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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Dave
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Dave

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… Read more »

A
Guest
A

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.

Tim Dunn
Member

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… Read more »

Kilroy
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Kilroy

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… Read more »

Joe
Guest

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.

Ben
Guest

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
Guest
Kilroy

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.

Itami
Guest

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.

Mike
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Mike

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… Read more »

Nick
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Nick

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… Read more »

JeffreyPaul
Member

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… Read more »

Michael
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Michael

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… Read more »

JeffreyPaul
Member
JeffreyPaul

No argument with you there Michael! I concur . . .

Anthony
Member
Anthony

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.

TC99
Guest
TC99

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.

nsx at FlyerTalk
Guest

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.

Vickie
Member

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… Read more »

Bobby J
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Bobby J

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

Alexander
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Alexander

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… Read more »

Bill
Guest
Bill

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.

tvmccabe
Member
tvmccabe

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