If anyone understands what JetBlue is doing in Long Beach, please let me know. After trying all different kinds of things over the years, JetBlue has settled firmly into a downward trajectory. It was at 35 slots at one point, but it dropped to 24 when it realized it was losing too much money and that the city had no interest in actually supporting the airline. Now, starting in April, it will go down again to 15. This makes no sense.
As you all know, I’m a local resident who loves the airport and loves having JetBlue flight options here. But this blog isn’t about what I like personally; it’s about what makes sense for an airline from a business perspective. Flying to Long Beach beyond simply as a spoke touching the other focus cities doesn’t make sense. It serves no strategic purpose.
From the press release, you wouldn’t know what’s going on. There’s just a weirdly-vague mention about this.
Effective April 29, 2020, JetBlue will end service at Oakland International Airport (OAK) where it currently serves New York-JFK, Boston and Long Beach. JetBlue will continue to serve Bay Area travelers from airports in San Francisco and San Jose. In addition, JetBlue will reduce or eliminate flights on a half dozen short-haul routes in Long Beach as well as additional flights from Fort Lauderdale and Orlando.
That makes it sound like it will continue flying to San Jose from Long Beach, but it won’t. In reality, JetBlue will cancel its two daily flights to Oakland (which loses all service, even to the east coast), Sacramento, and San Jose. It will also cut Vegas from 3 to 2 flights per day. What do all these routes have in common? They all face competition.
Southwest has four daily flights to each of those three airports which JetBlue is abandoning from Long Beach. JetBlue was just never going to be able to compete. Meanwhile Delta added Vegas, so there’s just a lot of capacity. That is, I always thought, the best performing market for the airline, so it’s a curious choice. Regardless, the message is clear.
Attention competitors: If you start flying a competitive route from Long Beach, we’ll just fold up shop.
This leaves JetBlue with a mere 15 flights per day as follows (during the summer schedule):
- Austin – 1 daily
- Boston – 1 daily
- Bozeman – 2 weekly
- Las Vegas – 2 daily
- New York/JFK – 13 weekly
- Portland – 1 daily
- Reno – 1 daily
- Salt Lake City – 19 weekly
- San Francisco – 2 daily
- Seattle – 2 daily
This means Southwest will now likely become the largest airline in Long Beach. If we assume that JetBlue actually relinquishes its 9 excess slots — the airline did not bother to respond to my question about that — and then we add the 3 new slots that are up for grabs at the airport thanks to reduced noise, then we would have 12 slots up for grabs.
Southwest wants those for sure. In fact, a spokesperson for the airline had this to say when I asked:
We have a list of opportunities for our California Customers who prefer Long Beach as their gateway to the Southwest network. We appreciate a great relationship with the City as we’ve looked for ways to pair our willingness to serve with a well-established demand for our take on air travel.
Delta was the only other airline to show interest last time, and that was purely out of spite to prevent Southwest from getting the slots. It continues to squat by flying those airplanes to Vegas. Would it really be interested in sitting on even more slots? I didn’t receive a response when I asked, but Delta does remain on the waitlist alongside Southwest and Hawaiian. Hawaiian, however, is there more as a technicality. It hasn’t shown any interest in further slots.
With Southwest able to get more slots, it could really build out Long Beach further. I’d expect a restoration of the Vegas flights it had to give up along with Denver (which was going to go daily until slots disappeared) and possibly Phoenix (which could spell disaster for American’s lone route). Otherwise, I’m looking for frequency bumps in existing markets. Southwest is now in a position to turn Long Beach into another regional airport along the lines of Burbank and Ontario, albeit at a smaller scale.
What does all this mean for JetBlue? I just don’t know. I simply can’t understand this new strategy at all. Dying by a thousand cuts is a pretty bad way to go. If the airline had walked away, I’d understand. Or if it had just cut down to serve its other focus cities, that would make sense too. But this weird, little semi-focus city is nuts. It’s also really bad for employees, though I somehow imagine that JetBlue thinks the opposite is true.
As I understand it, crew bases are not being cut, so this just means a whole lot fewer hours are available for crews locally. They can expect a lot more flying into the east coast network to keep those numbers up. And on the ground, JetBlue is cutting 25 employees which just slashes through the culture in a small city like this. This does damage to the airline more than a full pullout would have done, because it just feeds the uncertainty going forward.
This move effectively crowns Southwest as the king of Long Beach. For JetBlue, it’s puzzling. The airline should just rip off the band-aid and stop messing around. Its West Coast strategy has failed.