JetBlue is an airline on a mission. With a deal to not furlough any pilots until next May, it is trying to put as many of them to work as possible. After an initial barrage of routes that mostly focused on Florida and Newark, the airline has moved on to its next round of route-flinging.
This round digs deeper, and it seems far riskier. That isn’t a surprise. You run out of top route options pretty quickly when you’re deep in a pandemic. But hey, get ready for some new flying in Los Angeles, Newark, and even Raleigh/Durham.
A Look at the Last Batch of Routes
When the last round of routes were announced over the summer, there were two primary points of focus: Newark and Philadelphia. Newark was given broader reach to both business and leisure markets while Philly was focused exclusively on Florida and San Juan. Newark was, of course, part of a broader New York strategy whereas Philly was just about trying to grab some cash.
Though results aren’t public yet since they’ve barely been flying, we can look at JetBlue’s schedule to see just how things are looking. Thanks to Cirium, I pulled up what percent of flights on these new routes are currently scheduled to operate compared to the original plan.
Actually I pulled this last weekend before even more cuts were doled out for October, but the point is the same. As you can see, there is a whole lot more still planned in September and October for Newark than for Philly. September is particularly ugly with West Palm supposed to have 14 weekly flights and now only having 1. And in October, the only route that will be operating from Philly as planned originally is San Juan with a daily flight. This tells me things aren’t booking up as hoped, and a lot of that is probably because JetBlue just doesn’t have a strong presence in Philly. It is a carrier of last resort.
With that frame, let’s look at all the new routes that are being announced. You’ll see why I like some and don’t like others. Let’s start with the ones I like.
Most Bullish: Newark Gets Caribbean
JetBlue’s first run at Newark connected some domestic dots, but now JetBlue is going international. All of these start on November 19.
- Aruba: 1x daily A320 (Saturdays on Mint A321)
- Cancun: 2x daily A320
- Montego Bay: 1x daily A320
- Nassau: 1x daily A320
- Providenciales (Turks and Caicos): 1x daily A320
- Punta Cana: 1x daily A320
- St Maarten: 1x daily A320 (Saturdays on Mint A321)
In the long run, these all make sense. Sure, you can’t go to the Bahamas now, but eventually that restriction goes away. This allows JetBlue to take all of New York and Northern New Jersey to the Caribbean, as it does today from JFK alone. They know these routes out of JFK, and they have a good shot at making them work from Newark as well.
If I have any hesitation, it’s the competition. United is in all of these markets. Providenciales and St Maarten are currently filed as once daily this winter, but the rest are at least twice a day with Cancun more than that. Cancun, of course, is a huge market, and even Frontier has a daily flight there in the winter. That’s rare to find anywhere in Frontier’s network.
Something tells me that we’re going to see a whole lot more United flying in these markets to try to drown JetBlue out. But then again, I expect we’ll see more demand as well once these places open up. It’s a much easier trip than going over the ocean, and in the near term, those are the kind of trips people will want to take. With a strong local New York base, this seems like a sensible effort.
Don’t Hate It: Raleigh/Durham and Other Southeast Flying Gets a Boost
The next step down for me is what JetBlue is trying to do in Raleigh/Durham (RDU). It’s building up a leisure focus city to fill airplanes with shorter-haul flying. Again, these all start November 19.
- Cancun: 1x daily A320
- Fort Myers: 1x daily A320
- Montego Bay: 1x daily A320
- San Juan: 1x daily A320
As of now, American is operating some Saturday flights to Cancun next year, and Frontier has sub-daily flying to San Juan, but that’s it for nonstop competition.
These aren’t historically big markets. In 2019, Cirium ARC/BSP data says San Juan led the way with 137 passengers daily each way (PDEW) followed by 103 to Cancun, 62 to Fort Myers, and 58 to Montego Bay. But of course, JetBlue has to be betting on stimulation here. If you have people looking to travel and not wanting to go too far from home, the nonstop option on JetBlue should help create opportunity. It also helps people feel more comfortable from a health/safety perspective.
There’s a similar dynamic for these two routes:
- Richmond – Tampa: 1x daily Embraer 190
- Tampa – Cancun: 1x daily A320
These aren’t big markets and there is limited competition. Delta won’t be doing Tampa-Cancun this winter, and while Southwest did weekend flying from Richmond to Tampa pre-pandemic, it’s not in the schedule for next winter.
All of these are stimulation plays in markets that don’t really exist yet, and that’s why I like it less than the Newark flying. But they’re short routes that are poised to capitalize on shifting behavior post-COVID, so I’m not against the effort.
Hate It: Growing LA and Other Thin Long-Haul
I get that JetBlue has a lot of airplanes sitting on the ground now, but these routes hardly seem worth unparking an airplane for. JetBlue has decided to rapidly accelerate the growth in LA markets that it expected to unfold over several years. It’s adding some other very odd long-haul markets as well. I really don’t like this plan.
Here are all the long-haul routes that JetBlue is going to start up. If they have a plus sign, they start November 19. If not, they start December 18.
- +Los Angeles – Cancun: 2x daily A320
- Los Angeles – Charleston (SC): 1x daily A320
- Los Angeles – Liberia (CR): Wednesdays on A320, Saturdays on Mint A321
- Los Angeles – Raleigh/Durham: 1x daily A320
- Los Angeles – Richmond: 1x daily A320
- Los Angeles – San Jose (CR): 1x daily A321neo
- +Los Angeles – West Palm Beach: 1x daily Mint A321
- Fort Lauderdale – Bozeman: Wednesday/Saturday on A320 (holidays only)
- Fort Lauderdale – Palm Springs: Thursday/Sunday on A320
- Las Vegas – Richmond: 1x daily A320
- +San Francisco – Cancun: 2x daily A320
I have to start this out by saying that I don’t REALLY hate the Bozeman flight if it really is just over the holidays. That wasn’t mentioned in the release, but it’s how I see it filed. So, for such a short period, fine. But if it grows beyond that, I don’t like it. Fort Lauderdale – Palm Springs? Ooof. That is a market that doesn’t exist. Even combined with Miami and West Palm it’s 30 people a day with limited stimulation potential. This seems like a real stretch.
The rest, however, well, I have varying degrees of dislike. There are some that I might like on an A220 or as a redeye to better utilize existing aircraft, but not one of these flights is a redeye save LA to San Jose (CR). And the A220s aren’t here yet. Case in point: something like Richmond to Vegas is born to be a redeye, but instead it’s a morning westbound with an afternoon return. Maybe it works — it’s Vegas after all — but it still feels like a stretch.
LA to Richmond and Charleston… those are pretty thin routes, though I was surprised to see in 2019 that Richmond took 111 people per day (Charleston is 93). Still, JetBlue doesn’t like connecting traffic, and it has few if any connecting options here anyway. With one flight a day, JetBlue won’t carry all the traffic in that market, so it’s going to be light. With an A220 with fewer seats… well, then it might be interesting. That is undoubtedly the plan for the long run, but is this really the time to be flying a bunch of empty A320s around, losing money?
Ok, ok, that’s the entire airline industry business plan right now, but you get my point.
LA to West Palm is maybe slightly better than this except that JetBlue is flying a Mint aircraft. That’s a lot of premium seats. Sure, there might be some people that like that — there’s certainly plenty of money in that area — but with multiple flights a day from Fort Lauderdale offering Mint, JetBlue has likely already cornered that market. This just diverts the traffic away from its primary focus city.
The rest of these routes are bigger but highly competitive. Take Cancun. United flies from SF once or twice a day along with once a day from LA. Delta flies it twice daily from LA, and who knows what the Mexican carriers will do. American and Southwest already pulled the rip cord from LA during good times, yet here is JetBlue thinking twice a day (again, no redeye) will work from both markets. To me, it seems far more likely that people in LA will fly to the West Coast of Mexico than to Cancun in the medium term if they’re willing to go at all.
Raleigh/Durham… yes, I get it. JetBlue wants to win there if Delta is going to fail to put up a fight. But LA is a market where there’s already flights on Delta and American to scoop up the demand, and most of that RDU- and LA-based traffic is likely to stick with American or Delta unless JetBlue makes itself a lot cheaper.
The same goes for Liberia and San Jose. They are moderate-sized markets — or at least they will be when Costa Rica decides to allow Californians in again — but there is competition which is more likely to attract the LA traveler. You have service from both Delta and Alaska in those markets, to varying degrees. Avianca carries connections via San Salvador, and Volaris has flown San Jose in the past. Presumably it will happen again someday. JetBlue just doesn’t have that customer base to be a big draw.
To sum things up, if JetBlue just drew a circle around the East Coast and Caribbean, I’d like the chance the airline is taking. Everything outside that circle? Well, that’s a whole lot of flying in markets that are going to be very hard to fill.