We’ve seen both JetBlue and Alaska/Virgin America aggressively pursue a strategy of providing domestic connectivity to foreign airline partners. One of JetBlue’s partners is TAP Air Portugal (the “Air” recently returned to the name after a long absence), and today TAP released some staggering numbers showing just how big these partnerships are. I had the chance to talk to TAP co-owner and former JetBlue CEO David Neeleman about this last week.
Before last year, TAP had its Newark flights to Portugal and relied on Star Alliance partner United to feed that flight. Apparently that works fairly well today, but according to David, “[United] wasn’t as competitive when they first started. They didn’t pay as much attention to us.” That’s not a surprise considering that TAP is outside the big joint venture with Lufthansa. Even if United did pay attention, that wouldn’t have helped when, shortly after taking over, Neeleman’s new management team decided to start flying from Lisbon to Boston and New York/JFK. United had almost no presence in those airports, but of course, David knew where to go for feed. His old airline JetBlue could deliver the goods.
According to TAP, the partnership has been a runaway success since the two started codesharing/interlining when those flights started in June of last year. It looks kind of like this. (Thank you, Great Circle Mapper.)
Of all the people flying from Boston to Lisbon and beyond on TAP, an incredible 30 percent start their journeys on JetBlue in one of 31 cities. The number from JFK is 20 percent from 25 cities. Those blue lines you see in the map? Those are the top cities where people originate: San Francisco, LA, DC, Raleigh/Durham, Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, Dallas/Ft Worth, Tampa, and Detroit.
On the other side of the Pond, only 45 percent of those who start on JetBlue stay in Lisbon. The other 55 percent continue on into Europe with two-thirds of those going to Spain, France, or Italy. You can see why – you don’t go too far out of the way to get to those countries. While the top destinations are the boring ones, Rome, Barcelona, and Madrid, David did tell me that they “do really well in the secondary cities in Spain and France.” As you can see in that map, it’s a pretty extensive network in that region.
I was naturally curious if this kind of information helps TAP to plot its course. Would the airline be able to get enough information to pick and choose new routes? David was emphatic.
Without a doubt. Our plans are to fly to more cities, certainly to some of those on the list; especially those where our partners are, like Chicago… or San Francisco [where] there’s a large Portuguese community.
If this works for TAP, then you know JetBlue is having a field day with other partners as well. The same goes for Alaska/Virgin America through its West Coast gateways. We just don’t usually get to hear this kind of detail. In a world where legacy airlines have become more insular and unwilling to partner with those outside their circles, you can see what an incredibly important role JetBlue and Alaska play in the US. I wonder how many of JetBlue’s frequencies into New York and Boston wouldn’t make sense without this kind of feed? And of course, I wonder the same about those long-haul international flights.
Before we hung up, I asked David whether TAP’s routes to Boston and JFK would work without JetBlue. He explained “they would work in the summer, it’s just really, really beneficial in the off-season. It’s beneficial for JetBlue as well.”
You can add travelers to the list of beneficiaries while you’re at it.