JetBlue’s move out of Long Beach had been a long time coming. Despite two decades of operations, the inability to fly international and rows over slot-sitting saw the airline depart from the California airport for the last time last month. Now focusing on LAX, JetBlue’s CEO Robin Hayes has ambitions to more than triple its flights in the next five years.
JetBlue eyeing rapid ramp-up from LAX
JetBlue’s exit from Long Beach marked the end of 20 years of operations from the California airport. However, this was not a pandemic-induced pulling back from the market, rather an opportunistic hop into something more suitable for its future growth. The airline has moved its focus to the international airport at Los Angeles and is eyeing massive growth out of the city in future years.
Speaking at an interview with Aviation Week, CEO of JetBlue Robin Hayes noted the potential to more than triple its current offering at LAX, saying,
“We actually believe that there are probably opportunities to fly around 70 to 75 flights a day out of LAX by 2025, so that’s how we envisage our operation.”
While Hayes didn’t elaborate on what new services JetBlue fans could look forward to from LAX, we could likely see more domestic US connections as well as international service from the airport. When the airline was pushing for international at Long Beach, it floated destinations including Mexico and other Latin American locations, so it wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see these added in the future. Hayes noted his strategy, saying,
“It’ll be focused on our position points of strength. So, it’ll be focused on transcon, it’ll be focused on some of the East Coast markets that we have a strong following in, and, of course, Mint growth.”
With its new partnership with American Airlines on the horizon, the options for connections out of LAX will grow significantly. Despite the pandemic, JetBlue’s ambition to secure its future growth is stronger than ever.
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Long Beach brought JetBlue’s exit on itself
The growth in LAX could have been happening at Long Beach, which was historically JetBlue’s spiritual home on the West Coast. However, the City Council was unwilling to grant it the facilities it needed to continue to expand, putting the final nail in the coffin for the airline’s activities there. Hayes explained,
“We had a Long Beach base of operations for a long period of time. We had tried a few years ago to add international flights out of Long Beach that was voted down and not approved by the City Council.”
It was in 2017 that JetBlue’s hopes of expansion at Long Beach were dashed. The airline was ready to turn the airport into the heart of its West Coast operations, including international, but was denied permission to open a US Customs facility. Since then, the airline has cut flights from Long Beach significantly, claiming that the airport was financially underperforming in its network.
Now, with Long Beach closed, JetBlue’s West Coast focus is 100% on LAX. The airport will become a major contributor to JetBlue’s expansion in future years, as the carrier moves to gain more market share out of the prestigious international hub. Hayes said,
“Positioning ourselves in LAX, getting the cost savings that come with closing Long Beach, really sets us up for success in LAX. We’re never obviously going to be the size on the West Coast of some of our competitors, but there are a number of markets that we fly today to LAX that are … very successful, very profitable.”
Some might say that moving a low-cost airline to a high-cost airport like LAX is a bad move. However, JetBlue is no stranger to the airport, having moved just under two million passengers through the facility last year alone. It was the number seven carrier at the airport in 2019, well behind some of the incumbents, and is keen to grow that passenger share.
However, JetBlue sees LAX as a crucial focus city. The impact of the pandemic has only served to open more opportunities for growth there, as has the construction of the new Midfield satellite terminal, which will add 12 gates to the Tom Bradley International Terminal next year. Hayes commented,
“We’ve had it in our minds for a while to grow LAX. Our stopgap was just the availability of gates and infrastructure in LAX … During a pandemic, there’s those opportunities that you sometimes get. Most of what you’re doing is paying playing defense, but for an airline like JetBlue with a great brand, great culture, great people, and a low-cost structure, we get to play a bit of offence as well.”
While other airports in the region, such as Ontario or Burbank, would have offered a cheaper cost of operations and more space to JetBlue, they just don’t have the curb appeal of LAX. Passengers flying from Newark, Boston or JFK will be far more attracted to JetBlue’s services if they can fly directly to LAX. With the carrier’s inimitable and improving Mint product as an option, it looks set to secure significant transcon success on the West Coast as a result.