Long Beach Looks to Jack Up Fines, Take Away Slots From Late Night Offenders (That’s You, JetBlue)

LGB - Long Beach

I know not everyone here appreciates a good story from my hometown airport here in Long Beach, but there is a fight brewing that’s going to put a whole lot more pressure on JetBlue in years to come. For over 15 years, the airline has been the dominant player in Long Beach, but with Southwest coming in last year and showing interest in more slots, the airport seems to be thinking it has some leverage for the first time in a long time. It’s going to flex its muscles by toughening up on late night curfew violators and those who underutilize their slots. Want to guess who will be impacted?

The proposed changes to the noise ordinance could make it very difficult for JetBlue to keep up the status quo. These new rules would increase fines dramatically for those airlines that violate the noise ordinance, but more importantly it would also strip slots away from those carriers that become frequent violators. There is only one frequent violator, and it’s JetBlue. The airline’s slots may be at risk if this change occurs as planned next year.

Since the mid-1990s, Long Beach has had its current noise ordinance with penalties for those who violate it. The 10pm to 11pm hour is sort of a soft curfew, but violations between 11pm and 7am have been under the same fee structure for 20 years. Here’s a look at the current and proposed changes, as best I can gather. (There seems to be some discrepancy between sources on whether there are fines still currently issued for the first two violations or not.)

Violation Current
Rolling 12 Months)
(Flat 24 Month Period)
1st Violation Notice Sent, Phone Call Required $2,500
2nd Violation Notice Sent, Written Response Required $2,500
3rd Violation $100 $2,500
4th/5th Violation $300 $2,500
6th-10th Violation $300 $3,500 – $5,000
11th-19th Violation $300 $5,000 – $10,000
20th Violation and Beyond $300 $5,000 – $10,000 and
possible loss of slots

This is, of course, a huge increase but it’s also not indicative of what all airlines pay today. JetBlue has always had a problem obeying the curfew because its East Coast hubs fall apart as soon as the weather gets ugly. Now with five daily flights to fog-prone San Francisco as well, it gets hit on both ends. And JetBlue really gets in trouble because it wants to fly redeyes to the East Coast. That means the airline has to schedule its flights to Boston, JFK, and Ft Lauderdale butting up against the 10pm curfew so that they don’t arrive too ridiculously early on the other side of the country. There’s not much room for error, but errors happen often.

Because of JetBlue’s semi-frequent flights during curfew, the city prosecutor had the option of going after the airline for breaking the law. Many years ago, the two parties entered into a consent decree where JetBlue would pay $3,000 for each of the first 6 violations per quarter and then $6,000 per violation after that, and the money would fund the city library. That consent decree was recently modified so that JetBlue will now pay a flat $6,000 for every violation, not a big change.

I reached out to the city prosecutor’s office to understand whether the consent decree means JetBlue won’t be subject to the new proposed fines from the airport, but I didn’t hear back. Technically, these come from different entities, however, so presumably the goal would be to make them both apply. This isn’t really about jacking up revenue, however. It’s about making the violations stop through higher penalties.

Take a look at this chart:

While the stats by airline haven’t been released yet through June, we do know the total number of violations in June of 2017 was 21, making for a total of 133 in the first six months of the year, a huge increase over previous years. I’ll bet July was worse. And the vast majority of those are JetBlue’s. This might not sound bad, but consider this. This doesn’t include the much greater volume of violations during the soft curfew from 10pm to 11pm, and there are only 150-151 days in the first five months of the year. The violations are pretty frequent when you think about it that way.

There is plenty of debate in Long Beach about whether a customs facility should be allowed or how much traffic there should be, but there is virtually no debate that the noise ordinance should be obeyed. There’s no doubt that JetBlue may have some unique operational issues that lead to these violations, but there are ways to mitigate them through scheduling practices if there was an interest. Somehow, that doesn’t appear to be.

I asked JetBlue’s corp comm team some questions about why things had gotten worse and what the airline was doing to fix the problem. All I got was the useless, generic statement that it has floated to other outlets blaming air traffic control and sneaking in a line supporting air traffic control privatization. It’s not worth me reprinting, so you can read it here if you want.

This statement seems insane. After the city made the mistake of shooting down the airline’s request for a customs facility, JetBlue should be mad. I wouldn’t have blamed the airline if it pulled up stakes and walked away. But if it’s going to stay, it needs to do a better job of obeying the noise ordinance so it doesn’t risk losing the supporters it has in the community. This statement doesn’t indicate any interest in proactively trying to fix the problem.

This is obviously resonating locally, because for years the mantra from the anti-airport group has been “don’t touch the noise ordinance” for fear of it being too fragile to survive alterations. But armed with precedent (John Wayne down the road made similar alterations a couple years ago) and an increase in violations, the airport thinks the time is right to actually try to update the ordinance.

The fees will certainly hurt the airline’s already questionable financial performance in Long Beach, but that’s not really what this is about. This is about Long Beach flexing its new-found muscles now that JetBlue isn’t the only game in town.

Before, threatening to take slots away from JetBlue would have resulted in empty slots. Now it would result in Southwest scooping them up. So if JetBlue wants to keep those slots, it will have to stop violating the curfew. Oh, but wait, there’s more.

There’s a kicker in this proposal that also would require increased slot utilization. Today airlines are required to use their slots a little more than half the time in order to keep them. This would change it to say slots must be utilized a least 60 percent of the time in any given month, 70 percent of the time in any given quarter, and 85 percent of the time in any full year. No more slot-squatting would be allowed. JetBlue has been guilty of that in the past.

I have no legal opinion on this, but the changes seem fair. They’re also bound to make JetBlue’s flights even less profitable (or, uh, more unprofitable), and could theoretically be the final straw. Before, a move like this would have been unthinkable since nobody else was interested in filling the void if JetBlue left. But now with Southwest hungry for more, the airport seems to be emboldened. I just hope this doesn’t backfire.

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43 comments on “Long Beach Looks to Jack Up Fines, Take Away Slots From Late Night Offenders (That’s You, JetBlue)

  1. I don’t know enough about the history of Long Beach aviation, but I do recall JetBlue being the only major game in town with reasonable fares for a long time before Long Beach airport was even a blip on any travelers radar. All this JetBlue bashing now just seems so “bite the hand that feeds you” in a way.
    I guess if the goal is to return to less competition, then the myriad steps LBC has taken and is taking to make operating or expanding service difficult is a great plan.

  2. The minute Southwest got their initial 4 slots at LGB I suspected it was do or die time for B6. Naturally, B6 increased it’s slot usage to prevent WN from getting more but the die was cast. WN will be circling like a vulture ready to pounce on any slot it can pry away from B6. This latest development means its popcorn time.

  3. Two thoughts: First, would be interesting if Heathrow adopted the same approach to placate the local community for the third runway.
    Second: possible future Ask Cranky: given your point re needing to leave by 10pm for curfew, but not too early so the landing time is reasonable at the other end of the flight: how often do airlines fly slower than necessary for passenger convenience? Or does the extra fuel (from inefficiency) and possible under utilisation make this a non-starter? Is a less efficient flight (to a limited extent) better than no flight at all?
    And how often planes sometimes go faster than efficiency suggests to make up time after a delay?

    1. Simon – Aircraft rarely fly as fast as they’re capable of doing, but airlines have made efforts to slow aircraft down even further on occasion because it saves fuel and improves costs. It’s also possible for individual flights to slow down due to air traffic control issues. But I haven’t heard of an airplane flying slower just to make it a longer ride for passengers to improve arrival times.

      1. … this happens with ill disciplined Far East airlines arriving at LHR – which does not open to incoming flights until 04:30 …

  4. Well maybe people should think before buying a home near an airport and blame Airlines for noise. Probably the same people who want to fly out of Long Beach and Orange County. Don’t see East Coast residents complaining about noise especially with the new runway at FLL.

    1. Yup. Reminds me of people who buy a home near a gun range or railroad tracks and complain about the noise. Look on Google Maps and swing by the house at a few different times of the day, it’s note that hard.

      1. Yeah, this is the standard defense. Makes little sense in those case because B6 is violating the existing law, and increasingly so.

        In this case it is B6 who decided to go into an airport with curfew rules. They should have looked a the rules.

        1. Agree that B6 should obey the rules in place. Also agree that a few hundred dollars in fines per flight is not much of a deterrent, and that “obey the curfew and use the slots or you lose them” should be the rule.

    2. I don’t know where you are getting your information about FLL, but the runway construction was delayed for close to 15 years as the residents who abut the expanded South runway fought tooth and nail to block the runway expansion. Even now, they still complain almost on a daily basis even though the government and the airport had agreed to pay and constructed noise abatement entities as well as paid for more soundproofing of said peoples’ homes which over half are trailers that need to be removed for the sake of future hurricane damage liability.

  5. Long Beach grow the “F” up and accept your only economic growth potential is air travel. Review what St Louis did: buy out and build. Of course STL collapsed with TWA but you will not. Embrace your future.

  6. How does this new fine structure in total compare to SNA and other California airports? Are flights allowed at SNA or other airports after their curfew hours? If so, what are the fines?

    1. Tim – If you look at that link to the LB proposal, you’ll see it goes into detail about what Orange County has done with their structure. Long Beach certainly used the successful implementation down there as a template.

    2. Tim – hard versus soft curfews – and total curfew versus arrival-only (like SAN). The SAN community, through the Airport’s Airport Noise Advisory Committee, which has been in place since 1980, takes the arrival-only curfew seriously with their fine structure and process… fines were doubled in 2006 and a multiplier was added that further penalized airlines that habitually violate.. Although all suspected violations run through an Airport Committee who reviews and has the final determination as to fine or not.. weather delays at the airport close to departure time, ATC delays in the departure window, bona-fide emergencies, and maintenance delays occurring after crew show time can affect the outcome..

      1. Thanks CF and Rhhett…. My question is still are there are any airports in California or elsewhere where either takeoffs or landings are not permitted at certain times of the night and ATC will not clear you to land or does the airline simply choose to either land or takeoff knowing that they are subject to a fine?
        @Bill Hough
        B6′ problem at LAX is that there aren’t any extra gates available for B6 to lease. They would require several gates to move their entire operation from LGB to LAX. LAX complies with airport access requirements for new entrants but existing carriers are not necessarily guaranteed that they will get additional gates for whatever amount of flights they want to add.

        1. Tim – I don’t think an airport can ever turn away an aircraft. They’re always open in case of emergency as far as I know. I suppose I could be wrong, but that’s my understanding.

          And regarding LAX, forget about the gate situation. There’s too much competition. JetBlue would get lost in a sea of better schedules and greater loyalty anyway.

          1. As a Californian, I am certain you are more aware of the noise-related airport issues so I appreciate your feedback as well as those of your readers.

            You are absolutely right about B6 and LAX. Losing Virgin America puts them in a difficult position with their west coast presence. Ticking off LGB as their best hope in a highly competitive CA market has major strategic implications for them. They can certainly be a thriving east coast heavy carrier but it certainly appears that AS is doing a better job of increasing its presence in the east than B6 is in the west.

        2. That’s the rub – There are only 5 airports in the US with fine-associated noise penalties… 4 in CA and Washington Reagan. Airlines know going into those airports that they are likely to incur monetary penalties if they operate outside curfew hours.. they just roll the dice in order to serve the community.. when (if) it becomes unprofitable, they’ll vote with their feet.. to the detriment of those who use their service.

      2. I just want to jump in and clarify since the description of the SAN curfew might be a bit misleading. “arrival-only” means that only arrivals are allowed and departures are prohibited/subject to fines. SAN permits arrivals 24/7 but restricts departures.

        1. Sorry, I thought I was pretty clear, in my previous post, that the SAN curfew is departure only. Since aircraft make so much more noise on departure, it seemed reasonable..

  7. It’s hard to understand why any airline would willingly subjugate itself to Long Beach’s draconian noise regulations B6 should just pack up and move to LAX.

    1. There is no room for JetBlue to expand at LAX, certainly not without FAA implemented flow control and strongly considering slots. It is an airport built to accommodate 69 million annual passengers, not the 82 million that fly in/out of there these days. There is only one airport in Southern California that can accommodate that amount of additional traffic: ONT.

      1. Fair enough. B6 should move it’s LGB operation to ONT, then. Note that I have no dog in the fight, having no reason to fly to LGB. I simply cannot understand why any airline manager would willingly put up with the headaches of operating at LGB.

  8. Take look at what San Diego Airport Authority did to their noise ordinance (for Lindbergh Field) in 2006.. the only way to make the airlines stop busting (hard) curfews is make a significant number of the flights cost more to run than they bring in.. and FAA would have a hard time allowing that to happen..

  9. I wasn’t aware of the potential flight loss for JB. Thank you for pointing this out, it could be a big deal! I assume prior to this change JB et al, will have to agree and the FAA have to bless. Don’t think it will happen. Opens a huge can of worms!

  10. Definitely reminds me of San Diego. They not only started reinforcing it in the last decade, but really increased it over the last year (50% vs 80% from 2015 to 2016).

    However there’s a large difference. San Diego’s curfew starts at 11:30pm instead of 10pm. Plenty of time to schedule red-eyes and I think it’s more reasonable to ask for quiet closer to midnight than 10pm.

    JetBlue was a frequent offender before the crack down. Especially the Boston flight. Airport authority worked with JetBlue to adjust its schedule to avoid it. JetBlue is now doing much better with noise complaints and avoiding fines.

    Still there’s a big difference between a fine and losing slots.

      1. Again, Cranky, LGB DOES NOT have a curfew! It does require airlines to schedule flights between 0700 and 2200. However, there is no curfew. The Noise Ordinance DOES NOT forbid an aircraft from landing. If one does, it must meet the stricter noise limits between 2200 and 0700, which is 79dB, something a single engine Cessna could not meet!

  11. The question about LGB for any airline is “what’s to like?” LGB is the lowest-airfare, lowest-yield, and lowest-revenue airport in Southern California (including LAX, SNA, ONT, BUR, and even little PSP)… and it’s not even close.

    As an executive from an airline not-to-be-named said to me recently: “we left Long Beach because we were tired of paying to fly out of that airport.”

    CY 2016
    Origin Fare Gross Fare Yield % Free Revenue/Day
    LAX $176 $205 $0.113 8.3% $10,158,890
    SNA $164 $193 $0.153 10.1% $2,104,233
    ONT $161 $192 $0.162 8.6% $866,513
    BUR $132 $157 $0.195 9.9% $731,403
    PSP $192 $226 $0.153 10.7% $398,418
    LGB $103 $126 $0.130 6.3% $374,754
    Source: http://www.diio.net, for CY 2016 period.

    1. Mark – Yes, Long Beach fares are low, but it’s not fair to compare total market. Long Beach is dominated be a relatively low fare carrier with no premium cabin. I’m not arguing with the conclusion – LGB revenues are low. I’m just arguing the data.

      1. CF: that’s why I also added yield
        and total revenue in the table. None of those individual measures is dispositive of anything, as you point out about airfares, and what I really should do – had I the time – is adjust yields for stage length… however, when LGB fares comparatively poorly on all three counts, it’s a sad picture. Longer-haul flights can dilute yield, but they should also generate higher airfares to offset that dilution, at least somewhat. What I see is a lot of B6 trans-con flying at Lgb (certainly more than at BUR or ONT at present) for comparatively low fares. That’s a bad recipe. If I have an expensive asset like an airplane, with which I need to generate revenue at a strong clip somewhere in Southern California, nothing about LGB’s profile screams “pick me first… or second… or fourth…”

      2. Cranky! That is correct. LGB is one of the few airports where all mainline air carriers don’t offer a premium cabin. Plus, because B6 and WN are “LCCs” and the walk up fares are half what the legacies charge. That all plays a role in the average fare/yield at LGB!

  12. OK, there needs to be some clarification. First LGB DOES NOT have a curfew! However, the noise limits between 10p-7a go to a level where a Cessna 150 can’t even meet (79db), so it becomes a defacto curfew. But “legally” LGB does not have an operational curfew, except for airline schedules which must be scheduled between 7a-10p.

    Also, JetBlue has signed a “Consent Decree” with the city, which is separate from the Noise Ordinance. For each violation, JetBlue currently pays $3,000 to a library fund. I believe, in 2016, they paid $696,000 to the fund, which is a complete write off for them! In addition to the new Noise Ordinance violations, the Consent Decree is proposed to go up to $6,000 per violation. JetBlue agreed to this!

    I don’t have a problem with JetBlue operating late flights. And I’m sure most people don’t have a problem either. However, at times, JetBlue has been BLATANT! There have been occasions JB canceled a flight from BUR, because of their curfew), bused the pax to LGB, and operated the from LGB at 2am. A similar situation happened from SAN. The JB flight was up against SAN’s curfew, and they bused the pax to LGB for a 130a departure out of LGB. In my mind…THAT’S WRONG!

    One last comment. You talk about profitability (or lack of) at LGB. As you know (working with the airlines), and my experience in airline revenue management, the airlines’ number 1 priority is still market share (over profitability), I believe that is the case with JetBlue (just look at all the recent mergers – the big 3 legacies)..

    In the end, what goes around, comes around! JB squatted slots for so long, preventing airlines from entering LGB. Of course they are disappointed the FIS was not approved. However, they are in a perfect position to compete with the new Alaska/Virgin and Southwest. And the city better be careful not to bite the hand that feeds them, and essentially put LGB on the map!

    1. So you know, BUR does not have a curfew.
      The only reason B6 would cancel a flt out of BUR is if the weather prevented the arrival of the inbound aircraft.

  13. Does Long Beach want JetBlue out? Because right now B6 is losing money trying to block SW and this will only worsen that substantially. Where will they be when Jet Blue pulls out completely?

  14. I’m also curious cranky since you say these violations can be mitigated by schedule changes how you would do that if you were in charge?

    1. 121Pilot – Well the biggest thing would be to have flights come in to feed those redeyes from uncongested cities (Vegas, Salt Lake, whatever). Or have longer ground time in LGB to at least be able to absorb the delays better.

  15. There is a macro issue in all of Southern California. Everyone loves low fares, frequent service, and easy in and out access to a gate. But the number of whiny people in SC about noise is massive, even with aircraft noise much less than 25 years ago. So ground and runway congestion increases and solutions are non existent because of eternal CEQA analyses and public opposition. San Diego is an embarrassment for a City that size, but don’t even think about the idea of moving civilian flights to Miramar or finding another solution. Or how about a big airport at El Centro. El Toro could never have been converted to commercial service. Seizure World would complain. Orange County is severely restricted. Burbank, that’s funny. Ontario is a long difficult drive from many coastal customers. LAX is already way over design capacity. Long Beach should be elated to have competitive service so a customer doesn’t have to go into the LAX mess. I could count 100 US communities that would kill for Jet Blue service, and Long Beach wants less service? That’s the consequence. Really a master plan for all of SC would be best, but opposition to ANY solution is likely. BY the way I live under the departure path for LAS.

  16. The community will support this measure because they think it will improve the noise pollution from the airport. They won’t be happy when flights are getting canceled every day to avoid breaking curfew.

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