With an Assist From JetBlue, Hawaiian Chooses Long Beach As Its First New Airport to Serve with the A321neo

Hawaiian Airlines has long had a size issue. Ever since the DC-8s were retired back in the 1990s, the airline has only had large widebody aircraft to fly to the mainland. This wasn’t necessarily a problem for the airline, but it limited the type of routes it could fly. While other airlines like Alaska ramped up on tons of thinner routes with narrowbodies, Hawaiian had to sit and watch. Now, Hawaiian has put its first A321neo aircraft into service, and that smaller airplane means Hawaiian has a whole new range of opportunities.

Hawaiian decided to first use the new airplane to bolster existing routes, but yesterday, the first totally new airport was announced. It just happens to be in my backyard: Long Beach will get daily Honolulu flights starting June 1. This is a very interesting choice, and it’s one that required JetBlue to independently decide to give up a slot. I’d say both airlines are likely happy about that.

Up until now, the smallest airplane Hawaiian had that could make the mainland was a 767 with just over 250 seats. That airplane is leaving the fleet in the not-too-distant future, so that leaves the 278-seat A330-200 with fully flat beds in First Class as the smallest option. That is a whole lot of airplane. The A321neo, however, has only 189 seats, and it has recliners, not beds, in First Class. This airplane sips fuel and has low operating costs. It was supposed to allow Hawaiian to open up 3 new types of routes:

  • Flights from smaller West Coast cities to big Hawaiian cities like Honolulu.
  • Flights from big West Coast cities to smaller Hawaiian cities like Lihu’e or Kona.
  • Add frequency on big trunk routes like, potentially, LA to Honolulu.

So far, Hawaiian has focused on the second bullet point. It put the A321neos on routes it already operated like Oakland to Kahului (which started yesterday), Lihu’e, and Kona. But the question remained, when would Hawaiian open up new cities with the airplane as promised? That starts June 1.

Technically, the airplane comes in on the evening of May 31 so it can operate the inaugural westbound flight on the morning of June 1. It’ll be a typical West Coast-Hawai’i pattern where there’s a morning flight to the islands with a return that evening. The flight will arrive at 9pm, an hour before the Long Beach curfew kicks in.

Is this going to work? During the summer, I bet it’ll do nicely. During the rest of the year, I’m not so sure. But wait, isn’t Long Beach slot-restricted and full? Yes, but here’s where this story gets interesting.

Long Beach Has a Waitlist
Long Beach has 50 slot pairs for daily flights on big aircraft, and they’re all currently taken. So how on Earth did Hawaiian get one? Well, it turns out that Long Beach has a waitlist for slots. Up until November, the waitlist was comprised of existing airlines. Delta was first, JetBlue was second, and Southwest was third.

But then Hawaiian showed interest in flying to Long Beach. When Hawaiian joined the waitlist, it zoomed to the top, as any new entrant would per the noise ordinance rules. Every other carrier would have been notified that the waitlist was going to be updated. They would have been asked if they wanted to remain on the list, and then when the new list was generated, they would all know who was on it and in which position. Seeing Hawaiian at the top, JetBlue must have had an idea.

JetBlue Smells Opportunity
JetBlue has long struggled to figure out how to serve Long Beach. No matter what it tries, it just can’t generate a decent fare. Things got worse when Southwest entered, but JetBlue didn’t want to walk away from what really is its only West Coast operation of any substance. It went into defensive mode and started flying slots as required to keep Southwest from getting more.

JetBlue admitted that things weren’t working well. It told employees to keep watching as it looked to find better ways to use the slots including possible flights to leisure destinations like Santa Rosa or Steamboat Springs. That’s probably still on the docket, but there was another opportunity that presented itself.

When the waitlist was updated, JetBlue undoubtedly saw that Hawaiian was now at the top of the list. It’s obvious to anyone watching that if Hawaiian got a slot, it would use it to fly to Honolulu. That’s music to JetBlue’s ears. If Southwest gets a slot, there’s a good chance it gets used to compete directly with JetBlue. But if Hawaiian gets it? That’s fine. In fact, it’s good. JetBlue and Hawaiian are frequent flier partners, so members of each program could earn and burn miles on each other. There could even be codeshare opportunities between the two (though not many considering the schedule Hawaiian ended up putting out).

So it was that in December, JetBlue made the strategic decision to give up a slot while oddly remaining on the waitlist for additional slots. It must have had to cross its proverbial fingers and hope that Hawaiian was serious about flying to Long Beach.

Will It Work for Hawaiian?
Long Beach is a tough market, and it generally underperforms on revenue compared to other LA Basin markets. But Hawai’i could be different.

First, there is also absolutely no service from Orange County to Hawai’i any longer, so this will have much broader geographic appeal compared to something like Oakland or Vegas which has service from every airport in Southern California. Second, you have a much higher percentage of leisure travelers who fly less frequently. They won’t be loyal to specific airlines as much, and they’ll be more willing to look at various airport options. Lastly, you have the Hawaiian diaspora around Southern California in cities like Gardena, Carson, and even Long Beach itself. Long Beach is the most convenient airport for people in those areas.

In the summer, I’d imagine this will work well. It’s the rest of the year that has me less sure. But all those reasons listed above make me think there is a chance of this working. I like Hawaiian giving it a shot, and it bodes well for the airline getting creative as it gets more of these airplanes. I imagine some other West Coast cities are eagerly drooling at the prospect.

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58 Comments on "With an Assist From JetBlue, Hawaiian Chooses Long Beach As Its First New Airport to Serve with the A321neo"

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Mark
Guest

Jetblue only uses about 25 of their slots anyways. They’ll play this game a few more times if HA wants to launch flights to other islands. Given the recent reduction by AA, I’d put money on the fact that WN or B6 could launch LGB PHX and collect the remaining AA slots after a short period of time too.

Benjamin
Guest

I’m not an airline expert so this might seem like a dumb question to more informed readers. In pictures of Hawaiian’s new plane, I noticed it had a German tail number: D-AVAF. Is that because they were publicity pictures? When would the plane receive an N registry?

Nick Barnard
Member

That’s a testing registration while the airplane is still owned by Airbus. It goes onto the N registry once Hawaiian takes possession of the airplane.

Kevin
Guest

Also: that HA schedule at LGB has, as first glance, zero connectivity to the B6 network. I get why it’s not a huge priority: there aren’t any natural traffic flows (of significant value) that come to mind.

Wild Bill
Guest

Cranky, I am not that familiar with LGB. What would happen if the flight from Hawaii lands after curfew? Also with the plane being an Airbus 321 will there be weight restrictions in warm weather?

Kilroy
Guest

For those like myself who were wondering, the A321neo already has 180 minute ETOPS certification from the FAA, so it sounds like all pieces are in place from that angle.

Doug Swalen
Guest

Well this is certainly bad news….

…for my 2018 prediction that Jet Blue is going to throw in the towel at Long Beach. This move buys the airline more time on having to pull or not pull that trigger. Dang. And that was my most daring prediction too.

noahkimmel
Member

where can they go to be relevant on the west coast? They never got LGB to grow profitably (never got e190 to commuter slots or FIS), let VX grow LAX/SFO (and the legacies) to the point where they will never get enough share or enough profit to be worthwhile, OAK didn’t work out despite an old MX base at one point. Do they try a LAS or DEN? PDX? Or do they just become an East coast airline with token west coast presence?

Kilroy
Guest

Noah,

As a resident of the Midwest, as far as I am concerned B6 is a COAST airline, period. Their route map has more ink on the East Coast (JFK, BOS, FL) than the West, to be sure, but if you’re flying to and/or from locations that more than an hour or two’s drive from salt water, JetBlue is rarely relevant or worthy of consideration. Sure, they have a few flights to places in the center of the country, but not many.

Bill from DC
Guest

Very true but remember that not all airlines can be all things to all people successfully.

Kilroy
Guest

Totally agreed, and I don’t hold it against B6.

If anything, I am surprised that they haven’t yet spent more effort looking toward the center of the country to fuel some growth, especially in small/medium sized college and tech markets where their image as one of the more “hip” airlines might get some traction.

Sean S.
Guest

In fairness they have decided to open up a route to MSP daily to Boston. If they are willing to expand into what has traditionally been a huge Delta hub, I think it augers that they will be looking to expand in other Midwest areas.

marumitm
Member

Any chance of Hawaiian having a red eye on the return flight from Honolulu? Thta’s the only way for us to be able to fly from Long Beach on their flights every month as we have been doing for 16 years now on United from LAX.

Jin King
Member
As a former planning guy for Aloha Airlines I can tell you that SNA-HNL worked very well both from a standpoint of loads and yields.  Hawaiian’s 321s don’t have the required performance to fly from SNA, so LGB sounds like a logical alternative.  But my sense is that it will be difficult to get Orange County customers to go to LGB…. they just don’t think about it as a place to catch flights to Hawaii.  We had that problem at BUR.  I don’t think I would have picked LGB as my first new city, but it will be interesting to… Read more »
Anthony
Member

This is puzzling — what facet of A321 performance works at LGB but wouldn’t work at SNA?
Are the SNA runways too short?

David M
Guest

Yes, runways.

SNA 2L/20R is 5,701 ft
LGB 12/30 is 10,000 ft.

Steve
Guest

I seem to recall AS saying their -800’s would require blocking 20 seats to serve Hawai’i out of SNA. There goes any profit.

Jin King
Member

Yes, that is the main issue.  Plus there is a required climb profile for noise abatement that means you have to get high quickly and cut thrust before you get to the noise monitors.  First time fliers out of SNA often find the trust cutback after a steep climb to be a little alarming.

Chris Lobdell
Guest

On a 757 with a pretty empty load, it’s actually one of the more exhilarating departures you can have.

Jin King
Member

LOL!  I agree.  But for nervous fliers having the nose pitch down accompanied by a sudden decrease in engine noise it can be unnerving!

Bill from DC
Guest

Deleted

Jin King
Member

With an economic passenger load and the required Hawaii fuel on board the 321 is too heavy for the runway length.  The same is true even for a 757.  That’s not to say you can’t fly a 321 out of SNA, but not with enough fuel to get to Hawaii.

JB
Member

Hi Jin,

Do you know the minimum runway length for a fully loaded 757 with enough fuel to get from SNA-HNL (assuming the 757-200 with the highest thrust engines)? Just curious, and you seem to have a handle on it.

I too love the fun takeoffs at SNA!

Jin King
Member

Hi JB-  Sorry, I don’t have that number.  We never operated 757s, so never calculated exact numbers for that aircraft.  In any case it would vary a little from day to day depending on temperatures and winds.Jim

JB
Member

Thanks Jin,

I asked my friend who flies the 757 and 767 for DL. He said “it would be very tight, I’m not sure. Full power, flaps 15-20 and it might be possible. But temp would be a big factor.” (and winds, as you mentioned)

Regardless, the 757 is awesome, and I try to fly on them as much as I can, especially when it’s a choice between them and a 737!

Jin King
Member
Presuming we are talking specifically SNA and not just any runway of the same length, I think noise would be a factor too.  SNA is very particular about that and the older tech engines on a 757 operating at full bore might very well not pass the test.  Again, I have never run those numbers for a 757 but I know that on warm days with a full load even our 700 occasionally got tagged.  If it only happens every once in a while they just send you a nasty letter, but after you hit a certain number (I forget… Read more »
Tim
Guest

HA does pretty extensive advertising in the Bay Area to make sure people know they fly from all three airports. I assume they’ll likely have a big push in southern LA and Orange County to advertise the new service. If OAK and SJC can support 4-8 Hawaii flights a day, LGB, with no competition from SNA, must be able to fill one A321.

Anthony
Member

Very cool! I guess we’ll have the water cannon salute, and all that fun…

Robert
Guest

I love flying SLC – LGB and more competition has really driven prices down for me, I can routinely find ~$100 RT on someone, half or less than it was just a few years ago. And the airport is freaking awesome anyway!

southbay flier
Guest

It’s a win-win for B6. This means they get to cut one money losing frequency to NorCal and WN doesn’t get that slot.

Mike Kowal
Member

Nicely written!

Anthony
Member

and a very clever graphic too.

Spirit FF
Member

No one believed me when I said WN was applying for then available LGB slots. Everyone laughed at me when I said WN would fly to Hawaii with the MAX. With HA coming to LGB, still think WN Hawaii service from LGB is out of the question. I truly think HA wanted to beat WN to the market.

Anthony
Member

But was HA-to-LGB on anybody’s list of predictions for 2018?? Probably not.

A Kindred Soul aka Norman L. Wherrett, Jr.
Member
A Kindred Soul aka Norman L. Wherrett, Jr.

I remember flying the March 1954 American Air Lines/Continental Air Lines DC-6 thru-planeservice from East Coast via Cincinnati to L.A.ASIDE:  While refueling in CVG, someone dropped the hand-fuel nozzle and punctured a right wing skin.  After an hour, CAL patched it with ‘tape’….which my sainted-white-knuckled-mother faithfully prayed over all the way to L.A….lol  IDEA:  How about Jet Blue/HAL A321 thru plane service East Coast via Long Beach to Hawaii?  Maybe paint one side Jet Blue, other side HAL colors…Really mess-up Cranky’s Dorks!
aka A Kindred Soul

Bill from DC
Guest

This must be cranky’s dream come true, nonstop from his beloved LGB to his beloved Aloha state! Even though there is an IAD to HNL non stop, I’m still a bit jealous! It’s not DCA after all!

Can’t wait for his first trip report on this new service!

Jonathan
Member

I believe JetBlue has 41 slots at LGB. How many do they use?

Rudy
Member
Cranky- I have a question. I was trying to book one of these flights and checking out the prices, and when I went to book it, it only showed main cabin and first, no extra comfort. Then I noticed they blocked out all the extra comfort for all the Long Beach flights in the entire schedule. It was available just a few days ago. When I asked them they said they did still have it available but weren’t currently offering it. I’m just curious if there is some reasoning behind holding back the extra comfort seats? Seems odd to me.… Read more »