With Delta’s recent ramp-up in Boston, there are rumors that the airline wants to do there what it’s already done in Seattle: build-up a big hub in a short period of time. If so, that means JetBlue has to prepare to do battle. There’s just one problem. I don’t think that’s what’s happening. Delta is driven by different motivations in Boston compared to Seattle.
Just looking at the timeline over the last few months, it’s easy to see why some think a brawl between Delta and JetBlue in Boston is coming.
- April 28 – JetBlue announces it will fly from Boston to New York/LaGuardia 6 times daily, competing with the Delta and American Shuttles.
- July 8 – JetBlue says it will return to Atlanta after many years away.
- August 15 – Delta announces new flights from Boston to San Francisco (2x daily), Nashville (1x daily), Montego Bay (Saturday only), Punta Cana (Saturday only), and St Thomas (Saturday only). It will also go up to two daily flights to Seattle and Milwaukee and three daily winter flights to Orlando.
- September 7 – JetBlue says it will grow Boston by 40 percent to 200 daily flights, and it released its early plans as part of this announcement. It will launch flights to Atlanta next March. It will also add a fourth daily Mint flight to San Francisco. Lastly it will make both the Montego Bay and St Thomas flights year-round instead of seasonal.
So is this all-out war? Are JetBlue and Delta going to grow and fight for traffic the way Alaska and Delta do in Seattle? It won’t be the same.
After all, let’s remember that Seattle was all about international, at least at the beginning. Delta, seeing its Tokyo/Narita hub disappearing, wanted a West Coat hub to serve Asia. Seattle was the natural choice since the only airline there already was a primarily-domestic carrier that was also a Delta partner. Delta put international in, but it needed more feed than its partner, Alaska, could give. So it built up flying, and then it kept building… and turned Seattle into a full-blown hub. Its formerly-close partner is now barely a partner at all.
But Boston is different. Delta isn’t looking for an international hub there. It has a huge one just a couple hundred miles away at New York/JFK. Sure, it has Transatlantic flights from Boston to Amsterdam, London, and Paris, but those are Delta hubs. (At least, I consider a joint venture partner hub to be a Delta hub in a case like this.)
Could it be the opposite? Does Delta not really have any designs on Boston but it’s really just looking to fight JetBlue over its entrance into Atlanta? Nah, that would be nuts. JetBlue isn’t trying to build a focus city in Atlanta (at least not yet). It just wants to fly to its existing focus cities from there. Atlanta is an important market from Boston, and JetBlue wants to be able to provide people in Boston with everything they need. I’m sure Delta isn’t happy and will defend its turf vigorously, but it shouldn’t be a reason for Delta to retaliate with a big Boston build-up.
Instead, this is something in between. As is often the case, this is just Delta being opportunistic. Look at the map above and pay closer attention to the routes that Delta flies that don’t go to hubs. There’s Columbus, Indy, and Milwaukee in the Midwest. Richmond, Raleigh/Durham, and Myrtle Beach have service on the East Coast. The rest is leisure stuff to Bermuda and the Caribbean. Delta has long looked at growing in cities where services have shrunk, places like Raleigh/Durham or Milwaukee. Because of those kinds of moves, Delta has built up a good-sized presence in Boston in a piecemeal fashion.
Now we have more Boston routes that are still just opportunistic moves. This looks like a mix of corporate and leisure opportunity. San Francisco and Nashville? I bet there are corporate clients that wanted this. And the Caribbean spots? Those are places JetBlue only served seasonally up until now. So, good for Delta.
Of course there is some bickering going on here. JetBlue didn’t just happen to beef up San Francisco, Montego Bay, and St Thomas shortly after Delta announced service. It’s defending its turf, and it should. I mean, JetBlue is building up a 200-flight-a-day hub. This is no small operation, and JetBlue should defend it. There will be some stepping on toes, and there will be push back.
But should JetBlue be afraid that Delta is planning a Seattle-style attack? I don’t think so. This just seems different.