The Northeast Alliance (NEA) between American and JetBlue was supposed to do a lot to solve American’s troubles in the New York City area as a distant competitor behind Delta and United. Part of this plan was bolstering the domestic network, but one of the more visible pieces was the rapid expansion of American’s transatlantic flying.
Back in 2019, American flew from New York/JFK to Barcelona, London/Heathrow, Madrid, Milan/Malpensa, and Paris/CDG with Rome in the summer only. London was the mainstay of the operation, primarily because of the joint venture with British Airways. The same could be said for Barcelona and Madrid since Iberia is part of the joint venture as well. Milan and Paris are, well, they’re just key markets that American apparently needed to serve. And Rome? Well, Rome in the summer is just an easy one to fill.
With the NEA, American expanded. It added Delhi, Doha, and Tel Aviv as year-round flights. It also threw in Athens as a summer-only operation. Though there was a lot more happening in the domestic world, these flights were the headliners that were meant to show the world that the NEA was good for competition.
In reality, JFK has been a terrible struggle for American for ages. It was hopeful that the partnership with JetBlue would not only make these new routes viable but also help improve performance on existing routes.
Summer is the easiest time to make money in these markets, so I looked at the winter. Specifically, I looked at ARC/BSP data from Cirium for January through March 2023 to see how the NEA had come together in these markets.
During that period, it looks like just over 6 percent of people flying on American over the Atlantic had at least one connecting segment on JetBlue. That may sound like a small number, but it’s good for around 250 people a day.
There is pretty wide variance between the cities here. Take a look.
Traffic Breakdown on American JFK Transatlantic Flights – January to March 2023
I left out Athens and Rome, obviously, since we are looking at winter when they mostly don’t operate. It is unsurprising to see JetBlue’s contribution be smallest in London/Heathrow where it’s all about British Airways. Still, 4 percent of those travelers touch JetBlue which is more than I would have guessed, especially since JetBlue operates its own London flights.
At the other end, we have Barcelona which had a whopping 10 percent of travelers touching JetBlue. Doha, of course, stands out in that there is almost no local traffic. That’s because the bulk of this traffic (nearly 60 percent) is connecting on to Qatar Airways beyond Doha. That means it’s a New York-centric market, as much as Paris is. As for Paris, it may be largely local because it’s much easier to connect there via other American hubs.
Regardless of all the individual details, you can see that JetBlue is not insignificant here. Let’s put that into even more perspective. The Doha flight is the clear load factor winner with over 88 percent of seats filled. Tel Aviv followed at almost 84 percent. Nothing else was above 80 percent. What’s that tell us? It means there are seats to fill. And without that JetBlue feed, it gets harder to fill those seats.
I think it’s helpful to put some of this in context here versus American and United.
% Local Originating Traffic on Competitive NYC Transatlantic Markets – January to March 2023
American, by nature, has to take more local traffic in New York. It doesn’t have the connecting hub that Delta has at JFK/LaGuardia or United has in Newark. That’s why in the majority of these markets, you see American with a higher percentage of traffic that starts or ends in New York.
London is a clear outlier here, and that’s really because so much traffic is connecting beyond London on to partner British Airways. The BA partnership is what really enables American to be in that market, though with Q1 loads under 60 percent, it’s hard to even call that a success. It’s more like a strategic necessity.
You’ll notice Delta’s unusually strong position in Milan as well. I wonder if that may be due to corporate contracts, but I don’t know. And Tel Aviv is another outlier. But overall, you can see the pattern. American is heavily reliant on the local New York traveler, but the flights really benefit from that JetBlue feed.
With that feed presumably going away, it makes it even harder for American to fill those seats. That means more discounting and worse results. Is it worth it for American to keep flying them? That’s going to be a strategic decision, not one based on actual economic performance.
Of course, London doesn’t go anywhere, but all the rest are up for grabs. If American decides it needs to be a player in New York, then it will need to keep some of these, like Paris. But others can go away and not have that same negative impact on an overall New York presence.
There’s a lot more to be said on this topic over the coming months. American really has to figure out if it wants to stick with a New York strategy or move on. Maybe it will defer its decision until after the NEA appeal is heard, but I would not be surprised at all to see some of these long-haul flights get pulled down as the already meager connecting feed dwindles.