Virgin America Heads to Ft Lauderdale, JetBlue Announces Soon After

I was just saying to someone the other day that Virgin America had been really quiet lately, and I wondered Virgin America Goes to Ft Lauderdalewhat they were up to. Apparently they’ve been working the old Jewish grandma market – they’re heading to Ft Lauderdale from LA and San Francisco. That’s kind of a weird move, but it wasn’t nearly as weird as JetBlue’s announcement of the same route a couple hours later.

Thanks to the early demise of Virgin America’s relationship with Direct Air, the airline has some airplanes lying around. So they’ve decided the best place to put that is on two daily flights between Ft Lauderdale and both LAX and San Francisco beginning November 18, just in time for Thanksgiving. LAX flights leave at 1045a and 10p while the returns leave at 7a and 720p. San Francisco flights leave at 1110a and 1140p while the returns leave at 1030a and 830p.

I don’t really get this one. In the past, David Cush told Ben Mutzabaugh over at Today in the Sky, “I think we’ve been pretty clear with people that we want to go to major business centers and primary airports.” Um, right. Ft Lauderdale is definitely not the primary airport in the region. That title falls to the insanely expensive airport down in Miami. So I asked Virgin America spokesperson Abby Lunardini what the rationale was and whether or not this meant they would now consider Midway in Chicago.

When we looked at demand and competition in the South Florida markets, we saw there was no direct service from FLL-SFO and little on FLL-LAX. Also, only about 1/3rd of Bay Area travelers are taking non-stops at present to South Florida – so we saw a pretty compelling competition story. Secondly, Miami has a significantly higher cost per passenger – so to keep fares low this was a consideration as well. Finally, when we looked at the market we found that FLL’s central, convenient location feeds the entire South Florida market and has a larger catchment demographic that fits with our model of service. We’re focused on population centers where our flights resonate with travelers that typically have higher expectations of service and amenities – and we think this is a perfect fit.

I think Midway vs [O'Hare] is a somewhat different story – in terms of competition, demographics, demand, etc. [O'Hare] is a market that currently has no low-fare carrier service from LAX or SFO to [O'Hare]. We do still hope to bring our award-winning, low-cost service to [O'Hare] in 2010.

I understand what she’s saying, but I’m not convinced there’s enough traffic to make this work. I’m also surprised that this is the next best option for the airline. In LA, there is more than just a little competition. Spirit and Delta both fly a daily redeye as does JetBlue out of Long Beach. On the return, Delta has a morning flight, JetBlue an afternoon flight, and Spirit an evening flight. Fares for random Wednesdays in October are showing up as low as $209 roundtrip including all taxes. Meanwhile, you can get a one way walkup tomorrow for $273, cheaper if you connect. I’m not convinced this is an underserved market. In fact, Delta has cut one frequency and shrunk the aircraft used. American has pulled out entirely.

If Virgin America is looking to stimulate the market with low fares, there isn’t much room to go lower. Out of Miami, however, it’s American that’s the only competitor with a half dozen flights a day – a very similar market to what they see at O’Hare except there’s only one mainline competitor instead of two. American can support its flights thanks to extensive connections to the Caribbean and Latin America, something Virgin America won’t have. Fares in the local market are a little higher than Ft Lauderdale, though as JetBlue Fights Virgin America in Ft Lauderdale - SFOmentioned, the costs are way higher.

Out of San Francisco, there were no nonstops to Ft Lauderdale until today, but Virgin America’s schedule makes connections fairly competitive timing-wise. But now they’ll have to contend with JetBlue which announced nonstop flights today on the exact same route. What the heck? I’d be surprised if JetBlue made a rash decision here. When asked, the airline confirmed for me that this had been in progress before Virgin America’s announcement.

My guess? I’d say that JetBlue probably had the route on their list of possibilities, but Virgin America’s announcement moved it up. And the fact that they’re starting the flight the day before Virgin America and using the subheader in their press release “First nonstop service from SFO to Fort Lauderdale”? Pretty tacky if you ask me.

But JetBlue does have something that Virgin America does not, or so they say. The second subheading says it all. “Easy connections available to the Caribbean.” That’s a good way to fill up planes, though when you look at their schedules, only San Juan and Cancun have remotely acceptable connections this winter. (And those connections are really only good one way.) Hmm, this does seem rather hasty, actually.

So Ft Lauderdale is likely to be blessed with low fares to the west coast for awhile. Jewish grandchildren in California should be very afraid.

[Updated 8/12 at 1057a: Looks like Spirit has decided to welcome Virgin to Ft Lauderdale on its website. Take a look below]

Spirit Welcomes Virgin to Ft Lauderdale

17 Responses to Virgin America Heads to Ft Lauderdale, JetBlue Announces Soon After

  1. David SFeastbay says:

    Virgin America routes always seemed business related and FLL is more for leisure. They could be trying to get a little mix in their markets and it will make it easier for cruise ship passengeres out of FLL to get there from California.

    Living in California, most people head off to Hawaii or Mexico for their winter vacations, so maybe Virgin America thinks they can change our vacation habits.

    If there was really a market to FLL you would think Spirit would be flying it a couple of times a day since they have all that connecting traffic out of FLL to the Caribbean/Latin America.

    So it’s now a wait and see game of who will outlast whom.

  2. Steve says:

    I don’t really see where you say that Miami-Los Angeles (which is more than a dozen daily flights – its seven daily on AA) has local fares that are “a little higher.” They are in fact 46% higher. How is that “a little?”

    The South Florida-Los Angeles local market is huge – larger than Boston-Los Angeles – but I do agree with your assessment that VX is making a mistake.

    VX is kind of contradicting themselves with the O’Hare/Midway statement. Applying that line of logic, VX should have gone to MIA.

  3. Ron says:

    Well, Spirit is hitting back — their web site now has ads saying “We’re no virgin, we’ve been cheap and easy for years”. :-)

  4. CF says:

    Steve – Well, I was just looking at fares on random days in October and not pulling actual stats. I would hope that Miami fares were higher since the airport is so expensive. Are you saying that Miami fares are 46% higher on that route or in general?

    Ron – I love it. I’ve updated the post and put the visual there so others can see.

  5. Scott says:

    Virgin’s shaping up to be another National Airlines: A white elephant envisioned during a bright spot in an industry where such spots are notoriously brief, flaming into low yield low fare markets they claim are underserved, lambasting the rest of the industry for letting service get so bad, offering a glittering inflight product that eventually falls victim to cost cuts as they fail to fill seats during a perfect storm that keeps high yield business travelers clinging to their mileage accounts, retards growth which further spooks prospective bookings and eventually folds from having underestimated the competitive power of the “poorly run, bad customer service giving” legacy carriers. National was “Award-winning” too.

  6. Dan says:

    Delta used to fly a nonstop FLL-LAX route, and it was almost always pretty packed… Big day for airline news today,,, just got an email, Jet Blue is offering an $599 all you can fly pass from Sept 8 to Oct 8…

  7. Eric says:

    Hmmmm…another class act marketing campaign from the Neanderthals of Miramar.

    This has me scratching my head…but so does allot of the other big aviation news of the day.

  8. Debbie says:

    Just had to let you know that I laughed out loud at the alligator graphic at the bottom of the blog! Being the mother of 3 children with a Jewish grandma in FLL who won’t drive to Miami to pick us up, I was pleased when I found out that there would be direct service again from the LAX and SFO. Now if we could only convince them that they should time the flights to connect with inbound New Zealand planes . . . I can dream, can’t I?

  9. David SFeastbay says:

    Ron wrote:

    Well, Spirit is hitting back — their web site now has ads saying “We’re no virgin, we’ve been cheap and easy for years”. :-)

    That must be one of the greatest ad lines ever. But someone who doesn’t know about the Virgin America and JetBlue new service may not get it. But I almost fell off the chair laughing.

  10. Andrew says:

    David SFeastbay wrote:

    That must be one of the greatest ad lines ever. But someone who doesn’t know about the Virgin America and JetBlue new service may not get it. But I almost fell off the chair laughing.

    I was going to type this same comment, now that I’ve recovered from the floor where I’ve spent the last few minutes laughing…

  11. CF says:

    Debbie wrote:

    Now if we could only convince them that they should time the flights to connect with inbound New Zealand planes . . . I can dream, can’t I?

    Yeah, it’s not looking so good for that. You’re probably looking at about a 9 hour layover each way.

  12. Oliver says:

    at $99 each way and awesome in flight entertainment, why not?
    enjoy it while it lasts.

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  14. Martin Driscoll says:

    Lot of bad information from people holding themselves out as Travel professionals. Miami International is a pit and incredibly inconvenient and a nightmare to deal with on almost all levels of user friendliness. Fort Lauderdale International is clean, efficient, user friendly and less then 25 minutes in traffic from Miami International, it still quicker to get to Miami Beach, Miami Downtown from Fort Lauderdale on most days and at most hours then MIA because of the terrible congestion, poor ingress and egress and inefficient passenger processing. Living in South Florida most people who travel will tell you that Fort Lauderdale is much more convenient then MIA, some go so far as to skip direct flights out of Miami just so they can avoid MIA. I always look at the cost gap and have and will continue to pay a premium if not to excessive to fly out of Fort Lauderdale.

    My wife went to Med School in San Francisco and has a lot of ties to the area, my sister lives in Marin County. We have a lot of contacts and fly ourselves to the area several times a year and the flights going and coming are almost always full. The fact that Fort Lauderdale is being chosen over MIA will just increase the routes success. Watch it will be a huge success and the route will expand if they can keep the price point to a minimum and drive a lot of on the fence traffic to get on a plane for whatever their reason may be.

  15. David SFeastbay says:

    Today JetBlue announced more flights out of SFO. Besides the SFO-FLL which just so happens Virgin America is going to do, they are also adding one more flight to JFK and two more to LGB. Both seem like another dig at VX in the JFK market and trying to combat VX SFO-LAX by adding more service to LGB. That would give JetBlue 5 SFO-LGB flights to try an match againsts VX’s 6 flights SFO-LAX.

    VX would still have twice the SFO-JFK flights with 4 to B6′s two when the B6 service starts in January.

    B6 will also add second SFO-BOS.

    Sounds like more fueds between JetBlue and Virgin America will be taking place in the furture. It’s like watching one of those reality shows. What will happen on the next episode?

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  17. dave says:

    It is interesting to read this so many years after the fact. I have to agree with martin MIA is a pit compared with FLL. Jet Blue are doing a stellar job out of Ft Lauderdale….

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