Why JetBlue’s Network May Shrink After The Pandemic

When times are good, an airline has less incentive to try ‘risky’ routes out of their comfort zone. They mainly focus on their core and what they’re good at. It has been different since the pandemic struck, with JetBlue experimenting with routes that it wouldn’t typically operate to chase revenue. But most of these routes won’t be sticking around.

JetBlue A321
JetBlue’s Vice President of Network Planning has said that “a lot” of the carrier’s routes that started during the pandemic will not remain. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

JetBlue has added ~125 routes

JetBlue has added approximately 125 routes between early 2020 and the end of 2021. This includes a handful that will launch between now and the year-end, such as Boston and JFK to San Antonio and LaGuardia to Jacksonville and Savannah.

Seven in ten additions were domestic, notably from Newark, Miami, Los Angeles (replacing Long Beach), and Raleigh Durham. Multiple cross-country examples began, such as Hartford to Las Vegas and Los Angeles and West Palm Beach to Los Angeles.

There was a considerable focus on leisure-driven places like Austin, Bozeman, Charleston, Kalispell, Nantucket, and Savannah. People wanted to travel, especially to beaches and the mountains, and JetBlue’s network adapted to target that pent-up demand. It had to be sufficiently agile to adjust to the ever-changing picture and flex up and down when needed.

We have a good history of turning a crisis into an opportunity,” said Andrea Lusso, JetBlue’s Vice President of Network Planning, during World Routes in Milan. “COVID is the third time we’ve taken advantage of the situation to make inroads.”

JetBlue network additions since COVID
These have been added in 2020 and 2021. Some were short-lived and/or driven by the coronavirus relief fund, such as Albuquerque-Denver-Boston. Image: GCMap.

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36 international routes were added

Some 36 international routes were added across Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Highlights include London Heathrow and Gatwick from JFK and significant growth from Cancun. More international routes were added from Newark than anywhere else, including across the Caribbean and to Cartagena in Colombia.

The author’s personal favorite: JFK to Georgetown, Guyana. Inaugurated on December 11th, 2020, the 2,539 mile (4,086km) route is currently served four-weekly but will rise to seven-weekly from November and through 2022. It uses 200-seat A321neos. On the day of writing, B61965 will leave JFK at 16:30 and arrive in Guyana at 22:07 local time. Returning, B61966 will depart at 23:22 and arrive home at 05:09 the following day.

JetBlue Georgetown
JetBlue added JFK to Georgetown in December 2020. Photo: via JetBlue.

“A lot of routes won’t stick around”

The volume of routes came about from the crisis and were ultimately designed to chase revenue opportunities temporarily. Like Virgin Atlantic and most other airlines, JetBlue will gradually revert to its core, meaning these routes will be surplus to requirements. As Lusso said:

“We’ve expanded a lot – and a lot of routes won’t stick around. We’ll be going back to our roots and long-term plan again.”

Lusso particularly meant routes away from JFK, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, and other main airports in its network. What do you make of his comments?