Long Beach Can Add More Flights Because JetBlue Left

JetBlue

The Long Beach Airport noise ordinance is far from straightforward, but it has coveted grandfathered status which allows it to continue to restrict traffic at the airport while most other airports cannot. Now, the airport has informed the city council that it will add 5 more daily flights to the mix, and it’s pretty much entirely because JetBlue is gone. Allow me to explain…

The noise ordinance allows for 41 permanent daily air carrier slot pairs at the airport along with 25 daily commuter slots. (The commuter slots are for aircraft under a certain weight, translating into any 50 seaters, most larger turboprops, and the CRJ-700 qualifying. But nobody uses them currently, so we will just ignore them.)

The 41 slots are not meant as a ceiling but rather as a baseline. The point of the noise ordinance is to limit noise to be at or below the levels allowed in the noise bucket. If the noise is far enough below that limit, then more slots can be added.

For many years, the number stayed at 41, and for nearly 20 years, those were dominated by JetBlue. JetBlue tried a ton of different schedule configurations as it grasped over and over to make the airport profitable for the airline. Its last gasp was to try to get a customs facility, but the city shot that down. JetBlue was left squatting on slots and just hoping it could find a way to not lose money at the airport.

Then the airport started flexing the muscles of the noise ordinance rules. In December 2015, it announced the noise budget would allow the airport to add 9 new daily slots to make an even 50. This was the opening Southwest had waited for, so it put its hat in the ring. It received 4 of the slots, and that was the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent. With JetBlue still squatting and underutilizing slots, Southwest was able to temporarily borrow them per airport rules, so it kept growing.

JetBlue decided to mount a defense. It ramped up its slot usage significantly in early 2017, trying to cut Southwest off. This is where our story really begins. This data below says it all.

Operations and Noise Violations at Long Beach Airport

Data via Cirium

JetBlue’s efforts to ramp up didn’t work for the airline, but it also resulted in an operational mess. There are reductions in noise allowances between 10pm and 11pm but then it gets much more strict from 11pm to 7am. JetBlue, with its poor operation, repeatedly violated noise rules and got itself into hot water. The community was angry, but that was nothing new. JetBlue had been doing this for so long that it came to a special settlement that required it to pay money to the city libraries every time it broke the rules.

JetBlue ran this higher level operation through August of 2018 before pulling back down again and returning to squatting on slots. You can see what that did for violations overnight. But the slot-squatting finally became too much to stand. In December 2018, the airport announced airlines had to better utilize their slots or they’d lose them permanently. JetBlue decided to just fly its smaller schedule and give back the slots it had to return. In April 2019, Southwest was able to put those to good use and grow more.

Meanwhile, the airport continued to do its annual noise study, and in December 2019, it said it could add another 3 daily flights, going up to 53 daily. That lookback period had covered the time after JetBlue reduced its flying. With fewer violations, the airport acted and added more.

Of course, when the pandemic hit, nobody needed all those slots anyway. But for JetBlue, this was the end of the line. JetBlue’s final departure from Long Beach happened on October 6, 2020. Southwest was then able to double its presence overnight. Since that time, noise violations have virtually disappeared as Southwest has respected the limits and scheduled flights properly. The two airlines could not have acted more differently in this regard, and this has now paid dividends for Southwest.

In a recently-released memo to the Long Beach City Council, airport director Cynthia Guidry announced the airport would add 5 more daily slots. The noise review was completed internally and by two separate consulting firms for the period of October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2022. I’ll lift this chart showing just how far under the noise budget the airport has been at the two main “remote monitoring terminal” stations.

via City of Long Beach

You can read the memo for full details, but what this shows is that the airport has not just snuck under the top of the noise bucket but rather it is WAY under.

At first, I was surprised to see flights added. After all, the airport still hasn’t fully recovered from the pandemic, and so I figured the noise from air carriers was likely misleadingly low. But that’s why the airport was actually pretty conservative here.

The initial study said the airport should add 6 daily slots. The peer review of that data said that the number should be between 5 and 7 daily. The airport went on the low end and decided 5 was the right number.

There’s no real reason to think this will somehow blow up the noise budget, but of course, if it does, then the airport will take slots back. There’s a reason these supplemental slots are only given for one year at a time. Considering how much room is left in the noise bucket, it seems unlikely that these additions will have a big impact… unless some airline decides to start blowing through the curfew all the time to spike the numbers.

If JetBlue were still in the market, that would seem like a foregone conclusion. But none of the airlines in the market today are going to run an operation like that. Or at least, they aren’t going to schedule their flights to allow a poor operation to ruin everything.

So now, the airport goes out to the airlines to see who wants them. My guess is that it’s Southwest, Southwest, and Southwest.

Technically, there are 5 airlines on the waiting list.

  1. Breeze Airways
  2. Swoop
  3. American Airlines
  4. Hawaiian Airlines
  5. Southwest Airlines

Breeze had other slots that it never used, instead opting to use the slots it picked up in Orange County. It seems unlikely it will want these.

I suppose Swoop is a possibility, and if Swoop really wanted to fly in the market, it could get 2 slots. American just gave back a slot, so it can’t be interested. And Hawaiian seems pretty content with its 2 slots, though I’m pretty sure everyone would be happy to see the airline take more.

Regardless of who benefits, they can all thank JetBlue for walking away. The vastly improved operation at the airport that followed JetBlue’s departure allowed opportunity for more flights to come right on in.

50 comments on “Long Beach Can Add More Flights Because JetBlue Left

  1. Another LGB article. Oh Joy. Yes, I know I don’t have to read it. Perhaps we could get a warning the day before so we can skip this site the next day.

    1. I thought it was interesting and well written. I like the data orientated approached used here, and it shows some real operational differences between two competing businesses.

      Have you considered asking for a refund of the $0 you spent to read the article?

      1. I agree. I appreciate articles on the business decisions, policies & politics, that go into the decision making at airports, airlines and related areas. Thanks for doing the research.

    2. Allan – Yes, this is a great idea. I will set up an email to be sent every day that says “there might be a post tomorrow and it might have something to do with Long Beach.” That way you can be sure to never read the blog just in case LGB gets mentioned while also maximizing the amount of time you waste trying to avoid posts about Long Beach. Sound good?

    3. Literally the first two words of the title are “Long Beach.” What did you think this was going to be about?

  2. Sounds like what you’re really saying here is that Southwest isn’t supporting the Long Beach library system nearly as much as JetBlue did, and as a result the airport will allow Southwest to run even more flights than before. Got it. ;-)

    (I kid, but that’s one very biased way to view it.)

    1. Kilroy – It’s funny, because I almost mentioned something along those lines. Our local branch has been closed for a few months and only allows scheduled pickup instead of entering the building. Curse you, Southwest.

      1. Hahaha. I’m glad that my “summary” of the post was taken in the way I hoped it would be.

        Who knows, maybe Southwest will really double down and not only not support the Long Beach library system like JetBlue did, but even go so far as to “borrow” items and “forget” to return them (gasp!).

        Would they get even more slots if they did that? Hopefully we won’t have to find out.

    2. This sounds very much like the kind of news title you read when playing SimCity…
      Local library losts funding as airline is runing too good an operation that avoids penalty.

    1. Hopefully there will be more nonstops to Southwest focus cities like AUS, DAL, HOU, ATL, MDW, MCO as well as BWI. We really don’t need a zillion flights to LAS and Northern California.

  3. Is there a window of opportunity for anyone else interested to put in a request before these 5 are awarded and if so how quickly a new entrant would have to start service?

    1. CraigTPA – Yep, anyone can still submit to become a new entrant. Once slots are awarded, they have to begin flying within 90 days.

      One other interesting thing I learned here is that Swoop has declined its offer of slots twice now, but it remains on the waitlist. But since it declined, it is now not considered a new entrant, so it would get 1 slot in sequence just like any other incumbent. But, let’s say… I dunno, Sun Country, decided it wanted to fly to LGB. It can submit that interest now if it wants.

      1. So you can be offered slots, decline them yet still remain on the waiting list?

        1. Bill – Yep, but even more insane than that, you can actively give up slots (like American just did) and still remain on the waitlist.

          1. Lol gotta love government! And if you think the feds are bad, just dive into a bit of city, county, municipality level governments in order to make your head really explode!

  4. I’m sure All the Southwest haters will chime in soon with the usual dribble of We miss JetBlue and it’s Nonstop flight to NYC Ect ect. And theirs no way Southwest is making money at LGB. I’m sure it’s safe to say WN LGB operation in thriving and on par with the other LA Basin airports for profitability.
    Will WN use these 5 slots for just more frequencies of existing destinations or will it add new ones like BWI,MCI,SEA,PDX or Make MSY daily. Tends are showing WN passengers booking travel into LA or OC now search LGB because of its hassle free to environment. All the Haters fail to understand WN offers LGB 10 times the destinations available than JetBlue ever did at its peak. With Breeze now at SNA the 2024 allocation will have yet another airline grabbing at Orange County’s slots further dwindling down WN to its 41 permanent slots there.
    So LGB a nice back fill to OC is even more important to Southwest.

  5. Based on the report, there are five different noise budgets: Air Carrier, Commuter, Industrial, Charter, and General Aviation. This leaves out one important category: Military. While Long Beach does not get many military flights, these are by far the noisiest on a per-flight basis (especially the F/A-18). Are military flights at LGB not subject to the noise ordinance?

    Also, what is the Industrial category? Does this refer to flights by the Douglas plant?

    1. Ron – Correct on industrial, but that isn’t a thing anymore since there is no aircraft manufacturing on property since the C-17 plant closed.

      For military, there is no noise budget. They can do whatever they want, whenever they want by law.

      1. Not that this matters, but did flights for Gulfstream’s LGB facility count as industrial? Or when Virgin Orbit had the 747 here? (not that it was constantly flying)

        1. Brendan – I don’t really know. That was for interior outfitting, so it wasn’t actual construction of the aircraft… but I dunno. Moot point now, of course.

          The Virgin Orbit 747 still will come and go, but I don’t see how that would be industrial at all. I don’t know for sure though.

    2. Your description brought back the memory about 10 years ago at CMH. A fighter jet (I don’t recall the model) was just moving on the tarmac near the terminal and the entier terminal building was vibrating.

  6. Curious why Alaska/Horizon hasn’t been interested? Realize its kinda moot now with where their fleet is headed but it feels like they could have done a lot with those commuter slots and their Q400s & CR7s there in past years.

    1. Sam – Alaska used to have a big presence here long, long ago. It then tried again in more recent times, but it did very, very poorly. I do think it’s strange that Alaska wouldn’t try again with an E75, if for no other reason than to make Southwest think twice about entering the market. When Alaska did it last, JetBlue was in there with low, low fares. Alaska’s performance was awful, but it is a different world now.

    2. QX’s Q400 couldn’t use the commuter slots as at 76 seats they didn’t fit under the seat limit and quiet possibly the weight limit of the slots. It is the same at SNA. I wish both airports would raise the commuter slot seat count to 76, but am pretty sure a snowball in hell has a better chance of surviving than that happening.

      1. Greg – Not the case in Long Beach. The only rule is that max takeoff weight has to be under 75,000 pounds. The Q400 fits that just fine.
        Alaska didn’t use that, because it couldn’t fly that far up to Seattle. It went mainline and then did use the CRJ-700s when those came out. But if anyone wants to come in with Q400s, those 25 commuter slots are all theirs.

        1. Thanks for the correction. Thought I remember reading somewhere that LGB had a seat cap as well. Chalk that up to having old brain.

      1. Nick – I don’t think so, but I suppose that would be a good way to do it if they actually wanted to enter the market!

  7. After following CF’s LGB posts for like a decade, I used LGB earlier this week for the first time for a business trip. LAX normally takes 1-1.5 hours to get a rental car after a shuttle and lines but LGB only took a few minutes. There were other charms for being a small airport as well. Definitely coming back.

    1. Why doesn’t ONT do better, and Breeze, can you fly to Oxnard? I would do ANYTHING to avoid LAX. At least ORD has most of it’s delays during bad weather, the constant gridlock around LAX, the 405 and 10 are impossible. Burbank is a fun airport so fortunately there are plenty of ways to avoid LAX.

  8. Great article. I live under the approach path to runway 30 in Huntington Beach and I can say with certainty that since JetBlue left and Southwest took those slots, there have been far fewer late night awakenings from commercial aircraft going Into KLGB after the curfew. JetBlue never respected the airports noise ordinance and curfews because they didn’t care. JetBlue has always had aspirations to be the next big airline and it was just a matter of time before they left LGB for LAX. Southwest treats the airport as a partner and not a stepping stone which is good the noise bucket and community.

    1. JetBlue wasn’t necessarily always going to leave LGB, but it was clear the residents of the city didn’t want them to succeed there. B6 spent years and millions trying to lobby the city to build an FIS facility, and when it failed, it was the last straw. They tried multiple strategies to make it work and hemmorhaged cash for 20 years before finally calling it quits.

      1. JetBlue made it well known during the failed attempt to Merge with Virgin America it’s was going to withdraw its Focus city at LGB in favor of building up VX LAX,SFO and LAS western hubs. LGB was just going to be wind down to just 3 or 4 markets. But AlaskaAir killed that plan. With not having a real path to make LGB work the last ditch effort was try and get LGB to add FIS to the airport. But JetBlue burnt its bridges so many times with curfew violations the Airport and the community weren’t behind that investment. It Took a radical new city council to lure WN into the airport by following the noise allocation rules. If JetBlue didn’t squat on so many slots the noise levels wouldn’t have been Low enough to allow supplemental flights to bring WN in the first place. I flew JetBlue a lot out of LGB and loved it mostly because the flights were never full so it was easy to get good seats.

        1. Jaison – Just a few corrections and some color to add here…. The rejection of the FIS was not due to burnt bridges. Southwest could try that today and it would get shot down as well. This was the result of a well-organized local group that was built to scare the hell out of anyone who dared suggest that anything at the airport might be a good plan. They passed out yard signs with A340s on them, threatening massive growth and frequent China flights. (Because, why not throw some good ole’ xenophobic racism into the mix, right?) They were well-connected, having one leader who was a former councilmember. And in the end, they got the council to refuse to even talk to JetBlue and study whether it was a good idea. It was all rather shameful.

          But let’s also not give any credit to the city council for Southwest coming to the airport. The council had nothing to do with it at all. Southwest had discussions with the airport director, and it is solely the airport director that is permitted (actually required) to add slots depending upon noise bucket performance. The council deserves no credit at all.

          1. Thanks for the clarification on the folklore of how it all actually went down. You are Mr LGB after all.
            Question these supplemental slots are first come first serve right? Or Dose LGB give airlines on the waiting list notice of availability and then wait 7-10 days to award them based on application submitted through the lottery system they have in place?
            I ask because WN still has yet to announced what it’s using it’s 40th slot is being used for. With their next schedule extension on December 15 I was just wondering if WN could be awarded the additional 5 slots before the summer schedule release.

            1. Jaison – There’s a whole process they go through on this. There are the airlines on the waitlist, but then others can ask to be added. If they are existing airlines, they’d just go to the bottom of the waitlist. New entrants have a sort of special place where they get 2 slots to start service (if available). I would doubt that Southwest will have clarity on the slots it will get before the next extension.

      2. JetBlue succeeded for many years at LGB. It wasn’t until they wanted to expand beyond the well known limits of LGB that they left. The FIS was and never will happen, for anyone to entertain that idea just shows their ignorance of LGB and how its noise ordinance works, JetBlue included.

        1. Ross – This comment shows your ignorance of how the noise ordinance works.
          An FIS is unrelated to the noise ordinance is every way. The noise ordinance is solely about noise, not where the airplanes go after departing.

  9. This article is fantastic, as it highlights how Southwest was able to get into the market of yet another smaller airport. I’m curious if someone’s ever done an analysis of Southwest’s dominance in inter-California flying. California seems to be Southwest’s most dominant market, with it serving four Norcal airports (SFO,SJC,OAK,SMF) and 6 Socal ones (LAX,BUR,ONT,LGB,SNA,SAN). Southwest also is the dominant carrier in nearby airports such as RNO, LAS and PHX. The sheer dominance of Southwest in this part of US seems unmatched by any other carrier. Also many of these airports, with the exception of LAS and PHX primarily serve short-haul point-to-point flying.

    These airports while dominated by Southwest, function differently from it’s hubs, with the heavy focus on point-to-point traffic. LGB is a perfect example of that. While it does have service to Southwest “hubs” beyond, such as BNA, DEN, and MDW, those are only a handful of flights a day. The bulk of the flying is multiple frequencies to Norcal and nearby Southwest-dominated airports. Southwest has built a very strong reputation in California and the adjacent states, allowing it to gradually increase it’s area of dominance. The moves into Hawaii made perfect sense, as they have an extremely strong customer base in California. With the loyalty they have built with California flyers, expansion into LGB was also relatively easy for them. Southwest is also expanding its existing “hubs” in the Mountain time zone, with it’s flying challenging AA’s Phoenix hub, and UA’s Denver hub. With this, Southwest has essentially built a swath of dominance stretching from California to Texas.

    1. I agree, they’ve really closed ranks around California and dominating the “secondary” airport is a key piece of that puzzle. Would love to see market share data on some of the more common routes, by each airport, etc.

      But this has been the case for a while. I was in California in the early 2000s and remember trying not to fly WN but had no choice for trips like SAN-SJC.

      Seems the right time to point out that, yes, I even used LGB for a day trip to PHX on America West.

  10. This is the legacy of LGB…trash yields…period. Not even Frontier or allegiant want anything to do with it…what does that tell you? The only winner here is Jetblue for being real and scramming out of arguably one of the worst managed airports. Looking at the yield data, I can’t imagine how Southwest is happy with the leaping dung of revenue jetblue left for them.

    1. Dartagnan – Not sure why you think it’s one of the worst managed airports.
      The airport is what it is, and management is hamstrung by the noise ordinance and city council anyway. The low yields are a function of geography more than anything else… but about that.

      Your characterization of yields is not really accurate any longer, at least on the routes that are most mature. For example, look at Southwest average

  11. Thank you for a well written article. I do not shed a tear for jetblue deserting Long Beach. I pretty much fly swa for domestic flights and what a difference in having to fly out of lgb vs lax. Early in my travel hacking I had gotten both the jetblue/plus credit cards I do not mourn the healthy stash of points I have accumulated

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