As JetBlue prepares for its London launch next summer, the question on everyone’s lips is which destination will be next? With the incoming Airbus A321XLRs, JetBlue could easily reach most of western Europe, including the underserved market of Italy. CEO Robin Hayes has given some insight into how the airline will cope with seasonal destinations such as this.
The XLR will open new destinations
It was June last year when JetBlue announced it would be converting some of its Airbus A321 orders to the A321XLR. Following the unveiling of the type at the Paris Air Show, JetBlue made a splash by keeping its XLR order back until the very last minutes of the air show, causing quite a media stir.
It had been no big secret that the airline was interested in the type. It already had orders in for 26 of the A321LR, and once the XLR was officially announced, it converted 13 of these orders to the new, longer-range plane. While the A321LR was already pegged to be the plane that would take the carrier to London, the additional range of the XLR opened up a host of other European cities to JetBlue.
Speaking at a recent interview with Aviation Week, CEO of JetBlue Robin Hayes confirmed that London is just the first destination in Europe and that it won’t be the last. He said,
“London is the number one priority. That’s where the most demand is and that’s where the fares have been astronomically hiked for so long in business class. So we will focus on London, we will keep adding flights to London until we have had a permanent effect on bringing fares down significantly and creating excitement to fly again. But there are other markets in Europe.”
The question, however, is where is JetBlue looking next? Given its focus on affordable business class for the masses, one might think it would target a more leisure-focused destination, rather than going for the obvious Paris or Amsterdam business hub.
Where next for JetBlue?
When asked at the point of the XLR decision where these planes would be targeted, a spokesperson would only say that the airline “will explore European cities that suffer from high fares or mediocre service and those which are effectively controlled by legacy carriers and their massive joint ventures.”
That could be anywhere really, and could certainly ring true of a number of destinations on the European continent. Italy has been previously floated as a JetBlue target, but for the leisure traveler, it remains a highly seasonal market. Hayes sees this as not a challenge but actually an asset to an airline based in North America. He said,
“One of the advantages a US based carrier has is that there are a number of markets in Europe that work well in the summer, but they don’t necessarily work well in the winter. With an A321, whether it’s an LR or an XLR, what we can do is fly to Europe in the summer, and then we can point it south to the Caribbean or Latin America in the winter. So that allows that airplane to perform all year round.”
That could certainly ring true for Italian destinations, not to mention other summer sunspots such as Athens in Greece or even Barcelona in Spain. For Italy in particular, the passenger traffic potential is huge.
Research by Anna.aero shows that, from Rome Fiumicino, the US is the second most important destination for incumbent carrier Alitalia, operating in excess of 13,000 weekly seats in 2018. Of all the US destinations, JFK was the most popular, supporting almost 6,500 seats a week from Rome for that airline alone.
With Alitalia’s future uncertain, there could be a sizeable gap in the market between Rome and JFK. JetBlue could well step in to fill that gap as its XLRs begin to arrive, targeting the seasonal leisure market with its affordable premium product. Of course, this is just speculation at this stage, and we’ll all just have to bide our time until the next routes are announced.