How LaGuardia Changed for American and JetBlue With the Northeast Alliance

American, JetBlue, LGA - New York/La Guardia

As we all wait to figure out whether the Northeast Alliance (NEA) between American and JetBlue will survive in some form after last month’s devastating ruling, I decided to take a look at just how the airlines’ networks have been transformed thanks to the partnership. Today I’m starting with New York’s LaGuardia Airport where some of the most notable changes have been made.

Overall, we know that American took many of is poorly-used slots and leased them to JetBlue, allowing that airline to gain a larger foothold in a market where it barely existed before. At the same time, American repurposed its remaining capacity to complement JetBlue. For the most part, JetBlue could focus on the leisure markets or those with low fares and less premium cabin demand. American could work more in the business markets where a traditional product was more valued.

Dividing up New York like this was a major reason for the judge’s ruling against the NEA, but it’s also what American and JetBlue argue made it customer-friendly. So, let’s explore the changes.

I looked at Cirium schedule data for July 2023 and compared it to July 2019 for both airlines. Using Great Circle Mapper, I’ve compiled the changes which we’ll walk through below.

Let’s start by looking at the markets that had American service in summer 2019 but don’t have service from either airline today.

Markets previously flown by American and not flown by either today map generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

The largest of these markets is Philadelphia, and that is a good thing. Philly was an easy way for American to squat on slots when it had no better use for them. Now, with the addition of more Transatlantic flying from JFK, what little feed there was via Philly became even less important. There was a better use for those slots.

Jackson Hole is an outlier in that it was only flown on Saturdays when the perimeter didn’t apply. It was probably more of a novelty than anything. The other markets are low yield, mostly leisure markets that just don’t fit in a world where you aren’t just trying to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find demand.

The next set of markets are those that American also exited, but these are markets where JetBlue ramped up.

Markets exited by American but ramped up by JetBlue map generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Boston, Nantucket, Orlando, and West Palm were already served by JetBlue but they all saw increases (though admittedly, West Palm saw very little increase). All but Boston are those leisure markets that JetBlue is better suited to serve. Boston is more about creating a more consistent shuttle-style product that always comes and goes to the same locations in each airport. First Class doesn’t matter much on that short hop, but consistency is important.

The other markets were all abandoned by American and picked up by JetBlue. Other than Atlanta, the rest of these all fit into that leisure bucket where JetBlue is a good fit. In Atlanta, I honestly don’t know what’s going on there. I don’t think American did well there before, and Delta owns that market. Maybe the idea was that JetBlue could perform a little better with more capacity and lower unit costs.

Not on this map is Fort Lauderdale. It wasn’t served by American before, but JetBlue jacked up existing seats levels by nearly 50 percent. Presumably this was a market JetBlue wanted to serve before but just didn’t have the slots to devote until now.

The next group of markets are those that were only served by American before, and that continues to be the case now. These, however, all have fewer seats than before the NEA.

Markets still only served by American but now with fewer seats map generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Notice that American’s hubs all fall into this bucket. Why? With more of a focus on serving the local market in New York than before, it stands to reason that less connecting capacity might be needed. Those slots could be better used for other markets to provide local value instead of connecting options.

The other cities impacted are shorter-haul markets that tend to be more business-focused, but I suppose American doesn’t think it needs as much capacity as it had previously.

The next group of markets are those that also were only served by American before and continue to be served only by American. The difference is that these markets all have more capacity.

Markets still only served by American but now with more seats map generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

To be clear, many of these saw very small increases. Those that gained more than 1,000 seats in the month were Asheville, Cincinnati, Greensboro, Indianapolis, Memphis, Montréal, St Louis, Toronto, and Washington/National. Most of these are primarily due to upgauging from 50-seaters pre-NEA to 70/76-seaters after.

Next up we have the new markets that American entered that weren’t served by either airline previously.

New American markets map generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

These are additional business-focused markets that tend to be longer-haul than most other markets. The one exception to this rule is Hilton Head which might seem better under JetBlue but it can’t handle aircraft that big. Remember, American’s short-haul fleet was primarily on single-class 50-seaters before the NEA. Most of these are longer flights that would have been miserable on the 50-seater.

It’s just the next tier of flights where American thinks it can make a dent in Delta’s dominance now. In theory JetBlue’s New York presence should help American to sell enough on these flights to make them profitable, but I’m not convinced that JetBlue really adds all that much value.

The last group of markets are those that are new for JetBlue.

New JetBlue markets map generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Most of these were unserved by American before. The only exception is Nashville which continues to be served by both. All of the rest of these markets were already served by JetBlue from JFK, so this is just making it more convenient to those in Manhattan.

The amount of change in this airport is fairly staggering. The range of destinations has changed with 7 low-yield leisure spots out at American and 7 other markets in at JetBlue. The bigger change is the shifting of capacity between airlines for that matter, fleets. Take a look.

July 2023 vs July 2019 American and JetBlue Departures by Fleet

Data via Cirium

Before the NEA, a quarter of the combined American/JetBlue departures were on 50-seaters with 22 percent on 70/76 seaters. Now the 50s are gone and it’s 42% on the larger regionals.

Meanwhile, larger narrowbodies (excluding the Embraer 190) now make up 47 percent, up from 33 percent before.

Is this a good change or not? The law apparently doesn’t care, but you can see why American and JetBlue tried to make the argument that this was good for travelers.

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17 comments on “How LaGuardia Changed for American and JetBlue With the Northeast Alliance

  1. Either my browser cache is doing funky things or LGA is now in continental Europe based on the home page photo (Android phone using Chrome).

  2. Cranky – Great analysis, and very timely. It really helps the reader better understand the dynamics involved with the whole NEA effort. Many thanks.

    A few items as “food for thought:

    1) I find the fact that the entire “American Shuttle” operation (not just Boston) is now history to be fascinating (as I’ve mentioned on another comment thread), and I do wonder if the NEA is scuttled if that marketing nomenclature would make a comeback. (Recognizing that a “true” no-reservation/guaranteed-seat/no-assigned-seat/single-class-dedicated-fleet shuttle no longer exists on jetBlue, Delta or American – or anywhere, I believe!)

    2) As much as everyone here (likely) knows I hate it, the perimeter rule still lives and may be codified into New York State law by local elected officials who apparently think an A320’s or 737’s noise levels vary significantly depending on the destination and the day of the week. Sheesh. C’est la vie. I still think it should just be lifted and let the market decide how those slots get used. Either we are deregulated or not…

    3) LGA is not just more convenient to Manhattan (and specifically Midtown and everything north of it) – it is also more convenient for Westchester and Connecticut. I wonder if this plays into the list of destinations, especially considering that jetBlue has somewhat of a presence at HPN (with much Florida service served at HPN)?

    Again – great piece! Analyses like this one are why I enjoy the Cranky Flier so much. Thanks.

    1. The offering from Jetblue lga-bos is pretty sub par and feels more like a bus than a business oriented offering. Flying American was akin to a shuttle- show up get get on whatever flight was leaving. Now there’s little incentive for frequent flyers to codeshare on that route and most bos bound new yorkers are opting now for Delta, since there’s no benefit for us AA loyalists.

    2. About 3, up until recently, LGA is definitely more convenient than JFK for those living in Westchester and west CT. The recent introduction of LIRR from Grand Central to Jamaica station, however, makes JFK much more convenient for those traveling to the city via MetroNorth train. $5 for a 17 min train is much more confy than the hour long 6 to E subway ride. The M60-SBS to LGA bus at the 125 St train station is prone to traffic and congestion. The $5 LIRR ride makes the $8 AirTrain looking even more ridiculous though.

  3. One minor correction if you don’t mind, and I know I’m being picky, but American has no 70 seat regional jets. It only has 65 and 76 seaters (along with a few 79 seaters that were grandfathered in).

    If I understand the DOJ’s argument (based on its presentation slides) and the judge’s ruling correctly (and I would appreciate being corrected if I don’t), American and JetBlue can continue to implement the changes they’ve made, but may only do it via a codeshare and slot leasing arrangement. What was apparently struck down was the level of coordination the NEA embodied, not the basic arrangement or result. Since the necessary proprietary information is now known by both JetBlue and American, this is a case of closing the barn door after the horse has left. Maybe I’m wrong.

    1. One minor correction to myself, American also has 50 seat regional jets. AND… a compliment for an excellent analysis.

    2. Ghost – The bigger issue is that they would no longer be allowed to share revenue. That is what would likely result in this being unwound. For example, if American can’t get half the revenue on Boston – LaGuardia, it’s going to have to start flying it again. That’s just the most glaring issue, but it will absolutely require a change if the ruling is not overturned on appeal.

      1. Rhetorical questions: Will the lack of revenue sharing be that big a deal in the long run? If each carrier can grow its own revenue from the added value a code share and the better use of valuable assets brings, isn’t that enough? I have no clue.

        American is in an odd position in New York. That isn’t news. I’m not sure American would bring back its LaGuardia-Boston service, but that’s just speculation. I’m thinking (maybe incorrectly) that Boston to Washington may be more important for American than Boston to LaGuardia, since DCA is a major American hub. There’s no lack of service between Boston and New York, especially since Amtrak is relatively competitive there. I’m guessing American is appealing the ruling to buy time as much as anything else. But, again, that’s just a guess. It’ll be interesting to see if JetBlue appeals. As of the time I’m writing this, JetBlue was still contemplating its response.

  4. tbh this is a fun little dilemma because both sides are correct here. yes, it made connections and service better, but it also gave the combined airlines disproportionate market power, which given the pricing trends (up) is never a good thing.

    Not sure how you balance this without going back to route approvals and price controls but that has its own issues.

  5. Just to put a stake in the ground, what percentage of all of this do you think gets unwound? A quarter? Half? More?

    I’m interested in how the leased slot arrangement works. This certainly doesn’t require the NEA, code sharing or any type of partnership whatsoever short of lease terms for the slots. Do we know what those are, both in terms of slots and cost? Neither a judge or the DOJ can’t unwind otherwise legally executed lease agreements.

    1. Sorry, dreaded typo alert. The above last sentence should have read, “Neither a judge nor the DOJ can unwind otherwise legally executed lease agreements.” Oh Brett, what I’d give for an edit button! ;-)

      1. Bill – I can give you an edit button, but then I need to make all commenters login to user accounts in order to leave a comment. So I figure most people would rather not have that.

    2. Bill – I have no idea since we don’t know if they’re going to win on appeal. Assuming that it dies, I would bet most of this gets unwound.
      They wouldn’t have to unwind a slot lease, but American might want to do that. I would assume there’s some mechanism for them to be able to do that if the NEA unwinds, but I don’t know the details.

      I think without coordination and revenue sharing, the best opportunity for American is to try to do an Alaska-style deal that would support all that new international flying it added at JFK. Without JetBlue’s feed, those flights probably die quickly.

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