One of the biggest questions surrounding JetBlue has been what exactly it was going to do for its West Coast strategy. It was assumed that Virgin America was that strategy, but when Alaska won the acquisition battle, JetBlue was left with its weak-performing Long Beach focus city and a whole lot of questions. Yesterday, the strategy became more clear, at least in Southern California where JetBlue announced several network moves beginning for travel on September 5. I spoke with JetBlue EVP Commercial & Planning Marty St George on Tuesday about the changes.
If I had to summarize these moves, I’d say JetBlue was focusing on its strengths by growing longer-haul flights and targeting the leisure traveler. That’s good news for some but bad news for those who used that higher-frequency business schedule on short-haul routes from Long Beach.
Marty didn’t mince words when noting just how successful transcontinental flying has been for the airline. “Our experience in transcon has been fantastic. You look at other airlines, transcon is a weakness. It’s not a weakness for us; it’s an area of strength.”
This, of course, includes the outstanding Mint premium cabin offering from LAX, but that’s not what’s growing. Here’s what gets added:
- JetBlue returns to Ontario the same way it left 10 years ago, with one daily redeye to New York/JFK.
- Burbank gets an redeye to Boston (with an incredibly early 8:08pm departure and 4:40am arrival)
- Burbank also gets a daytime second daily flight to New York/JFK
- Long Beach gets a daytime second daily flight to Boston
All of these are on A320s without Mint, though Palm Springs (not mentioned above) will see its seasonal service have a Mint cabin during the peak holiday season.
Refocusing on Leisure
Last year, JetBlue mentioned in an internal note that it was looking to expand flying in leisure destinations, and that Long Beach would benefit from that. Sure enough, that’s happening. This winter, JetBlue will start twice weekly flights from Long Beach to Steamboat Springs/Hayden in Colorado. (Ft Lauderdale and Boston will also get Steamboat flights.) There will also be twice weekly flights between Long Beach and Bozeman in Montana.
I consider this to be an interesting experiment, but I’m skeptical. JetBlue’s last effort to run seasonal service from Long Beach was the summer nonstop to Anchorage, but, as Marty explained, when it was good, it was great. When it wasn’t, well, it was pretty bad. That, of course, was daily in the summer so it’s different. This sub-daily kind of flying to winter destinations should fare better.
Those moves make up pretty much all the good news for Long Beach… unless you were expecting JetBlue to leave entirely. In that case, there’s more good news. The airline isn’t walking away from Long Beach, but it is shrinking.
Long Beach Goes Back to Where It Was
Before Southwest got aggressive about Long Beach, JetBlue was running an operation in the low to mid-20s in terms of daily flights, and as Marty says, it was “very profitable.” JetBlue ramped up to try to protect its position when Southwest arrived, and that meant running a more business-oriented schedule with higher frequency in shorter markets until it could get a customs facility approved. That, as we all know, was shot down thanks to short-sighted council-members buckling to uninformed public pressure.
As Marty explained, when it comes to international flying from the LA area, “our opportunity was at Long Beach. We had a nice little feeder opportunity” that would go into those near-Latin American markets, but when the customs facility was taken off the table, that went up in a puff of smoke. With no feed, keeping this business schedule wasn’t an option, and so JetBlue has now shifted back to where it was a few years ago. It peaked recently at 35 departures a day, but the airline dropped one of those slots so Hawaiian could pick it up. Now it will drop down even further to only 23 daily departures as follows:
|Destination||Current Dailies||New Dailies|
|Steamboat Springs/Hayden||–||2 weekly|
It looks like that third Salt Lake flight will run on the 3 days that Bozeman and Steamboat don’t, so that it’s a consistent 23 flights every day. To me, this looks like a schedule that makes a whole lot more sense. The only wildcard is what happens with those newly-open 11 slots.
There are three airlines on the waitlist in Long Beach today: Delta, Hawaiian, and Southwest. I have no idea why Delta would be interested unless it just felt like blocking others from using them. (I did not receive a response to my request.) And Hawaiian, well, I’m thinking Hawaiian is just on the waitlist because new entrants are entitled to two slots. Hawaiian was unable to confirm whether it had interest or not by the time I published this, but I’d be surprised if it did. That leaves Southwest which gave me this statement:
“As local Long Beach Customers know, we’ve always looked for ways to benefit them by adding low fare service when slots become available,” said Adam Decaire, Southwest Airlines Managing Director of Network Planning. “Southwest absolutely would analyze any opportunity to respond to obvious demand for our service in the LA Basin.”
I’d expect Southwest would be the only airline that would have a real interest from that list. Will it use those slots to further hurt JetBlue?
Marty didn’t seem too worried. And really, looking at the schedule, I can understand why. JetBlue has increased its long-haul flying and added new niche markets where you won’t see Southwest. Were I a betting man, I’d say Southwest would put in Las Vegas and Denver on a more regular schedule than it has today. (It serves them irregularly when slots controlled by other airlines go unused.) We might see a San Jose or Phoenix in there too to help round things out regionally. But JetBlue will now have more limited exposure in those markets. And with such low frequency in the ones that remain competitive, JetBlue still feels confident that it’ll attract the leisure travelers that it considers its bread-and-butter.
Long Beach should become more profitable, but this could still be the beginning of the end if routes fail to perform.
A Four Airport Strategy
This strategy does take Long Beach away from being the sole real focus in the LA Basin and instead spreads the wealth around. At LAX, JetBlue is gate-constrained and can’t grow. It focuses on its long-haul flights with Mint in that market.
In Burbank, this is just adding another spoke to the Boston focus city and beefing up JFK as well. There is the unrelated announcement that JetBlue would be codesharing on JetSuite X flights out of Burbank, but that seems more like a side note. There’s no connectivity in Burbank. This may appeal to some travelers but it doesn’t seem to be a core part of the strategy. (Marty didn’t have much to say about it when I asked.)
Ontario is something of a wildcard. Since JetBlue last flew there in 2008, control of the airport has gone back to Ontario from LA World Airports (the entity that runs LAX). The cost to operate there has plummeted, and airport management has become extremely proactive. Further, Marty seemed bullish about the area in general saying that “demand is very strong.” Give credit to Ontario’s CEO Mark Thorpe. “He did a good job of convincing us,” according to Marty. If this works, there could be more growth there.
Down in Long Beach, the focus city remains, which is honestly something of a surprise. But it is now skewing more to non-Southwest competitive markets. And even in the Southwest-competitive markets, JetBlue will stick to its leisure schedule.
You might be wondering about a 5th airport – Orange County. That would be attractive for transcon flying, but it’s not easy getting an Airbus out of there with a usable payload thanks to short runways. That’s not really a great option at this point.
Overall, I think there’s a lot to like here. JetBlue doesn’t feel the need to be everything to everyone. It wants to focus as much as possible on routes where its product stands out, and that means the longer haul, the better. It’s also trying some interesting experiments to see what kind of leisure markets will respond to having JetBlue service. Unprofitable routes get trimmed, and JetBlue finds itself in a better place.
I still wonder if some day it makes sense to make a real run at Ontario as a true focus city. I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but then again, Long Beach has been nothing but trouble for the airline. For now, this seems like a smart strategy that leverages the airline’s strengths. But I expect that there could be more change if things to don’t perform as expected.
[Original photo via Broadbandito/CC BY 2.0]
It’s intresting they call out the connecting traffic.
After listening to and reading the q1 results they seem to be sticking to the 200 daily flights at Boston and 140 at Lauderdale.
I wonder when they’ll reach those numbers and if they could take another run at the LA baison after reaching those goals?
I know most capx for the next two years are going to the a320 updates and then to the a320 & a321 neos.
2022 will be the year 320s finish up, that could be the year JetBlue take a crack at LA aigan.
I hope the “little big airport that could” in Ontario gets a jet blue operating base before 2022. If the long hall works out there and JetBlue wants connecting traffic I think we could is it sooner than we could expect.
Hey first time posting!
Great article as always.
Question: can jetblue make a focus City for itself at BUR? BUR would seem to a very diserable location right near Hollywood, and it’s not very busy or a focus city for another airline at this place.
Would seem to be better than going to ONT.
Is BUR slot constrained or something of that sort?
Second this notion…love flying in and out of BUR. But it could definitely use a makeover on the level of LGB. Perhaps B6 could take it over and spruce it up a la Terminal 5 at JFK?
Burbank has already approved a new terminal on the former Lockheed site on Hollywood Way, and it will look a lot like LGB. It will have the same number of gates as the current BUR terminal – 14 and ramp boarding. What it will do is allow larger aircraft to park. Right now WN cannot bring 800’s in on a frequent basis because the only gate they have which can use it is A7. This is due to the terminal’s proximity to RWY 8-26. The B gates, especially B3-5 can hold up to a MD-80/737-900/321, but a 900 and a 321 cannot operationally get out.
The real issue now is performance issues out of BUR due to runway length, climb performance and obstructions (hills on 3 sides) and weather. Ops are no issue with the normal RWY 15 departures, but when RWY 33 or 26 are used, a fuel stop is required to get to JFK.
To a lesser extent there are gate constraints, only that there are 2 gates which can handle a 321 – B4 and B5, and Alaska and United use them now. There is room for JetBlue to grow during the day, as A8 isn’t used, and A7 is used sparingly by WN and A9 is the B6 gate, which currently only sees the JFK red-eye.
I think part of the issue for the early Boston red-eye and late morning JFK departure is that there’s no room to RON 3 airplanes if weather on the East Coast gets messed up and everything cancels.
I for one am just glad to have a daylight option to JFK.
Distance between BUR and LAX is less than 30 miles. Also, ONT is kind of out there on its own with many people who hate driving to LAX or San Diego.
Izz – I’m told there are gate constraints at Burbank. There are also some runway issues, but that’s only for the longer hauls they already do today.
So it wouldn’t impact West Coast flying. The bigger issue is that any West Coast markets JetBlue might want to fly are already well-served by Southwest.
It was a given this article would be up here after yesterday’s JBLU announcement.
They are clearly trying to stay clear of direct competition with WN but it remains to be seen if their token presence in intra-west markets will work given that other carriers will likely snap up the slots and increase their service.
LUV will be the biggest winner in all of this as they add LGB to their diversified S. California network in an even bigger way.
Delta will very likely add another market and key enough LGB slots in its back pocket that it can switch to something that might interest them down the road; a JFK flight might even be in the offing.
Perhaps most notable is that B6 didn’t announce any more growth at LAX which likely says they don’t have room to do so. Adding a token presence in multiple airports – minus SNA – will give them a niche market presence but they will have to rely on niche markets from California – their big 3 east coast focus cities as well as markets that other carriers do not serve – to try to come up with a presence in S. California.
Tim – That’s right, no room for growth at LAX. They would like to grow there but they have no gates.
No mr Dunn, they are not “clearly staying clear of direct competition from wn” they are being smart and bolstering their strengths and wn has been losing their shirts along with your precious delta that high tailed most of their Lgb flying a while back. The problem here isn’t B6, it’s lgb, and B6 isn’t taking anymore of the Lgb BS as they should and sent a clear message that even tho B6 wants to be a big player in SoCal and Lgb is really the best limited option they will not continuously stay with abusive city council that engages in false propaganda to stifle any decent investiment into a airport and community. A local judge said fis wouldn’t infringe on the noise ordinance and would create jobs. But now they will get less service, and in the short term some other carriers may come in to take the slots and as soon as they see the BS they have to deal with will eventually over time pull out and Lgb will be a shell of what it might have been after it gets slowly aboandoned. I’m sure B6 is keeping a close watch on ont and now with China airlines coming in a growing demographic in the inland empire, they may make ont look at what Lgb could’ve been while Lgb just wallows in what they wish they could be.
They definitely have room to add more flights out of LAX. They are not doing so, because they don’t have more mint aircraft available at the moment. A lot of the CUTE gates in T5 are only getting a couple of turns a day.
This gives WN two big wins this week…B6 reduces intra-CA flying and opens up slots at LGB. And then AS getting out of LGA and DCA (to DAL) with WN again getting access to slots there. I’d say they had a good week!
I don’t think it’s a big win, Lgb isn’t a place any carrier makes money and wn knows it, and as far as the lga flying it’s temporary and if they jump in the nyc-Florida market against B6 and even delta, you will see a repeat on what B6 happened in Lgb short haul except it will be wn losing their shirts. Nyers live a motto to only fly JetBlue and no one else especially to Florida. Southwest product isn’t up to the standards that a ny to Florida passenger expects.
I think you’re missing the big picture as how WN fared this week…they made out pretty good. They’re gonna do alright. And the ‘motto’ you reference is, respectfully, ridiculous…come on dude.
They made pretty good on slots, but LGB is a really low yielding airport. It’s really irrelevant. WN actually yielded even worse than B6 on LGB-SMF/LAS and they were comparable on OAK. Not the gold mine that people are making it out to be.
Wellp April isn’t even over and I think my last surviving 2018 prediction just bit the dust…
Curious if you considered Alaska as a potential fit for slots at LGB? Given their need to rationalize the network and focus on the West Coast, this seems like a logical opportunity to jump in and back-fill lost intra-West capacity, particularly to SEA, PDX, SFO, OAK and SJC.
MB-88 – Alaska was snakebitten after their last experience here, but who knows. Maybe the increased intra-California competition might push them to give it a shot and fight Southwest.
Seems JetBlue blew it if they have to cut service from any southern California airport to the bay area. Millions of people at each end and they can’t fill an airplane, it seems odd.
I’m wondering about the 2nd Boston daily. Last month there was a LGB-BOS flight where about half the plane was an Apple Tours group (really, something on the order of 80 people). If they sell this much capacity to tour groups, how can they be profitable with double the seats?
Ron – One flight with a large tour group isn’t necessarily a trend. But tour groups may provide good revenue in some cases. It just depends on the flight. This strategy is about boosting transcon and providing utility to Boston. Adding another flight might help.
No one is filling planes. You see the yields wn has and LF out of lax/Lgb? They don’t sound too enthused about those slots either being no one wins in Lgb. Other enterant airlines aren’t immune to the fines and penalties that B6 has had and are taking note. Lgb problem is that it’s capped at 50 flights per day and it’s very limiting to get any decent flights that would generate decent yields. So you drop prices to attract more but it’s not enough and ends up crashing yields. Plus wn or any other airline will be canabalising their lax yields which the short haul isn’t that great either. Lgb airport management and the city is the worst. Wn sees how complicated it has been for B6 with curfews and slots and fines for noise and know if they grab those slots they also inherit the fines and all the complaining along with it. B6 is doing the smart thing and if wn smells a trap they won’t do it and from the sounds of the response they know the headaches that B6 has in Lgb will come along with those slots. Lgb is just a crappy dead horse, it could’ve been better if they allowed a fis but now it’s rendered as a cursed airport. No airline will make it work, and B6 despite all the difficulties thus far did the best anyone could’ve and until Lgb changes their business model it never will till Lgb gets their heads out of their butts. B6 is waiting list for slots at Sna and I bet ont,bur will slowly grow especially being that ont has a fis! And until they get a hold of more gates sometime in the future at lax, That’s pretty much how it will be. And if wn or any other airline is foolish enough to keep bleeding and losing their butts in Lgb, they can have it.
Well, yes, other airlines can and do avoid LGB’s noise fines because they operate much more on-time.
It is rather disingenuous to say that there is no market after JBLU sat on slots for years and only has decided to cut short haul flying now that WN has had enough of a presence to put pressure on B6’s yields.
California has very limited space to grow air traffic – not unlike the case in the NE. Other carriers want to have a presence and have pockets deep enough to develop markets like LGB that B6 couldn’t do.
B6′ strategy was to try to have a north-south presence in California using LGB but will likely be bested at that over the next few years by airlines that can operate on-time and take the time to build the market. Not surprisingly, virtually every other airline that has any interest at LAX has a larger operation at LAX and most also serve the other Basin airports. LGB simply had a one shot opportunity to make LGB work and they couldn’t get it to happen.
Perhaps the market isn’t ready for the level of service B6 had operated but I suspect you will find that other carriers will take most if not all of the slots that are available at the airport and will make them work both for east-west as well as north-south flights.
The market is not cursed because B6 couldn’t figure out how to make it work.
Not only B6, B6 and every airline that ever operated out of Lgb. I think your too focused on B6, and they have deeper pockets then ever before, look at what they built at every other focus city B6 operates at and really made a difference disrupting everything, even up the road in lax, they are the star of lax transcon now and have bested out delta/ua/aa. So your assessment isn’t accurate. DL/AS/F9/AA/G4 even America west all have reduced or pulled out completely out of Lgb. See a pattern? And again, Lgb only allow 50 total departures a day, that’s not enough to make up for attracting enough fliers to pick up yields that would be competitive to carriers can do out of lax. We’ll see how wn will do, they can dog it out for a while, but the yields for them out of Lgb are ugly also, and if B6 could’ve waited it out all this time I’m sure wn can also, but once B6 can ramp up either lax/ont/bur I see them pull away more out of Lgb, maybe not completely. And when that happens, whoever is left will raise prices and people will go to lax instead, or said carrier would keep it low to keep market share until the low yields make it not worth staying.
I’m telling you, Lgb is not set up for long term success.
And yet B6 spent years holding onto slots and trying to make the market work. It doesn’t matter what airline or airport we are talking about but it sounds more than a little like crying about spilled milk to all of a sudden say that the market has no potential. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t recall seeing your commentary on other CF articles about CF – and he has written ALOT about LGB.
The simple fact is that S. California’s airports are becoming more valuable as air travel worldwide is growing but many of the top airports in the largest urban areas including California have no room to grow.
DL’s yields out of LGB to SLC is far below any other LA Basin airport. Same with AA’s yield to PHX. AA willingly gave up 2 slots last year. There are the commuter slots that nobody wants any part of even though any regional operations could have snapped that up. WN’s yields out of LGB were even worse than B6. These are facts.
It’s amazing that people are now looking at LGB as some kind of gold mine. If B6 had more space at LAX, it would’ve already moved all of its operation there. It stuck with LGB as long as it has, because it has nothing else.
first of all, DL’s yields even in the local market on the same route it competes with B6 out of LGB to SLC are higher than B6′. Second, DL like most other carriers that compete with B6 out of LGB have connecting capabilities and DL’s average fares on the route are higher than the local. B6 simply does not have hubs within the western US so it was competing on a point to point basis with low fares against other carriers that have hubs and do in fact derive better revenue from connections.
B6 is shifting toward its eastern US focus cities – JFK, BOS, and FLL – because they stand a better chance of connecting passengers that might have higher value as well as have a need to carry fewer lower value local passengers within the west.
and finally, the 1st quarter earnings season is now over and Southwest came out with the highest margins followed by Delta and then JetBlue. Both Delta and Southwest are much larger than B6 and they can carry more flights that are potentially less profitable but important for strategic reasons.
While it is true that there might not be a rush to pick up the slots that became available, there might be more interest than some might imagine precisely because there is strategic value in LGB alongside what those carriers can do in the larger LA Basin market.
It puzzles me that Jet Blue doesn’t offer service to Chicago from the west coast. Had they made Midway their Chicago base rather than O’Hare, surely the way would be open for service from California… because who wants to sit in a Southwest plane for four hours? Even staying with O’Hare, why not do one flight a day there from BUR and from LGB?
Not sure about the MDW idea (great from downtown, horrid from most high-income suburbs) and also somewhat constrained, but you’re right about JetBlue ignoring Chicago. In this, the third largest market, JetBlue is a complete non-factor. It has no presence here other than some nonstops to/from JFK and BOS to serve New Yorkers and Bostonians who need to go to Chicago. But nobody in the Midwest ever thinks to check JetBlue for flights anywhere.
My rule of thumb is that if an airport is > ~100 miles from a large body of salt water, JetBlue doesn’t serve that airport. There are a few exceptions, but I’d say that this is true for 90-95+% of the flights on B6.
Anthony – Long ago, JetBlue actually did have 1 daily flight Long Beach to O’Hare. But when Virgin America entered the market from LA and tanked fares, JetBlue walked away. The market is still fairly crowded and fares aren’t great, so I’m not surprised JetBlue has stayed away. But maybe one day it will see the wisdom of going back in. It probably need another gate…
To me it seems like Jet Blue kind of skips the middle part of the country. You have the service on the west coast and you have service in the northeast but not a lot everywhere else, I wouldn’t think to fly them. ( I think they are making a mistake by not having another focus city somewhere in the middle of the country–IE:ABQ, Omaha, or MKE) They also just kind of seem to be there, they don’t appear to be aggressive on routes like Southwest or Frontier–they are just there to get whatever traffic they can gather up.
It’s hard to imagine what Jet Blue’s long-term strategic goal is. Certainly they’re strong along the east coast and in the Caribbean, and they’re gradually adding destinations for their east coast customers (e.g. MSP). But of course they can’t rival any of the Big Three in scope. And given the constraints of Long Beach, it doesn’t seem possible for B6 to expand enough on the west coast to become a serious rival to Southwest, United, or Alaska. They might win on service quality, but if they’re only going to have two flights a day from LGB to SFO, they’re not competitive.
I wouldn’t be so sure that HA doesn’t have an interest in using slots at LGB. With all the 321NEOs they have on order, their plan is evidently to saturate the west coast secondary markets. They can’t get a 321 out of SNA with a useful load but they could still access the lucrative Orange County market via LGB.
Jin – I’m sure. I got this back from Hawaiian this morning. “While we have a waitlist position [for slots at LGB], our focus is on starting our daily A321neo flights between Long Beach and Honolulu. If anything changes I’ll be sure to keep you posted.”
Honolulu is a good test, because you get heavy tourist traffic as well as local “ethnic” traffic as they call it. There are huge Hawaiian populations relatively close to LGB in places like Carson and Gardena. Once you go to the outer islands, then it gets more challenging since it’s almost entirely tourist traffic.
SNA-HNL was Aloha’s best west coast market for both load factors and yield. While we did carry some ethnic traffic, the mainstay was the wealthy Orange County population. First class was often full. I’m not sure that LGB will be quite as successful as SNA but I would expect it to work very well for HA.
As some free advice to HA, we tagged the flight SNA-RNO which was also moderately successful.
Jin – I’m not surprised by that. I’d expect LGB- Honolulu can work well too. But when it gets to outer islands, I’m less convinced. You have to train the OC people to use LGB, and that’s not easy. But maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Too bad Alaska didn’t try for at least 7-8 of those slots. Alaska bought Jet America, who flew from multiple cities to LGB. 7-8 slots would be easy to fill. SEA-2 SFO-2 SJC-2 PDX-1. Maybe even HNL-1 or its future Midwest hub if it ever builds one in 10 years time when it’s ready to.
Forgive me, I am kinda new to the business side of things. Can someone explain why LGB yeilds are so low? Every time i look to book a flight on AA or Delta it’s significantly more expensive than LAX. I just dont get how its so unprofitable.
Aaron – Well, that’s not a short answer I’m afraid. It can also vary by market. On American and Delta, it’s not just about local traffic but also connections. So it’s the whole picture that comes together to determine averages onboard. Even in the local markets, you see lower fares than in the other LA Basin airports. That can mean that if you look 14 days in advance, the fares from Long Beach appear higher. But there’s likely just a higher mix of those advance fares and fewer last minute business travelers paying higher fares, so that’s why it gets skewed. I haven’t dug into the full details of why the yields are lower, but maybe that’s something I’ll tackle down the line.
The lower amount a last minute fares or those willing to pay for Y fares, makes sense. Thanks!
Cranky, is jetBlue actually giving up the slots? Or are they going back to under utilizing them? I saw today that Southwest is going to temporarily use 5 of those slots starting Sept 5th, for more Vegas and Sacramento flying, which seems like jetBlue isn’t actually giving them up just yet?
Rudy – No, they are giving them up. The way it works is this. The airlines have to file their schedules with the airport in advance, and whatever slots aren’t being used can be scheduled by other airlines on a temporary basis. So JetBlue has sent a schedule with a variety of unused slots beginning in Sept. Southwest is going to use them temporarily.
(It’s the same thing Southwest does today with Vegas flights on the weekends. It uses slots that don’t get flown on weekends by other airlines.) JetBlue is giving those slots up, however, and once that happens, there will be a process to award them on a more permanent basis.
My guess here is that Southwest could have added more flights if it wanted, but once it hits 12 flights a day, it has to hire its own people per labor contracts. This will be right under 12, so it doesn’t have to commit to hiring anyone but it can still fly them. Fairly smart plan until it knows just how many slots it ends up with once JetBlue’s remains are divided up.