JetBlue has been teasing passengers about flights to London for a year now. The airline generated lots of buzz in 2019 about the flights, but they are yet to take off.
What JetBlue said last year about London flights
In April, JetBlue announced that it would start services from both New York and Boston to London in 2021. JetBlue stated it would use A321LRs on the routes. The news caught our attention for two reasons. First, JetBlue planned on using narrowbody aircraft on transatlantic routes and second, they planned on bringing a new and improved Mint class to London.
Two months later, at the Paris Air Show, JetBlue converted an order for A321LRs into A321XLRs. This sparked a fresh round of speculation about the airline’s plans at London and across wider Europe. The A321XLR’s advantage is that it has similar capabilities to widebody aircraft but at a substantially reduced cost.
The possibility of flying into multiple London airports
As the year passed, there was speculation about which London airport JetBlue would fly into. Simple Flying reported the news that JetBlue was looking at flying into multiple London airports. The choice will come down to factors like slot availability and inter-airline connections with partner carriers.
At London’s World Aviation Festival last September, JetBlue President and Chief Operating Officer Joanna Geraghty said;
“We are currently still considering four airport options: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton.”
JetBlue might be looking at alternatives to Heathrow. The airport is severely slot constrained and it costs tens of millions of dollars to get a slot pair. Will JetBlue spend that kind of money when there are alternatives like Gatwick?
Moving into 2020, JetBlue still hasn’t said what London airport or airports it intended to fly into. They also haven’t announced a firm start date for flights. That may be due to delays with A321LR deliveries from Airbus. JetBlue has had to lease aircraft to plug holes in its schedules to counter this.
JetBlue is expecting delivery of its first A321LR aircraft in 2021. Perhaps wisely, it is waiting to see the finished plane before announcing the start dates of its London flights.
A route ripe for disruption
JetBlue believes the highly competitive transatlantic market is overdue for disruption, particularly in the premium cabin. One of JetBlue’s core selling points is its competitive premium cabin fares. JetBlue’s CEO Robin Hayes said last September;
“[The transatlantic fares] are really obscene compared with the true cost of providing the offering.”
Apart from CEOs like Willie Walsh, it’s hard to see too many people disagreeing with that. But it won’t be easy for JetBlue to make a success of its proposed transatlantic routes. Transatlantic routes are extremely competitive. The New York – London route is the highest capacity commercial long-haul route in the world with more than 57,000 seats available each week.
While JetBlue’s Mint class attracts lots of attention and now there’s talk of the airline launching “mini-suites” on London flights, most passengers will be down the back. Will narrowbody aircraft be preferred over the roomier A350s and 747s? Even for those who get to travel up the front, will Mint class be enough to lure prospective passengers away from their favorite Polaris seat, their clutch of Avios points, or the Clubhouse at Heathrow?
Those premium class passengers JetBlue wants can be very rusted on.
None of which says JetBlue won’t succeed or the flights won’t happen. The airline has sensibly announced their London flights with a long lead-in time, giving themselves plenty of wriggle room for delays and contingencies. Whether JetBlue’s imminent arrival on transatlantic routes causes the shake-out some predict is debatable. But increased competition, more choice, and a decrease in fares on transatlantic routes is something a lot of passengers would relish.