JetBlue Bets On Gatwick As It Remains Shut Out Of Heathrow

JetBlue seems to have been denied its slot request at London Heathrow Airport (LHR). As the carrier moves closer to its anticipated start dates of the yet-to-be-announced London service, one thorn in the airline’s plan is that Heathrow is a heavily slot-controlled airport, and getting in is no easy feat. As the airline continues to push forward for slots, it appears to be looking at Gatwick as a viable alternative.

JetBlue A321neo
JetBlue remains shut out of Heathrow, but Gatwick is emerging as the most viable option for serving London. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

JetBlue’s slot allocations in London

The latest reports from Airport Coordination Limited (ACL) on London-area airports show that JetBlue was once again unsuccessful in getting slots at Heathrow. The airline sought to receive enough slots to run three daily transatlantic operations out of Heathrow. However, it did not receive any of those slots.

At Gatwick, JetBlue has received enough slots for a sole daily flight out of London’s Gatwick Airport (LGW) from August, which puts it in line with when the carrier hopes there will be greater demand for travel to and from the UK and when it wants to start its European operations. Though not as desirable of an airport to serve London like Heathrow is, LGW is still a respectable international airport. British Airways has historically offered transatlantic service out of LGW.

JetBlue A321neo
JetBlue can start with one daily flight to and from Gatwick, and it has enough slots to grow it to two daily flights in September, though only for approximately a month. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

However, while JetBlue will start with a sole daily flight, the airline will get a second daily slot at Gatwick for twice-daily or 14 weekly operations in September. It appears that number drops down to 12 weekly operations from late-October. Service to both New York-JFK and Boston remains on the cards, based on the reports.

Previously, JetBlue also received some slots at London Stansted Airport (STN). However, it appears that the carrier has forfeited the slots it received at STN. As STN primarily caters to low-cost travelers and is a known major Ryanair base, it does not appear that JetBlue is terribly keen on flying there. However, it represents some confidence from JetBlue that it can get slots at another London airport.

JetBlue London
JetBlue’s London flights are some of the most hotly-awaited ones for 2021. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

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There are still paths for JetBlue in London

Gatwick used to see a sizable number of long-haul operations to the United States when Norwegian was flying long-haul. With Norwegian out of the market and if it does not seek to retain all of its Gatwick slots, then JetBlue could negotiate for additional slot pairs. The airline only wants to start with a few daily transatlantic services, which is not a stretch.

There are still options for JetBlue at Heathrow. While the airline did not receive any permanent slots currently, that does not mean it could lose out entirely on flights to and from London. First, there is always the possibility of leasing slots from another airline.

Though expensive, it could allow JetBlue to get into the market. While leasing slots has happened before at Heathrow, it is not a permanent solution, and JetBlue could end up losing its Heathrow slots down the line.

JetBlue 321LR
If JetBlue wants to stick closely to a third-quarter launch, Gatwick might be the airport receiving JetBlue’s initial London services. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The next option would be to buy some slots at Heathrow off an airline. However, Heathrow slots come at a high cost, and it is unclear if the airline wants to shell out the tens of millions of dollars that a single slot pair can go for.

Heathrow is still an option, but it will take a lot more pushing from JetBlue. While the carrier has shown it is willing to put up a fight, its executives continue to believe there are paths for the airline to get slots at London-area airports.

Gatwick appears to be the strongest option

The timing surrounding when JetBlue wants to fly to London appears to favor Gatwick currently. The carrier does not have a lot of time left until it launches operations at Gatwick. It is targeting a late-summer, third-quarter launch for flights. With the first-quarter ending in a few days, there are just a few months before JetBlue wants to launch flights to London.

JetBlue A321neo
One thing that would hurt the carrier about getting into Heathrow is that it is using a small, lightly-packed aircraft instead of a large widebody. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

If that timeline remains incredibly important for JetBlue, Gatwick is seemingly the most viable option. Gatwick has lost much of its transatlantic service, and losing New York and Boston is certainly painful. JetBlue can try and negotiate with the airport for additional slots. It can tout its onward connections from Boston and New York to cities that have lost nonstop transatlantic service from Gatwick, such as Los Angeles or Seattle.

At its peak, JetBlue is already getting access to two daily flights. The airline could go back to the airport and push for another two daily flights to service both New York and Boston out of Gatwick with double-daily service using its premium Airbus A321LRs with a new Mint cabin.

Down the line, when the A321XLRs come in, JetBlue could even look at extending its Gatwick portfolio to include service from another base, like Fort Lauderdale, to Gatwick. However, the airline is not currently keen on widebodies, though it is bullish on its European prospects with narrowbodies.

JetBlue Mint
JetBlue’s new Mint suites and studios look like they will be one of the best products for a hop across the pond. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

If the airport is more important for JetBlue than the timing, it could hold out for Heathrow slots. There may be some competitors at Heathrow that no longer operate all their slots and thus may lose it, in which case JetBlue has the possibility of getting into Heathrow. Still, it will come at a premium cost and a possibly lengthy wait. JetBlue has tried to get the US government to put some pressure on the UK to open up more slots, but that appears to have been an unfruitful endeavor.

Competitors already smell some blood in the water. As JetBlue continues to hype up its London services and grow at home, United Airlines has announced it wants to fly from Boston to Heathrow, rubbing salt in JetBlue’s wound that it is currently unable to fly to Heathrow.

As for an announcement that remains solely in the hands of JetBlue, the airline could double down on Gatwick, set up the ground game, and announce at least a daily flight to Gatwick soon enough, or it could wait a little longer and continue to push for Heathrow. Ultimately, time will tell whether the airport or the launch date is more important for JetBlue.

Do you think JetBlue should double down at Gatwick or hold out for Heathrow? Let us know in the comments!

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