30% of TAP Air Portugal’s Boston Customers Start Their Journey on JetBlue (aka The Power of Partnerships)

TAP Air Portugal

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.

Update: TAP has now put out a press release on this.

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26 comments on “30% of TAP Air Portugal’s Boston Customers Start Their Journey on JetBlue (aka The Power of Partnerships)

  1. I would guess the same thing happens in Brazil with Azul feeding TAP flights to Lisbon , Porto and beyond.

  2. 30% sounds huge, but if you’re pricing BOS-LIS to fill empty seats, you’ll see higher connect ratios.

  3. I think it’s starting to approach the point where I’m going to need a refresher on what airlines Neeleman (and other former B6 execs) have worked for, owned, or otherwise been involved with. B6, Azul, TAP Air Portugal, what others?

  4. I wonder if Americans or Europeans are more price sensitive, or no difference. I assume the price sensitivity because many of these larger cities have none or one stop connectivity and some of these would be three stops so guessing cheap flights.

    1. That’s a good point. From JFK in particular, most major cities in Europe are nonstop, and fares (at least at the moment) are very cheap ($400-700 roundtrip for economy on many routes). From BOS, I assume there are fewer cities in Europe with nonstops, but I know there are still a lot.

      I’m guessing that where this plays well is for people looking to travel to/from more secondary cities on either side of the Atlantic (and I would argue that Lisbon can be included among “secondary” cities in Europe). If you’re going to have to do one or two stops at a minimum, connecting through LIS and/or JFK at least gives you another viable option, especially if the schedules and layovers work out well and the fares are comparable to the alternatives.

      It would be interesting to see how something like this might work between, say, TAP and Southwest at BWI, or with B6 at a South FL airport… Not sure if there would be enough O&D traffic to support those routes, but it would make for another option for travelers.

  5. This entry is a sterling example of Mr. Parson”s extensive “inside the industry” contacts and knowledge, and the simply stated, straight-forward analysis that only he seems willing or capable of producing. All without even a hint of “look-who-I-know” pretentiousness. Love the last sentence!

    Thanks for your truly exceptional blog, Cranky.

  6. I was surprised at the statement that UA has an insignificant presence in Boston.
    Although Jetblue is far larger approaching nearly 200 departures, I think UA is around 47.
    What is insignificant from your perspective?

    1. Tvmccabe – This has already been said, but since United’s feed is all from hubs, it’s not very helpful for feed purposes. That isn’t a very big presence at all in a city like Boston, and it’s certainly not very useful for TAP’s purposes.

  7. JetBlue codeshares with Emirates as well, but I cannot understand why that is limited to economy class only. So I cannot fly LAX/SFO-JFK-MXP on an EK business class ticket sitting in business class the entire way: instead of Mint, the fare RBD puts me in economy on JetBlue for 7 hours each way (no thanks!).

    1. From LAX or SFO, I think Emirates is presuming premium cabin passengers would rather fly to Dubai and connect there with the full experience (lounges, etc.) The JFK-MXP flight is a one-off case where Emirates could offer a connection at JFK with passengers arriving on Mint and not having to connect again at Dubai.

      As JetBlue expands the Mint product, this could become more of an opportunity, but right now Emirates appears to think it’s better for them to keep SFO/LAX passengers connecting at Dubai.

    1. Pf – I thought he stepped back from that, but I didn’t ask him this time.
      He’s always involved in a million things at once.

  8. Great article, Cranky. Going off of B6’s strength among the Non-Aligned Movement, I was always more skeptical than most that B6 flying across the Atlantic with A321LRs within the next few years is some kind of inevitability. Why go through all the financial and operational difficulty of expansion into an already saturated transatlantic market when you’re already so successful feeding every other non-JV carrier under the sun?

    Even granting that most of the TP flows cover Southern Europe compared to the Northern European cities that also attract Americans (London, Paris, Dublin, etc), B6 enjoys similarly fruitful codeshare relationships with Aer Lingus and Icelandair among others. At that point, would it even be worth it?

  9. David knows the airline industry very well.  Am delighted by his latest success!
    A Kindred Soul aka Dr. Norman L. Wherrett, Jr.

  10. Wouldn’t it seem more patriotic to focus connectivity with international US-flag airlines? Why not bring the traffic to UA or DL or AA? Perhaps a USA tax on transfers to non-US-flag carriers, like a transfer tax of $500 a pax?

    Of course, I’m sure our legacies did/do everything they could/can to disadvantage JetBlue. Brings back memories of how the trunks did everything they could to kill off PanAm, and it worked, I guess!

    1. Jaybru – The big 3 have no interest in working with any other US-based airlines. They want to kill them. (Heck, they won’t even work with each other. Look at American and Delta.) A tax on working with foreign airlines would be downright awful for everyone except the legacies.

  11. Interesting that you can’t book Lisbon on JetBlue’s website and the round trip fair of Atlanta to Lisbon of $1366 is hardly a bargain.

    1. Guess it’s time for airline industry insiders to play a “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game, but with David Neeleman instead..

  12. Recently did a round trip including a ship ride, ATL-BOS with Jet Blue and PDL-LIS-EWR-ATL on TAP and United. Despite that marathon return it was a really good deal. Yay flexibility.

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