JetBlue Officially Requests a Customs and Immigration Facility in Long Beach

JetBlue, LGB - Long Beach

If you’ve been waiting for a fun-filled airport battle, then you’ve come to the right place. After months of discussion about the possibility, JetBlue yesterday officially asked for the city of Long Beach to request a customs and immigration facility at Long Beach Airport. Let the battle begin.

Long Beach Airport NIMBYs

For a little background on what we know so far, take a look at my post from last summer. See, JetBlue has been interested in a customs facility for awhile, and that has given the anti-airport crowd plenty of time to ramp up. It has reached a nearly deafening roar, and that’s too bad.

This really shouldn’t be a fight, at least not yet. All JetBlue has done now is officially request that the city ask the feds for a facility. There’s a whole lot more work that has to be done before anyone can truly evaluate whether this is a good idea or not. But hey, don’t let facts get in the way of the anti-airport crowd. They’ve been restlessly waiting to pick a fight ever since the new concourse was built. Now they have something to latch on to.

Over the last few months, this group has tried to scare the public with some slippery-slope doom-and-gloom. They’ve suggested that if a customs facility opened up, that would allow horrible things to happen; airlines could easily break the noise ordinance. The reality is that noise ordinances are very fragile anyway, and most have not been allowed by the feds. Long Beach is lucky that it has one, but a customs facility is not going to impact it. In reality, the goal should be to keep all stakeholders happy; then nobody will challenge it. Denying a customs facility without doing any due diligence? That does not make your stakeholders happy.

Over the last couple of weeks, tactics seem to have shifted. The anti-airport crowd grabbed on to a new thought. The argument goes that if you allow a customs facility to be built, then general aviation and charter traffic will go through the roof as every aircraft originating outside the US will now make a beeline toward Long Beach. That is hilarious.

In JetBlue’s letter to the airport yesterday, it had this to say:

Following the City Council Study Session held recently on the Airport Noise Ordinance, and with no nexus whatsoever between enhancing the Airport with a modest Customs facility and in any way disturbing the sanctity or legality of the Ordinance, JetBlue requests the City seek the presence of US Customs for purposes of processing aircraft under the Customs User Fee Airport program. Given the need for a facility capable of processing no more than three aircraft in any one hour period, it is JetBlue’s belief that LGB qualifies under the guidelines for a User Fee Airport.

Notice that JetBlue is looking for this to be a User Fee Airport. What that means is that, unlike a Port of Entry, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) provides contract services, with everything to be reimbursed by the users. In other words, inspectors would be available when international flights are scheduled to arrive and then JetBlue (and ultimately, the traveler) would end up footing the bill. This wouldn’t be some bonanza for private aircraft.

This is what John Wayne Airport down in Orange County does, and guess what? As John Wayne Airport spokesperson Jenny Wedge succinctly noted “Only commercial airlines utilize our Customs facilities.” Long Beach would be no different. [Correction: I’ve been doing more research on user fee airports, and general aviation certainly can use it. In Orange County they’ve made a rule where it’s only for commercial flights. Even if Long Beach didn’t do that, it would be high cost and the demand would be low for non-commercial users.] But hey, scare tactics work great, right?

What’s really incredible to me is that this is so early in the process, it hardly seems like the time to have formed a final opinion. I know I haven’t. Here are some of the things I want to know.

  • How much will the facility cost to build and how much of that is JetBlue willing to pay for? (They paid the vast majority at JFK.)
  • Is JetBlue willing to agree to utilize its slots above and beyond what it does now? (It only runs in the high-teens daily in the winter and mid-twenties daily in the summer when it can be running 32 every day.)
  • Will CBP even be willing to staff the airport? (This isn’t a gimme.)

If JetBlue wants to fund most of this and is willing to commit to increasing service to some great Latin destinations without changing the noise ordinance, then this would be a great deal… if CBP goes along.

If that’s not the case, then maybe it’s not the right thing for Long Beach. But we won’t know that for awhile. This is a long process which will undoubtedly be made longer by the anti-airport crowd.

Were that crowd to successfully torpedo this project without even having looked at it, I’d actually fear for the future of the airport as a JetBlue focus city. It’s no secret that this is the least profitable of JetBlue’s focus cities. I’ve always assumed that the airline wouldn’t leave because it had a crew base and valued employees very highly. But if a city really doesn’t want a good partner, then JetBlue would have a good explanation to its crewmembers on why it’s leaving. Plus, we have a new CEO running the show over there, so I’d assume nothing is off the table.

Then again, maybe that’s exactly what the anti-airport crowd wants.

Get Cranky in Your Inbox!

The airline industry moves fast. Sign up and get every Cranky post in your inbox for free.

27 comments on “JetBlue Officially Requests a Customs and Immigration Facility in Long Beach

  1. Cranky,

    I know LGB has a distinct market from LAX, and I know a lot of loyal JB fliers who love that airport. Anyone who has gone through it loves its convenience and size. It would seem that JB cant drive high yields and doesn’t fill its slots. It has tried flights to ORD, IAD and others that aren’t still around.

    Would it be possible for JB to “relocate” the hub to LAX? Is there gate and customs space to make the schedule work there? I know LAX is super competitive, but are yields any worse? At what point does JB just recognize LGB for what it is – a city that helped get them to 15 years, but likely wont get them into the future in any strategic manner.

    1. Noah – I don’t think it makes much sense to relocate the hub to LAX. I mean, what makes most sense is for it to just go away if anything is going to change.

      LAX is strictly a spoke for the airline now. It connects to its hubs in Boston, JFK, and Ft Lauderdale. Yeah, it’s a high profile spoke, but it’s doing the job it should be doing.

      If you think about the service at Long Beach, you have 3 a day to SFO, a couple to Sacramento, a couple to Salt Lake, etc. Those frequencies will get JetBlue crushed at LAX where other airlines like Southwest, Alaska, Delta, American, and United will outdo you every time.

  2. Sounds similar to the NYMBY’s who live near HPN who hate the airports existence. Although nobody will ever mistake Purchase or Greenwich for Long Beach.

    1. > Although nobody will ever mistake Purchase or Greenwich for Long Beach.

      You’re right. Property taxes in Westchester County, NY are literally the highest in the nation, and those in Fairfield County, CT are not far behind.

      1. In whole dollars perhaps, but not as a percentage of the price of the home. As Percentages go, I can name several places in this country that have higher tax burdens than Westchester County & many of them are located in states without an income tax.

  3. They should turn the request down as once they have customs then you’ll have drunked college kids arriving on weekends from Cabo, BA will start 747 service for Brits who want to see the Queen Mary again, JL or NH will start 787 service to Tokyo, the city will be over run with people from Mexico, and that Cranky Concierge guy will start organizing A380 charters to Cuba. :-)

    1. Not to mention those airlines from the middle east carrying all those terrorists out to blow up our shopping malls.

      1. That is stupid over exaggeration. You have been talking too much with Richard Anderson. The middle eastern airlines can’t be blamed and you are obviously trying to express a fear, but no carrier could drive the tragic needed for that.

    2. Although the cabo students seem true, I don’t think British Airways could even get profit from a long Beah route, as for other airlines, there would be a major need for a reason to go. Nobody has an A380 that they would waste in LGB and especially on a route to Cuba, where commercial flights aren’t even legal yet. As for the JAL comment, it is a faint possibility, but it is a long shot. It could be profitable, but they would still need to acquire slots, which are at full capacity.

      1. Obviously you have zero knowledge and understanding of aviation. LGB’s runway would in no way support heavy jets flying to Japan, England, or anywhere for that matter. Runways for the A380 have had to be modified to being longer, wider, and supporting more weight. That’s major construction and LGB wouldn’t support the traffic for it.

        FedEx and UPS fly heavy aircraft into LGB, but they aren’t fully loaded with fuel and passengers. I’d be willing to bet neither company has those aircraft taking off at max gross weight, because the runway length doesn’t support the performance necessary.

        So before you start posting absurd arguments like above, learn something about the field you’re talking about.

        1. Also, LGB is a slotted airport, meaning there is a limited number of allowed take off and landings every day. You have to own the slots for those to put an aircraft into them. Jetblue already owns the majority of them I believe, so again the carriers and overabundance of traffic you’re talking about just aren’t going to happen.

  4. The real issue is why there is always distrust between airports and local residents.

    Here in the UK, it’s because time and time again promises have been broken, ‘absolute limits’ exceeded and people just don’t believe airport management.

    In JetBlue’s case, it seems like the same forces at work.

    1. Some of it can be blamed on NIMBY-ism, but also a lot of it can be blamed on a long history of infrastructure planners bulldozing (quite literally in some cases) through peoples communities at all costs. And despite the tired arguments that “Well you shouldn’t live next to the airport!” in many cases people DON’T. I don’t live in the immediate vicinity of my local airport, but I do lie in its flight path, and the planes occasionally rattle my walls. I’m generally nonplussed by it, but I can see how people would definitely be irritated by it long-term.

      More than noise complaints, there are significant concerns by many of the inflated costs and fuzzy math from economic development agencies about the impact of airports on a community. This is becoming more apparent as wages get slashed, jobs get outsourced, and ticket costs go up. Throw in concerns about environmental impact (from air quality to water run off) and you have a perfect storm of individuals who just aren’t buying the rosy predictions made by airport commissions.

      1. Sean S – Long Beach is really a different story. The airport has been here for 90+ years. The footprint has grown since the 1920s but I don’t believe anything has changed since the main runway was extended in the 1950s. While commercial traffic has gone up and down over the years, it’s a very tiny piece of the total pie. For years, Douglas jets screamed off the runway on test and delivery flights. Today, that is all gone. The last aircraft manufacturing facility is closing this year (the C-17). The airport has actually been very good to the locals over the years. And noise levels are much lower than they were in the past.

        1. It’ll be interesting then to see how the airport can negotiate with stakeholders. Not being initially familiar with Long Beach, a glance at their commercial services shows how much they are reliant upon jetBlue; if things go south I would imagine the service would be decimated. Not being familiar with the demographics of the area, can you see it Cranky possibly being used to foreign carriers from Mexico as well if this gets approved?

          1. Sean S – The airport is full for commercial slots, so no I wouldn’t expect to see a Mexican carrier. But I really don’t think it would be the right airport for that traffic anyway.

  5. “I’ve always assumed that the airline wouldn’t leave because it had a crew base and valued employees very highly.” – CF

    Trust me – The ‘high’ value Jetblue places on its employees doesn’t even leave the ground!
    JB has no qualms leaving LGB if they can’t reap a reasonable profit. That’s where they place their true value.

    1. Curious, if JetBlue left Long Beach, where do you think they would set up shop. I cant think of that many places since several airports lost hub or focus city status in the past few years. A dozen come to mind, but granted a few of them were backfilled by Southwest.

      1. In my view, if JB left LGB it wouldn’t be a total, all at once pull out. The LAX Mint service is going well and I would imagine it would be expanded. As with many airlines before JB who were chased off by the NIMBYs and LBG city council, flight service service would trickle to a crawl and then eventually fizzle.
        Fear mongering? You bet! Right back at ya, NIMBYs!…

    2. Hey John B,

      I’m not sure history supports that view…. they’ve been in LGB for quite a while and only recently have they been profitable. If your perspective were accurate I’m sure they would have left long ago… Sorry, can’t “trust you” on that…

  6. Boy is B6 going to be surprised if this is approved. I can only assume B6 is calling LGB’s bluff…hyper restricted headache airport all for the low low price of a huge discount on fares compared to surrounding LA airports.

  7. The city council of Long Beach needs a reality check. The property values around John Wayne are on average significantly higher than Long Beach’s. It is all about noise isn’t it? I remember AirCal and PSA being offered unlimited access with the new super quiet BAe 146s. Long Beach? It doesn’t matter how quiet the jet is, they won’t budge on allowing carriers to use the unused commuter slots with an airplane over the commuter weight limit no matter how far below the decibel limit for the commuter class. My guess is that if they continue to be this irrational, the airlines will eventually challenge LGB’s noise ordinance in federal court. Then Long Beach can join the rest of the basin. Or, perhaps LA and Orange County should just restrict all LGB residents from flying from anything but their own airport. After all, why is it OK for the noise to be in Inglewood’s, or Newport Beach’s back yard? For a city that owes so much to aviation to treat this asset like this is inexcusable. Many of the neighborhoods around the airport and beyond were build for the employees of The Douglas Aircraft Company. But hey, who needs good paying jobs these days? Oh, that’s right, Alabama and South Carolina.

  8. Cranky Flyer, can we move on from calling anyone who has questions or concerns about an international LGB an “anti-airport” extremist. Many of us with legitimate concerns on the unintended consequences of this action happen to like our current airport; it’s operations, and JetBlue. Just as a few airport boosters can be characterized as never seeing an expansion initiative they didn’t like, there are also those that view any operational change as a death sentence to their quality of life. Let’s consider them both on the fringe of the argument and not try to paint either group as representing the majority, pro or con.

    1. Ok Bruce if your a non-extremist with concerns about international flights can you please enunciate them?

  9. I grew up under one of LGB’s flight paths, and I have ZERO sympathy for these NIMBY morons.

    When the first widespread anti-airport protests started in Long Beach, back in the early 1980s, the situation was different. The airport that had only ever seen limited services under CAB rules. There was additional traffic from Douglas jets being tested and delivered, but many of the houses in the most noise affected areas were owned by people who built those planes, which certainly tends to ameliorate one’s views on noise.

    When deregulation came, service ramped up quickly. Whereas under CAB, only one airline operated from LGB, all of a sudden there were multiple operators. Then there was Jet America. Flying relatively noisy DC-9s on an early hub and spoke system, not unlike a west coast People Express. It was this free for all of noisy aircraft being flown on what seemed like crazy frequency, that made people upset. I’m not going to argue whether there was a valid argument to be made as to whether or not they had a point back then, but it can’t be argued that it was a big and unexpected change.

    Fast forward to today. Decibel levels of all jets are way, way lower than those of jets from 30 years ago. Perhaps more importantly, there’s virtually no one living in LGB’s flight path areas that didn’t buy after that first bout of deregulation. That the noise restrictions were not rock solid and were subject to change/elimination should come as a surprise to exactly none of these people. In English Common Law (which our legal system is based on), there’s a concept called “buyer beware”. If you buy a house where a risk exists, that’s your right to do so, but it’s also your responsibility to live with the consequences and not burden everyone else with your poor decision making process.

    Truth is, the geared whine of the IAE mills on JetBlue’s A320s is really annoying to me personally, but they’re not the conversation stoppers the old 707s and, even, DC-9s were. People need to shut up and let the city at large enjoy the benefits of having a conveniently located, world class, airport.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Cranky Flier