JetBlue’s Weak Operational Performance Impacts More Than Just the Northeast

When I looked at 2017 operational performance earlier this year, I told you I was going to drill down a bit on some of the problem children. My first victim airline is JetBlue. I had ideas about why JetBlue was performing so poorly. These were primarily centered around the airline’s concentration of flying in the crowded Northeast. After digging deeper, it looks like it’s not that easy to pin down a single geography. This appears to be a systemwide issue.

In that earlier post on 2017 performance, I focused primarily on year-over-year change. JetBlue hadn’t really seen a change in its on-time departures with fewer than 60 percent leaving on time. For arrivals, things had gotten somewhat worse with the numbers down to 73.5 percent. Today, I’m just going to look at 2017 numbers across the board, so let’s break out some charts showing how JetBlue shaped up last year. First up is the percentage of flights completed for the biggest US airlines.

And now let’s look at on-time performance.

As you can see, JetBlue lags on both. My initial assumption was probably the same as yours. JetBlue has its largest operations at JFK and Boston (about two-thirds of the system) in the congested Northeast corridor. In my mind, those had to be the places that were dragging down the rest of the system with miserable performance while the sunny operations from its other focus cities in Florida and Long Beach would be much better. With that, I drilled down on Boston and JFK to test the hypothesis. There were really two questions to be answered.

  1. Is performance in the Northeast dragging down the overall performance at JetBlue?
  2. Is JetBlue’s performance at those airports worse than competitors?

To answer the first question, I put together two charts comparing JetBlue’s systemwide numbers with those of Boston and New York. First, completion factor:

And then, on-time performance:

Looking here, you’d naturally assume New York is the problem child, especially when it comes to cancellations. And on the on-time performance side, flights to JFK really seemed to have trouble getting in the air on time. But JetBlue does make up for that by padding schedules. Arrivals within 14 minutes of schedule weren’t much different than the rest of the airline’s operation.

Looking at this, however, we have to remember that these are all bad numbers. Sure, Boston may look a little better, but nothing really was all that much different compared to the system average. That must mean that even isolating Boston and New York, you’re still looking at poor performance everywhere else. In other words, if JetBlue’s operation is suffering because of the Northeast, then it’s impacting the entire system.

On the other hand, maybe JetBlue just isn’t running a good operation in general and it’s not a Northeast issue at all. To get at that, I wanted to see how it performed at JFK and Boston versus others. That was tougher to compare, so I turned to masFlight to get some help on slicing and dicing this to make it fair. I focused in on American and Delta since those are the two other airlines with substantial presences at both airports. I, of course, included regional operations. Then I limited the search to flights within North America and the Caribbean so we could get only flying similar to what JetBlue did.

This might be a bit unfair to American and Delta. After all, they will give priority to long-haul flights in many cases, and that means narrowbody flights suffer. So if anything, this may dampen the results for Delta and American giving JetBlue an unfair boost.

The trends on flights going from and to each airport are similar, so let’s just look at flights into each. Here’s JFK.

As you can see, American is struggling the most in actually completing its flights (probably because long-haul gets priority there), but when it comes to flights operating on-time, JetBlue is the clear laggard. And Delta is the unsurprising leader. The biggest problem JetBlue has is actually getting its airplanes out of the gate on time, but the airline appears to have more padding than the rest so it makes up some of the numbers on the back-end. Still, it lags. Here’s Boston.

American performs better here in terms of running on-time, but JetBlue… it’s no better. And Delta still kicks butt. The trends are basically the same.

I could keep slicing and dicing the data, but I think the point is clear. JetBlue should know how to run a good operation in its focus cities, but it lags behind its main competitors in both Boston and at JFK. The underperformance, however, isn’t limited to just those cities or the aggregate systemwide performance would have been better. There appears to be a larger issue here.

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24 Responses to JetBlue’s Weak Operational Performance Impacts More Than Just the Northeast

  1. Dave says:

    My dad flew on B6 last night from BOS to RSW. His immediate post-flight text to me was “what a nightmare” and “they’ve gone down hill”. It took 1 hour to get through security in BOS (this was at 2pm, which is a slower period)… Then a 45 minute unexpected/unposted in advance delay – apparently caused by a routing issue (inbound flight came in on-time, but it was 5 minutes before the scheduled departure of the outbound) – there were no announcements made about the delay at the gate… And then they had a long, 30-plus min taxi out at BOS due to runway config (33L departures). I’m not saying that any of this is representative or the cause of their reliability issues, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Thank you to my elderly father for the trip report lol.

  2. A says:

    So maybe I shouldn’t be excited for their new MSP-BOS route? Seriously though, no airline is immune to a hiccup but these charts do play a factor when I’m looking at business travel. Hopefully JetBlue is looking at this hard and figuring our what the problem is. I’ve wanted them at MSP for a long time as another option but if their operation can’t hold up to Delta my dollars probably won’t go there.

  3. Tim Dunn says:

    As a low cost carrier, B6 can’t and won’t commit to the backup resources including crew that are necessary to keep their operations running smoothly in highly competitive and delay prone markets such as in the NE.
    I suspect that if/when you look at San Francisco, you will see the same thing between UA and VX/AS. Legacy carriers have the depth of resources available to support their operations in major global hubs and they have to in order to spend that money in order to keep their international systems running. When you factor in that the legacy carriers are capable of winning large corporate contracts, on-time performance for low cost carriers really does matter to the bottom line.

    You also haven’t addressed the labor issues at B6 but no one should be surprised that labor discontent does affect B6′ operation just as it has when other carriers including the legacy carriers have been in the same place.

    • Kilroy says:

      I would suspect/hope that B6 has enough resources to be able to handle most IRROPs pretty well, as it is not exactly a small airline any more, but it certainly has fewer than the bigger airlines, and its network is probably more concentrated on a few key airports (e.g., if a storm hits the Northeast hard, B6 is going to have a bad time, while if a storm hits ORD UA will be able to react better given that it has more of its flights in other parts of the country that are less likely to be shut down by storms simultaneously).

      Where I get concerned with IRROPs as a pax and avgeek are airlines like Allegiant and Spirit, and routes with 2 flights a day or fewer. If a storm hits the day you’re scheduled to fly a route that a smaller ULCC only serves 2x or 3x weekly, there’s a good chance you’ve lost half of your week’s vacation.

  4. Joe says:

    I think padding of schedules is an important part of this discussion. If you look at ATL-BOS flights DL and WN are almost always have flight lengths of 5-13 minutes longer than B6. I know if B6 added more padding they would have to pay people a bit more but their ontime performance might be better.

  5. Ben says:

    I flew JFKORD recently and despite it being a RON and a JFK based crew, we didn’t start boarding until departure time. We arrived into ORD about 45 minutes late. There really isn’t any excuse for a RON flight departing late. It has a snowball effect all day. If they put more pressure on kick off flights to depart on time, I wonder if that would improve their performance?

    • Kilroy says:

      I forget which airline it was (Southwest, maybe?) but I remember reading months ago on this blog that one airline had specifically identified priority flights that it was pushing ground crew, gate agents, and FAs/pilots to get out of the gate on time, due to the potential for delays involving those flights/planes to snowball to the rest of the network. That might be a short time solution, but if the same flights/plane types are constantly under the gun and have to be pushed hard to avoid network effects, it’s time to add additional capacity.

      • CF says:

        Kilroy – I think most airlines have some sort of “smart start” flight list or something where they focus on getting out key morning flights to keep the rest of the day running smoothly. I would assume JetBlue does to, but I don’t really know.

  6. Itami says:

    I wonder what the underlying drivers for this could be. Cranky’s analysis already helps control for weather and congestion, so it must be something like crewing or maintenance.

  7. Mike says:

    So JetBlue’s operational issues are multifaceted. The low hanging fruit is that so much of their operation is concentrated in the Northeast, but that’s not the whole story. Their average aircraft utilization is about an hour more per day than American or Delta (for narrowbodies) meaning they run their aircraft harder (especially the Airbus fleet), and they might not have as many spares available in the system (just look at the amount of west coast/Caribbean red eyes that leave BOS/JFK on a given night). This stresses the operation because if a plane takes a 3 hour delay one afternoon, it might not catch back up for DAYS due to its routing and the red eyes it has.

    Speaking of routing, aircraft routing plays another role in the system. They don’t do a great job of localizing delays. Save for the LGA-BOS planes, they don’t keep aircraft/crews in certain geographical areas or on individual routes. So while the weather might be fine in Boston, the airplane might be coming through JFK, and if it catches a delay there everything downstream on that planes schedule will suffer (instead of just having the plane do JFK-BOS and localizing the delays to that one route).

    Now last summer was particularly brutal for BOS/JFK since both had major runway construction that shut down heavily used runways, and definitely show up in b6’s performance more than other airlines since they don’t have a large presence in the west coast to buoy their east coast numbers (PHX, SLC, DEN, Hawaii all run well over 90% on time for all the airlines with major prescense there)

    Now the flip side to this is that you’re as on time as you want to pay for. JetBlue makes money because it can provide flights at a lower cost than its competitors. If it adds more spares, more crews, or pads it’s scheudule more, it’s costs will go up and make it more expensive and less competitive.

    • Nick says:

      I wonder if some of the reason they are not good at localizing delays is the fact that they are so weak in everywhere but the East Coast and SoCal that they can’t really be prepared as DL/AA/UA. Where if weather is moving into NYC, DL can stash planes and crews in DTW and MSP ready to take off and get the operation back up as soon as the runways in NYC/BOS are clear. Where B6 either has the planes sit in the weather or end up keeping them at small outstations where no replacement crews are available.

      So where DL especially can instantly have a ton of planes and crews ready to go that were NOT stuck in NYC with the weather, B6 ends up with a trickle in and really hampers recovery time.

  8. Jeffrey says:

    Greetings: from a position of experience as a former jetBlue Customer Service Crew Member at LGB as well as an avid and lifelong jetBlue Flyer, maybe everyone might attempt to stop comparing oranges to Angels! This company is not an Airline; the old earth terminology. This is a Service Company that ‘happens’ to fly airplanes. And, THAT is what we were taught from day one.

    As an ‘Angel’ to its Customers (‘Passengers’ are for ships, ‘Patents’ (well . . . patients ARE people who are required to possess a lot of patience!) its primary concern is Safety. There basically is no out-dated ‘mission statement’ at jetBlue. Everyone at jetBlue ‘operates’ from the collective Core Values of; Safety, Service, Fun, Integrity and Compassion

    Notice the values? Does it say, ON-Time anywhere?

    There is a GOOD reason why jetBlue has mastered the point-to-point model of flying airplanes as well as grown into a ‘connecting’ operation where it works. It has kept cost low without having to become like the nose pickers (first Spirit, then Allegiant, now sadly for the Flyer, Frontier.)

    I used to love the Big Up Front seats at Spirit when there were 20 of them on the MD-80’s in 2003 for 40 bucks over any fare. Gone!

    I worked at Allegiant at LGB (yep, 3 daily to LAS and one to FAT!)

    Two years ago, I queried a man form New York City while at LAX about who he chose to fly and why? I suggested jetBlue. His reply said it all,

    “Nice airline, but they are not a ‘business’ airline and I’m very anal about being On-time, and Delta is on time.” “Soooo, you are willing to pay more, get less and be treated like a number/passenger rather than feel like a Human Being who is a guest in the Living Room of a friend?

    Hey basically said, “Yep . .I’m not looking to make friends!”

    Laughed my ass off, and said, “Are you even here in Los Angeles for business?” “Nope. Just came to check up on my second house in Encino and maybe I’ll chat with one of my ‘Managers’ who’s responsibility is this territory.”

    Sum it up for you: jetBlue still to this day is concerned with Customer Service as its primary duty to its Flyers. its in the company’s DNA as a result of David Needleman (who I met at a company BBQ at LGB when AA still flew Seven-Fives to JFK! Too bad I was a bit hungover that day, but I did win 2 free must-ride round-trip tickets!)

    jetBlue began as a Budget airline, if it must be classified for the likes of the FAA or other agencies.

    And today, it stands ALONE in a segment by itself.

    Cheers!

    • Michael says:

      Hi, former B6 Inflight here.
      While you may have a point that B6 is a “service company that happens to fly airplanes,” part of the service that airlines provide is getting people where they want to go WHEN they want to be there. That is a facet of good customer service in the airline industry. Sorry, but being warm and fuzzy doesn’t matter anymore when you’re three hours late-and that’s coming from personal experience.

      Full disclosure, I am now DL Inflight. When my fellow FAs ask me what the difference is between working at B6 and working at DL I point out how DL bounces back from IROPs much faster than B6 does. That affects quality of life for employees which is just as important as quality of service for customers.

  9. Anthony says:

    Odd that the Big Three had almost-identical on-time-departure rates, and that Alaska hit the same number too.
    I noticed too that Southwest’s number was worse than Jet Blue’s, even though SWA’s flying is not concentrated in the Northeast.

  10. TC99 says:

    Living in South Florida, I see B6 has issues of ontime departures from FLL, one of their focus cities. I know you cannot compare to AA and DL as they have less flights out of the airport, but it would have been nice to see the numbers here as they relate to overall network numbers. Remember, B6 does a lot of International flying out of FLL to the Caribbean and South/Central America from FLL.

    • CF says:

      TC99 – I’m not 100% sure this data is perfectly cleaned up (I was told it should be by now), but it shows for flights from Ft Lauderdale in 2017, JetBlue had a completion factor 97.9% with 55.6% going exactly on time and 71.6% arriving within 14 minutes of schedule.

  11. About 10 years ago I concluded that JetBlue’s delays were due to insufficient slack time in the schedule, notably too many red-eye flights, along with insufficient spare resources to recover from a protracted mechanical outage. In short, JetBlue was running its operation with insufficient margins. It looks like they’re still doing that.

    JetBlue is so very nice once the plane takes off, but I gave up on them after too many multi-hour delays.

  12. VJ says:

    I was highly disappointed with JetBlue last time I flew them. Flight from BOS to CLE was delayed due to mx for 1.5 hours after transfer to a new plane. Then runways in CLE were icy so we were put into a holding pattern for over an hour and then ended up diverting to PIT. JetBlue’s great plan? Send the plane back to BOS that night and rebook the next day. If you chose to leave in PIT (which I did since it was easier to rent a car so I could get to work the next day), it was at your own expense. We landed in PIT around 9:45. Tracked the flight back – those poor people didn’t land in BOS until 2:30 AM. For a 10 hour flight to nowhere, JetBlue gave everyone a $100 credit. Ridiculous. Considering they have operations in PIT I don’t understand why they went back to BOS and – there had to be a better solution.

  13. Bobby J says:

    Do the Delta and American stats include their regional airline flying?

  14. Alexander says:

    My angle is that of an investor, larger than a retail investor, yet smaller than that of an institutional investor. As airline stocks go, I pulled out of JBLU when their pilots unionized. Not because they unionized (both Southwest and Delta pilots are decidedly unionized), but because I wasn’t sure if management would accept the outcome, and coalesce around that. My hedge was correct, as management has not expedited the bargaining process with its pilots. History shows that you should not drag out a negotiations with the labor group that controls your largest assets, and can opt to use more fuel (another large variable). JetBlue is doing the opposite. As an investor, my money is on Delta/United/American. Institutional money only flows in to JBLU when there is a strategic short-term trade.

    That nonsense from the customer service employee below is just that. Nonsense. JetBlue’s primary task is as an air carrier: to fly paying passengers on a prescribed timetable. Doing it well, on-time, and in comfort is presumably the competitive advantage. If they can’t do that, the free market will answer. As a traveler, I like JetBlue. But other domestic carriers have closed the gap to the extent that it is almost immaterial to the ticket buyer. My understanding is that now the flight attendants are on the verge of voting in a union at JetBlue. The only reason this could be happening is that airline’s executives and directors are wildly out of touch with the operation. Flight operations should be the natural head of the hierarchy, but it is not. Clearly. Get the operation in order, treat the employees well, pay them accordingly, and the rest will follow. IMHO.

    • Bill says:

      Alex, do you have any view on Alaska? I am researching the airlines as a potential investment and am viscerally drawn to Spirit and Alaska. Outside of Delta, the legacies don’t get me super excited. I worry that the LCC model is going to attack some of the international flight routes. But, I am somewhat of an airline newb and trying to figure out why I am wrong.

      Re legacies – Delta appears to be priced fully and I could see UAL performing better as an investment based on the potential to exceed low expectations.

  15. tvmccabe says:

    Southwest clearly must pad a lot when you look at their D 0 performance against their A 14 performance. Looks like adding those used 737’s is a great way to add schedule cushion and spares at a low cost of capital.
    Makes you wonder how Jetblue manages spares and how many, if any, they have.

    It also appears Jetblue gets little from having only two fleet types while Delta and American have far more flying domestically and to the Carribbean versus Jetblue..

    B6

    A320/321, E190, No Regional Express Aircraft

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