JetBlue’s Interest in Europe is No Surprise

Take a look at this route map, via Great Circle Mapper (he’s also made this the featured map for today):
JetBlue Boston Hub

If you were going to build a hub, it wouldn’t look like this. Everything points to the south and west. As you may have guessed already, this is JetBlue’s Boston focus city. Many have speculated for years that JetBlue would fly to Europe, and the airline itself has expressed an interest. Europe might seem like a big jump and a change in business plan, but it’s really not that much different thanks to new aircraft technology. And just looking at a Boston route map shows why JetBlue is interested. Doesn’t this look better?

JetBlue Boston Hub Europe

Slap on the top 20 airports in Europe (give or take) and now you’ve got something. But it’s not like this is a simple thing. JetBlue isn’t actually big on connecting passengers, at least not on its own airplanes. And there’s the matter of finding an airplane that could fly these routes. It would be a new fleet type, and probably one with a whole lot more seats to fill. Boston might not be able to support that on anything more than a few routes. But things have changed.

Regarding connecting passengers, JetBlue may not be big on connections on its own flights, but it has established a ton of partnerships with international carriers like Aer Lingus and Emirates to feed people from its own flights to those partners. This strategy has been good for JetBlue in Boston and in its other focus cities. It has also given JetBlue a taste of what it could do with European flights of its own.

Then there’s the aircraft issue. JetBlue’s A320s might make it to Ireland on a good day, but that’s not really a reliable strategy. Until recent times, JetBlue has only had one option: get a new aircraft type. Since Boston is so close to Europe (Dublin is only a couple hundred miles further than San Francisco), the 757 could have served a lot of markets from there. But JetBlue wasn’t about to get in the business of buying old airplanes and having to do major work on them. So it was pretty much get a widebody or forget about it.

But the introduction of a new generation of narrowbodies has changed the game. JetBlue has a bunch of A321neo aircraft on order (among others. If it wants, it can convert some of those to the A321LR, an airplane that could get JetBlue well into the heart of Europe from Boston. That is going to make it far easier for JetBlue to launch service to Europe with much greater ease.

Those may have been the two big issues, but there are others. What about the onboard product? That WAS an issue when JetBlue was a single-cabin airline. But frankly, take the Mint product and put it on Europe? That would easily be a highly competitive product with what’s in the market today. The coach product JetBlue offers would already be one of the best flying. Product is not an issue.

There are a host of other issues that come with flying internationally. Just ask Southwest. It strangely decided it needed to buy a whole different airline (AirTran) to figure out how to do it. But let’s remember that JetBlue already does this today down in the Caribbean and Latin America. Adding Europe won’t be any more challenging than what the airline has already done.

What JetBlue wants to do is take advantage of Boston’s natural geography in the same way Copa has taken advantage in Panama and Emirates in Dubai. Maybe the best examples are Icelandair and Wow in Iceland, a country that’s just slightly better-located from an aircraft-capability perspective than Boston. But Boston is a much bigger local market and should be able to support flights to more places at lower fares.

Today JetBlue has 140 flights a day from Boston but it has plans to raise that to 200. The bigger it gets, the more it will likely want to rely on connections to help build frequencies. And while some international partners can offer limited connectivity today, that’s nothing compared to what JetBlue would do on its own.

This could be part of the reason Delta is watching Boston so closely. JetBlue is going to end up in Europe, and JetBlue could create an operation there that’s far more formidable than what it’s already built.

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