Southwest, JetBlue, and Delta Decide How to Use Their Long Beach Slots

JetBlue, LGB - Long Beach, Southwest

I’m sure some of you were hoping to come and read about Alaska and Virgin America getting together. Though it’s just been announced in the last hour, I’m not in the habit of trying to break the news. I’m going to review and have a post about it tomorrow. Until then, it’s time to turn my gaze away from the airline industry at large and instead peer into my backyard. Earlier this year, highly slot-restricted Long Beach Airport announced that it would be adding 9 daily slot pairs for big commercial jets on top of the 41 that exist today. Now we know how those slots are going to be used, and there are some mild surprises here.

Snoop Southwest Long Beach

Let’s start with the newcomer in the market, Southwest. Southwest surprised everyone by putting its hat in the ring to get all 9 of the new slots, its first foray into Long Beach. In the end, it picked up four. Some figured that wouldn’t be enough to make it worth Southwest’s while, but with the ability to outsource ground-handling at small stations like this along with the big splash Southwest made upon applying, I couldn’t imagine the airline not seeing this through.

At an event last week that drew the mayor and other local dignitaries on to the Queen Mary, Southwest finally announced where it would fly. All four slots will be used for flights to Oakland. This shocked a lot of people, but to me it was only a mild surprise. My previous thinking was that we might see 3 daily flights to Oakland and 1 to Vegas in order to handle eastbound connections.

It seemed clear that with so few slots, Southwest was first and foremost going to focus on the intra-California market that the airline serves so well. Think about it this way. Southwest has tremendous amounts of service in both LA and Orange County. That’s why I never figured Southwest would be interested in Long Beach at all.

But what Southwest saw was an opportunity to get a slight edge. For the people in the relatively small catchment area that prefer Long Beach, Southwest hopes they’ll choose the airline when they need to head up north. If that helps lock them in to Rapid Rewards or gets them to like the airline’s service, then when people need to go to LA or Orange County to fly elsewhere, they’ll be more likely to choose Southwest. Or so the theory goes.

And as for Oakland vs other Bay Area airports, this is obvious. Snoop Dogg is a huge Raiders fan, so…. Seriously though, that’s where Southwest is strongest up there by far. While I would have liked to see San Jose, that just doesn’t fit into the network well enough.

What surprised me was that they didn’t send one airplane to Vegas to be able to connect people to places elsewhere in the Southwest network. But from an operational perspective, it doesn’t sound like that’s a popular idea. Having just one flight that’s heavy on connections means that if flights are late, then they feel more obligated to hold the Long Beach flight. There just aren’t any other options. So for now, Southwest really can’t get people who want to fly east from Long Beach.

On the other side of the coin, JetBlue picked up three additional slots. JetBlue has been in Long Beach for 15 years, but as of late, it’s been under-utilizing its slots. It’s allowed to do that, but that’s why it was surprising that JetBlue wanted more. Of course, that was an anti-competitive move to prevent others from coming in.

I was really surprised when JetBlue announced it was actually going to use these slots and not squat on them. For the first time in awhile, JetBlue is adding a new destination. There will be one daily flight from Long Beach to Reno. The airline is also adding an additional daily flight to Vegas, San Francisco, and… Oakland.

For the record, JetBlue announced its flights first, so this wasn’t a reactive move in response to Southwest. But there was probably some expectation at the time that Southwest would be in this market. And now we’ll have 8 daily roundtrips between the two airlines. I look forward to cheap flights to Oakland for some time.

Since JetBlue has been underutilizing its slots, it could have started these flights without any new slots at all. So why now? I’ll assume it’s a mix of a couple things. First, JetBlue knows there a political game here. There’s already a lot of noise about how JetBlue is squatting on slots, and it’s giving the anti-airport crowd ammunition. So this will help diffuse that issue to some extent. Second, I imagine the Bay Area additions help with competitive positioning vs Southwest.

Lastly, there’s Delta. Delta won 2 slots, and though some had dreamed of seeing new service, that’s not happening. Most days, Delta flies 2 CRJ-900s to Salt Lake and 2 CRJ-700s. Later this summer, it will upgauge all flights to CRJ-900s. It couldn’t have done that before, because the CRJ-700 is considered a commuter and uses slots from a different pool. The CRJ-900 weighs too much for that. Now with 2 more big jet slots, Delta can finally upgauge to the CRJ-900 on all flights and standardize.

That, by the way, leaves the 25 commuter slots in Long Beach as entirely unused. Anyone wanna start an airline?

Now it’s time for the fun part. We get to see if this service works for anyone. I wouldn’t be surprised to see JetBlue cut back on some frequencies over time. But by then, the move will have served its purpose from a public relations standpoint anyway. And Southwest? Well, with 8 flights a day in that market between two airlines, it should be ugly. We’ll see if Southwest’s strength in both the Bay Area and the LA Basin mean that it can succeed.

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33 comments on “Southwest, JetBlue, and Delta Decide How to Use Their Long Beach Slots

  1. What’s the weight limit for commuter/narrow body aircraft? And why did they use a weight limit instead of noise? Seats? Or another more appropriate metric?

  2. Sigh, was hoping that DL would add flights to some of their other hubs. Those of us east of the rockies are still denied any alternatives to LAX without connections.

    1. I was hoping too. Maybe 3x to MSP and get another commuter or two for 4@ SLC.

      I do wonder if it may not happen, at least temporarily, when/if the LAX move to T2/3 begins.

      1. A big part of the problem may be that DL flies to LAX directly from many of their mid-size non-hub stations, even on the east coast. These cities will never get LGB service from DL. Fliers in these cities will usually choose the direct to LAX over connecting into LGB, decreasing the number of passengers they could connect over places like MSP. In addition, SLC is Delta’s only centrally located hub for them to connect over for the smaller number of people who will still want to connect to LGB.

  3. That, by the way, leaves the 25 commuter slots in Long Beach as entirely unused. Anyone wanna start an airline?

    Could AS bring back their OO ERJ175s into those slots? They seem to have a thing for California these days.

    (see what I did there?)

      1. For some reason I thought the Q400s were weren’t considered commuter planes at LGB but their MTOW fits in that category… So CF why haven’t we seen Q400s at LGB?

        1. Nick – Well, the Q400s have a lot of seats to fill. I’m just not sure that it would make sense for any existing operators to go in there. Where would they fly? Now, a new operator might think about it. Back in the day the guy who founded JetSuite (former JetBlue founder) proposed a commuter operator to do just that. But it would be tough to make that work.

  4. Botique Air from Merced could use some of the 25.

    I am on the inagural OAK – LGB flight, should be fun, i’ve never been to LGB before

  5. Since JetBlue doesn’t use all their slots all the time, they shouldn’t have been given any new slots. And did I understand the DL plan, they have four flights but will upgrade two aircraft to still have four flight?

    I don’t, but it seems LGB needs to rewrite their rules for getting slots as it doesn’t seem to benefit the flying public very well in some cases.

    1. The city is never going to do that. LBMB 16.43 is grandfathered in under ANCA, and the city risks losing it if they change the ordinance.

  6. i was disappointed that SW didn’t select Denver, Hobby or DAL for those slots (or even one). Denver metro area is the largest population west of the Mississip (not counting Texas cities)< Southwest dominates Denver (sorry United) and has now grown to offer many connections to the midwest and east coast that make much more sense than connecting in OAK. Perhaps they will add Denver or Texas on the next opportunity to increase flights.

    1. Since UA has plenty of access to CRJ700s, I could see them seeing if there’s enough business to support DEN and SFO service, utilizing those available commuter slots.

  7. Reno, which is weirdly becoming somewhat of a new tech hub with the Tesla factory and all the ancillary business that it will form around it, could become something of a profitable route many years down the line. For now, I don’t see a frequent market for it beyond skiers and Tahoe tourists.

    Between Southern California and the Bay Area, there are a combined seven major commercial airports that serve travelers for that route. New routes like this continue to open, so it’s amazing that with so much competition and coverage, California is still talking about a bullet train for some reason.

    1. A bullet train is a no-brainer if you take some European measures (distance, markets being served, population etc.).
      Take the Eurostars (serving the London-Paris on top of Airlines) or ICE (serving multiple even smaller destinations in Germany), just to take a few examples coming to my mind.

    2. The fact that there is so much demand on this route is exactly why they are building the bullet train. Do you think it would make sense to build a bullet train on a route with very little airline service, such as Boise to Fargo?

      1. The bullet train idea isn’t as popular as it was due the new cost estimates and some want to put the idea on the ballot again to halt the bullet train and put the money towards other transportation needs.

        The train will take six hours and you have to head out to the central valley to get between the two cities. It’s just not worth the cost, since you can drive the distance in six hours also.

        I didn’t vote for it and would vote to halt the whole thing.

  8. With 92 combined flights from LAX, ONT, SNA and BUR to OAK, SFO and SJC, the best WN could do was add 4 more. Seems to me an easterly flight or 2 would’ve served LGB better. DEN, LAS and HOU are three that pop up. Who’s going to fly to OAK to connect to a MDW or BWI flight?

    1. Not gonna lie…if I were still in Long Beach, I’d fly LGB-OAK-MDW in a heartbeat if the alternatives were driving to LAX or SNA for a nonstop. I used to fly AA back in the day, LGB-DFW-DTW to avoid SNA and LAX.

      1. Not me. I’d rather fly to PHX, DEN or LAS to make my eastbound connection, not go an hour northwest to go east. If that means AA to PHX from LGB, then they will get my business. Also, I’d go nonstop at LAX or SNA over a connection any day.

  9. I believe that JetBlue has a nonstop to JFK from LGB. But yes, LAX has a stranglehold on the transcon market from SoCal. BUR, LGB and SNA are all space constrained, which leaves ONT as the logical choice. Now that they are free from the shackles of LA, perhaps they can grow. The number of flights from ONT is sparse to say the least. When you compare the SoCal market to markets like NY, New England, the Mid-Atlantic, South Florida, etc., SoCal stands apart in that it only essentially has one airport offering transcon nonstop flights (San Diego not withstanding). We visited relatives in Orange County last summer, flying in from the East Coast. Changing planes in PHX wasn’t awful, but I would’ve loved to have nonstop options to ONT.

    As for WN at LGB, I was expecting Vegas and PHX, but am not surprised that OAK was the choice.

    1. Doesn’t jet Blue have a BUR-JFK non-stop?

      I remember in the mid to late 1980s when BUR had airlines fighting to fly passengers at least halfway across the country. i.e. UA flying to ORD. Unfortunately for me, that was a short-lived experiment.

  10. For those surprised Southwest chose LGB-OAK over other markets, I totally get it and I’m sure WN wished they could have been able to offer at least 6-8 flights a day in the market.

    There is a lot of travel between the bay area and southern california and WN plays a big part in that. Being able to offer service between as many city pairs as possible between the to areas is a big plus for any carrier. WN will be able to show they can cover all a persons travel needs in this area which could show business and leisure travelers only need to call WN and no one else. The east bay is the largest sector of the metro population and OAK is closer to S.F. financial district then SFO so it all makes sense. And that’s not even counting the north bound connections in OAK that WN will be able to offer.

    While I hate that PSA and AirCal are gone, WN has become the way between north and south in the state.

  11. I can see WN routing passengers over OAK, which has a bunch of service. Sure they’re going to do a huge amount of O&D but I bet they chose OAK with connections in mind. Remember LGB is convenient, so people will put up with a little less convenience in connecting to not have to deal with an LAX

  12. Fascinating. I wonder if we are going to see a return of dirt-cheap SoCal-NorCal flights like in the mid-90’s. I took advantage of many $19 one-way flights.

  13. I believe that the decision to pick Oakland was a good one, however, do you think that dedicating those 4 slots to it is a good decision or can they be too many? Like you say, Las Vegas could have been a good one or even Dallas, in order to connect Long Beach with a wider offering of destinations with a connection.

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