock to aviation like COVID-19 is that airlines put expansion plans and new projects on hold.
Qantas has postponed, albeit not indefinitely, plans to order aircraft capable of flying from London to the East Coast of Australia non-stop. Almost all airlines envisage being substantially smaller over the next two years.
Last year, JetBlue confirmed it plans to launch transatlantic flights from London to Boston and New York JFK from 2021. These will be operated with Airbus A321 long range aircraft.
Speaking to CNN’s “Quest Means Business” on Thursday 28 May 2020, JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes, with the aid of a not so subtle hint behind him, confirmed the airline still plans to launch flights from London in 2021, albeit more later in the year.
JetBlue maintains its promise to lower air fares on transatlantic routes. However, the market may pre-empt this. It is likely that all airlines will face lower yields as the return of business travel is likely to lag the lifting of travel restrictions and large scale events remain cancelled.
JetBlue is to launch its first transatlantic routes from London to Boston and New York JFK from 2021.
Flights will be operated with Airbus A321 Long Range aircraft. JetBlue has converted 13 of its existing orders for Airbus A321 aircraft to the long range version.
It will feature an updated version of JetBlue’s signature “Mint” premium cabin which operates on select transcontinental routes in the US. JetBlue also promises to undercut existing premium transatlantic fares.
There is a lot JetBlue has not said in today’s announcement.
JetBlue has not specified which London airport it will fly from. It is highly likely that JetBlue will pursue hard access to Heathrow. It has been explicitly lobbying for slots at Heathrow to be made available as a condition of Air France-KLM, Delta and Virgin Atlantic combining their transatlantic joint-ventures. The American Airlines and British Airways transatlantic joint-venture is also under review by the Competitions & Markets Authority pending its renewal. From JetBlue’s press statements it is clearly targeting the major transatlantic joint-ventures and will be lobbying against these on both sides of the atlantic.
JetBlue has also not given any indications of potential schedules and frequencies. Though a fleet of 13 aircraft for transatlantic operations, some of which will ultimately operate from other European cities, should allow for a significant schedule.
Any new entrant should be welcomed. JetBlue has a lot going its favour. It haas a strong brand with a significant presence in Boston and New York. However, with a relatively small transatlantic operation and a small dedicated fleet, it will need to have sufficient contingency measures in place in the event of operational issues. Any short notice delays, cancellations and aircraft substitutions will result in goodwill being lost.
JetBlue’s announcement has been trailed long in advance and has not gone unnoticed by its competitors. Delta and Virgin Atlantic have already announced plans to fly from Gatwick to Boston and New York JFK in 2020. Should JetBlue ultimately choose to fly from Gatwick, it would be surprising if American Airlines and BA (which already flies from Gatwick to New York JFK) don’t make a similar competitive response.