JetBlue Partners with American; No This Isn’t an April Fools’ Joke

If I didn’t know better, I would have thought yesterday was April Fools’ Day. Why? Because American and JetBlue announced that they had signed a limited partnership to feed traffic to each other in New York and Boston. Oh yeah, and they’re doing a little slot swap. What the f*&k?!? I had to ask JetBlue about this.

American Targets New York

American is the airline that dumped 757s into Long Beach when JetBlue started flying. This is also the airline that is known for doing everything it can to slay upstarts. Yet now, here they are skipping down 5th Avenue together. If the graphic above doesn’t make the entire thing clear for you, you can read about my take on this as part of American’s efforts to fight Delta in New York over on BNET today, but I want to focus on JetBlue here.

There are a couple of things happening. First, JetBlue and American signed an interline agreement, which means you’ll be able to book tickets via American or travel agents to travel on JetBlue from 18 domestic cities to either JFK or Boston where you’ll be able to transfer on American to one of 12 international destinations all on the same ticket. This isn’t a codeshare and it isn’t a frequent flier partnership, yet.

Second, JetBlue will give up 12 slot pairs at JFK in order to get 8 slot pairs at Washington/National and 1 at White Plains. Yeehaw. All this, combined with the fact that Lufthansa, part of American’s rival Star Alliance, owns a good chunk of JetBlue left my head spinning. So I turned to JetBlue and asked some question in a way that I wouldn’t ever dare trying with American.

Cranky: So this is just an interline agreement and it can only be booked via American right now? No bookings will occur via JetBlue? Isn’t that why you signed up for Sabre so you could do stuff like that?
JetBlue: Bookings can be made on AA.com, by calling American Airlines reservations, via Global Distribution Systems and Online Travel Agents or through a travel agent. JetBlue is currently unable to sell interline tickets seamlessly on our website. We intend to add interline functionality to our website later this year.

Cranky: Why have west coast cities been left out of the connections? In other words, why can’t I go from Long Beach? You know I love my home airport.
JetBlue: This is an agreement for non-overlapping markets served by JetBlue from JFK or Boston with well-timed schedules to connect to international destinations served by American. We will explore additional cities in the future, but these 18 domestic JetBlue and 12 international American cities are our launch cities.

Cranky: Is Lufthansa going to kill you? As a part owner, I assume this was discussed with them before the deal was implemented?
JetBlue: Lufthansa invested in JetBlue and we feel this agreement with AA will help us produce a valuable return on their investment.

Cranky: Does this have any impact on the 5 slots you’re trying to get at DCA from the US/DL deal or is this simply an additional part of your plan to make your move on DCA?
JetBlue: These slots are part of the agreement with American. They are separate from our plans to obtain slots through other means.

Cranky: If you’re giving up 12 slots at JFK, what flights will go away? Are those slots all during peak hours? Can you make sure the ones you give up are the ones that would otherwise have resulted in horrible 27 hour onboard aircraft delays?
JetBlue: The exact flights have not been determined. We are swapping valuable DCA slots for some of our extra JFK slots that were being underutilized. Even without these, we are still the #1 airline at JFK.

Cranky: When are you planning to start Washington/National service? Where are you flying from National? (I know you won’t answer this.)
JetBlue: We hope to begin flying to National in November. Precise start dates, routes and fares will be announced later this spring.

So there you have it. I think my questions were far more entertaining than the answers, but to be fair, the responses were typed on a BlackBerry. For what it’s worth, I also spoke with Lufthansa spokesperson Martin Riecken who said they did know about this before it was announced. I asked him if Lufthansa was unhappy about this. He said:

As a financial investor, anything that is good for JetBlue’s business is good for us. As a partner, this is just an interline agreement which is standard throughout the industry.

How very rational and, well, stereotypically German. That makes sense to me, but I imagine we’ll hear a different tune if this deal progresses any further.

For JetBlue, this seems to be a nice way to pick up a few extra international passengers, but it’s more about National than anything else. They’ll get 8 slots here and they still want those 5 if the US Airways/Delta slot swap goes through. They also said in their release today that they “petitioned the FAA for access to unused slot pairs in the early morning and late-evening hours.” Though they won’t tell me where they’re flying, my money is on Boston and Florida to start but possibly some JFK as well.

I think this is about as good of an example of strange bedfellows as I can remember. But it seems to make sense for both sides. If this does go any further, then it’s bound to cause some serious issues with Lufthansa. But maybe with its partner Continental in Newark, JetBlue isn’t as interesting to Lufthansa anymore. Hmmm.

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