Let The Games Begin: Virgin Atlantic Readies For JetBlue Competition

JetBlue will be heading to the United Kingdom for the first time this summer. The New York-based carrier has secured slots for London Heathrow and could operate there as soon as the beginning of August. This service will be the first operation to Europe for the airline that has a record of disrupting the industry. Ahead of the big launch, Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss shared his thoughts about the new arrival. Altogether, the chief of the British operator is looking forward to the competition.

Virgin Atlantic Airbus A350-1041
There will soon be increased rivalry at New York JFK. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The industry cycle

When JetBlue commenced operations in February 2000, it quickly became a force to be reckoned with. Notably, it was the only operator to report a profit in the months that followed the 9/11 attacks and went on to grow its presence in several segments that were traditional strongholds of legacy carriers.

Now, JetBlue is looking to disrupt markets across the Atlantic Ocean. The likes of Virgin have had a grip on transatlantic operations for decades. However, like JetBlue, the Crawley, UK-based airline also broke through later than its veteran counterparts and challenged the status quo.

Since launching in 1984, Virgin has become an international powerhouse, and now, it is the Goliath that it previously conquered. So, it’s JetBlue’s turn to have an opportunity to take on the dominators in the transoceanic market.

JetBlue has been getting its Airbus A321LRs primed for action. Photo: JetBlue

Ready for the challenge

Weiss highlights that the barriers of entry into the market are lower today because of the price of aircraft and airport slot availability. However, his company will still view JetBlue as a strong competitor.

London Heathrow not only has the ability to seamlessly transport passengers across to the United States; it also has the capability to connect onto mainland Europe and other continents with its global footprint. As such, it’s not only Virgin Atlantic that will be impacted by the move. The carrier’s joint venture partners Delta Air Lines and Air France KLM, as well as the wider network of all these airlines, have the potential to be affected by JetBlue’s activity.

Nonetheless, Virgin is up for the battle. Overall, it is confident that its offering will continue to champion across the pond. Weiss said the following about JetBlue in an interview with the World Aviation Festival:

“We are going to take them extremely seriously. Our job is to make their lives extremely difficult, and provide a level of service that our customers are accustomed to and win in the marketplace. Welcome to London and let the games begin.”

Virgin Atlantic Airways Airbus A350
New York is a key market for Virgin Atlantic. Photo: Getty Images

Different vessels

A principle difference between Virgin and JetBlue’s offering is that the US carrier will be uniquely flying a narrowbody across the Atlantic. Many members of the public may assume that flying on a single-aisle aircraft for several hours to another continent isn’t worth the price. After all, the widebodies offer plenty of space and varied seat offerings throughout the cabin. The modern additions of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350 are favorites in the industry, specifically for long-haul trips such as this.

However, JetBlue affirms that comfort doesn’t need to be lost on a narrowbody. Earlier this year, the airline unveiled the seats that will be used on hops to Europe on its A321LR aircraft. Interestingly, the premium suites have a sliding privacy door, and those in row 1 of the cabin will be treated to a fresh Mint Studio with a larger bed than the provision of any other US-based airline.

This factor could prove important when it comes to transatlantic competition. After all, the premium market is transitioning amid the pandemic. Weiss believes that business travel activity will continue to be minimized in the coming period, especially since companies are adapting well to new digital strategies.

Nonetheless, the premium seats will still have plenty of passengers to help them be filled. The executive shares that working holidays are set to increase in prominence. Moreover, passengers are eager to spend longer periods visiting their loved ones. Altogether, the premium market is predicted to have new types of customers.

Comfort is not lost with JetBlue’s narrowbody. Photo: JetBlue

Additional factors to consider

JetBlue will be looking to compete with rivals on European routes when it comes to price. The airline has a strong record of performing well in this field. Therefore, with business travel reducing, the firm could have the opportunity to swing certain markets in its favor.

Undoubtedly, JetBlue has a long way to go to catch up in this market. Virgin heads to destinations all across the US, including Atlanta, Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orlando, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC. So, New York is just part of a wider program between the coasts. Regardless, the route between the Big Apple and London is famously one of the most lucrative across the industry.

The UK is set to reveal details on who will be in their “green” category when the country’s traffic light system is implemented, while the US warns against travel to 80% of the world. Regardless, Weiss expects that the travel restrictions between the UK and US be repealed from the period between Memorial Day on 31st May to Independence Day on July 4th. With JetBlue looking to commence the transatlantic operation in August, this repeal would be perfect timing for the games to begin.

What are your thoughts about the competition across the Atlantic Ocean? Are you looking forward to JetBlue’s services to London? Let us know what you think of the prospects in the comment section.