Yesterday, the New York-based airline jetBlue sent out an internal ‘Save the Date’ invitation to its crewmembers where company executives will talk about about the carrier’s vision and strategy – and everyone is now expecting this will be used for a very long awaited announcement.
The event hasn’t yet been advertised to the Press but pictures of the invitation were soon leaked and there are plenty of clues to suggest jetBlue is about to announce plans to start flying to London.
jetBlue has long shied away from starting Transatlantic services although its chief executive, the British born and raised Robin Hayes has been dropping plenty of hints of late that he is seriously considering the possibility. And it looks like Hayes has embedded a nod to his London roots as a hint of what’s to come in the now widely circulated invitation.
The clue comes in the form of the background image – it is, in fact, an image of a London Underground moquette (the iconic designs used on the Tube’s fabric seating). This particular design was created in 2010 by design agency Wallace Sewell and adorns Tube trains across the London Underground network. Look closely and you’ll see four London landmarks hidden in the design – the London Eye, Big Ben, Tower Bridge and St Paul’s.
It’s highly unlikely that jetBlue would have chosen the background image just because it looks pretty. Transport for London which is the agency that runs the Underground is fiercely protective over the copyright of its intellectual property so jetBlue would have needed to seek specific permission to use the moquette.
This could be a major departure from JetBlue’s current strategy. The airline is primarily a domestic carrier but with some significant routes to the Caribbean and Latin America. It’s two biggest bases are in New York and Boston so starting up a route to London is going to pit the airline against some fierce competition.
All the legacy U.S. airlines, along with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic already have multiple services flying from New York and Boston to London, while low-cost operator Norwegian has become the largest non-North American airline to serve the New York area. Norwegian has built a significant presence at London’s Gatwick airport which doesn’t leave much room for a competitor to muscle in on the action.
jetBlue’s chief executive, however, thinks his airline can offer a service that will appeal to consumers. Last year, Hayes described the cost of Business Class transatlantic tickets as “obscene” and suggested his airline could do “better” than the competition.
“We are the largest carrier at Boston, the largest market we don’t fly to is London,” Hayes said at the Aviation Festival in London last year.
jetBlue currently uses a mix of Airbus A320 and A321 single-aisle aircraft and it’s likely the carrier would attempt to make a success of using narrowbody jets on transatlantic services. It’s a tactic that has seen mixed success – with the likes of European low-cost operator Primera going bust last year, Iceland’s Wow Air largely retreating from the market and Norwegian cutting flights from secondary airports that used single-aisle aircraft.
Nonetheless, Airbus has been pushing hard the long-range capability of its upgraded A321Neo – the longest, stretched version of its A320 series aircraft which comes with more fuel-efficient engines. A long-range version of the A321NEO, which comes with three additional underfloor fuel tanks and is capable of flying 4,000 nautical miles, was recently certified by both the European Air Safety Agency and FAA.
jetBlue currently has a total of 85 A321NEO’s on order and is expected to start taking delivery this year. Hayes has already hinted at the possibility of upgrading part of the order to the long-range version. Irish carrier, Aer Lingus also has eight of the aircraft on order and will start flying between Dublin and North America later this year.
Utilising single-aisle aircraft on long-haul flights has always been a tough sell and can be detrimental to the passenger experience. Of course, jetBlue has a lot of experience in this area and any transatlantic service would most likely feature its highly acclaimed Mint business class seat.
I suppose we’ll just have to wait until April 10th to find out for sure.