JetBlue’s Long Haul Flights Slowly Disappearing From Long Beach

When I saw JetBlue announce it was moving its flight to Ft Lauderdale from Long Beach to LAX, I wasn’t surprised. It was just one more step in the effort to move long hauls away from Long Beach and into LAX. Looking back at JetBlue’s nearly 10 years in Long Beach, you can see how stark the change has been. Long Beach serves a very different role now than it did originally for the airline.

Evoluation of JetBlue Flight Distances at Long Beach Airport

JetBlue doesn’t do much flying in the middle of the country, so it’s no surprise to see very little of that type of flying happening in Long Beach. But it is surprising to see how few long hauls are left at the airport.

From Long Beach, JetBlue originally started with flights to New York in September 2001 and followed with Washington soon after. One year after starting at Long Beach, the first short haul began up to Oakland. But long hauls still remained the focus and didn’t start to really go away until early 2008.

Since that time, the drop in long haul flying has been dramatic. Here’s another way to look at it. Look at the number of daily departures from Long Beach to New York.

Daily JetBlue Departures from Long Beach to New York/JFK

At one time, JetBlue flew eight daily flights between the two cities. That’s just unreal. It’s now down to just two daily, and at times even that second daily flight doesn’t run every day. Meanwhile, in June 2009, JetBlue started flying to LAX. Today, there are three flights most days from LAX to JFK and that number will rise to five daily this summer.

So what’s the story? When JetBlue started at Long Beach, people were willing to drive for the low fares, live television, and great service. But that’s because low fare, long haul trips were few and far between at LAX. JetBlue chose Long Beach for its lower costs and lack of competition. Today, things are very different.

Low fare service has gone into primary airports across the board. In the LA-New York market, Song showed up in 2005 before being merged back in to Delta. Now, Virgin America is the prime provider of low cost service to New York along with JetBlue (and a bunch of connecting options). The point is, people who prefer LAX do not have to drive to an alternate airport to get low fares anymore. So that changes the math at Long Beach.

JetBlue realized that with people not having to drive to Long Beach to get low fares, long haul flights wouldn’t be as lucrative down there. Besides, people coming from far away didn’t even know Long Beach and had a strong preference for LAX anyway. It moved into LAX in order to keep the traffic that used to be willing to go to Long Beach. But short haul is different.

Those who are traveling on shorter flights are less willing to drive to airports that are further away. So people that live in the heavily-populated area around Long Beach will drive to LAX if they’re going to New York, but they’re less likely to do it if it’s just a jaunt to Vegas or San Francisco. So JetBlue has repositioned Long Beach as a short haul-focused operation serving that community. Low fares are good, but it’s the convenience of the airport that makes it work best.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Long Beach couldn’t support any long haul flights, but JetBlue has to make a choice. Since Long Beach is heavily slot-restricted, JetBlue has to use its 30 daily flights in the best way possible. Considering the current dynamics in the industry, it decided that short haul is the way to go, so long haul will continue to migrate up the road to LAX.

Moving this Ft Lauderdale flight allows JetBlue to add yet another flight to Vegas. Apparently, JetBlue sees enough business traffic potential in this market that it is creating a business-type schedule instead of the afternoon-only leisure schedule that used to be in the market.

Yes, this is partially a response to Allegiant (JetBlue’s network planning chief tells me that the airline “competes hard”) but it’s also an effort to optimize its slots. And these days, short haul flying is far more optimal for secondary airports.

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