The worst kept secret of the last few months is finally out the bag. New York-based airline jetBlue has finally announced it will start services between New York JFK and Boston to London in 2021 using a long-range version of the single-aisle Airbus A321. The hybrid carrier that combines elements of both low-cost and full-service airlines has long mused starting Transatlantic service and an upcoming announcement was rumored to be on the cards for several months.
A huge clue in the form of a leaked invitation at the start of March to an internal staff event called ‘All Hands’ pretty much gave the game away. And here we have it – in front of an audience of 1,300 staffers in the airline’s hangar at JFK, JetBlue’s chief executive Robin Hayes finally announced that the airline would indeed start long-haul flights to Europe.
Surprisingly, though, the details remain pretty scant – we know that London will be the first destination but as yet not which one of London’s four airport’s jetBlue will be flying into. In fact, jetBlue hasn’t even applied for a licence to fly to London yet. We also know that jetBlue will be converting existing orders for 13 Airbus A321 aircraft into the long-range variant of the aircraft.
But we don’t yet know the exact configuration. The airline promises a “reimagined version” of its lie-flat Business Class product that it labels Mint. There’s speculation that the carrier will offer direct aisle access suites featuring oh so de rigueur fully closing doors – yet jetBlue wasn’t confirming anything at yesterday’s event.
We’re also told that jetBlue is considering what other European countries it could fly to – Dublin, Lisbon, Madrid, Paris and Amsterdam are on the cards. Unfortunately, there’s no timeline on when these destinations might actually become a reality.
It’s all a little disappointing.
Yet, yesterday’s event wasn’t about the ‘how’ – it was all about ‘why’ jetBlue wanted to enter the Transatlantic market.
“Twenty years ago, our founders had a simple formula for choosing a new market – it had to be overpriced, underserved, or both,” explained JetBlue’s chief operating officer, Joanna Geraghty.
London couldn’t fit both of those criteria better if it tried argues Geraghty. “The fares being charged today by airlines on these routes, specifically on the premium end, are enough to make you blush,” she comments.
So why is there such a long lead time? This is where jetBlue plays politics – expect the airline to start lobbying authorities on both sides of the Pond hard over the next couple of years.
“The big airlines will tell you that competition has never been more robust, but the smaller airlines have never found it harder to get access,” Geraghty says.
“It’s time for regulators here in the U.S. and across Europe to create conditions where smaller carriers and new entrants can thrive, instead of letting the giant airlines get even bigger through joint ventures. Given a chance to compete, JetBlue can have a tremendous effect on lowering fares and stimulating traffic.”
She may well have just called out the airlines she’s talking about – the likes of Delta and its massive joint venture with Virgin Atlantic and Air France-KLM, as well as the duopoly that British Airways and American Airlines controls between Heathrow and New York.
Geraghty argues that consumers currently have two equally unpleasant choices when flying between Europe and the United States. Either pay “sky-high prices” for “mediocre” service from legacy carriers or buy a slightly cheaper ticket for a “no-frills, bare-bones” service from upstart discounters that don’t have any complimentary amenities.
jetBlue, of course, is famous for offering complimentary snacks, Wi-Fi and satellite television. It also offers some of the most generous legroom in Coach with service provided by highly engaged and friendly flight attendants.
So don’t be too disappointed with the lack of details in yesterday’s big announcement. This was more a statement of intent. Hayes and Geraghty clearly realise that this market is going to be tough to crack – it will be really interesting to see how this plays out.