Incremental growth in the London market will be the focus of JetBlue Airways’ nascent transatlantic operation this year, with additional European destinations coming on board no earlier than 2023.
Speaking to analysts to discuss the New York-based carrier’s $182 million net loss in 2021, CEO Robin Hayes said JetBlue is pleased with how its Airbus A321LR service has performed between New York Kennedy (JFK) and both London Gatwick (LGW) and London Heathrow (LHR). London will become a “hall of fame” market for JetBlue, Hayes said.
He added: “Certainly, for this year, I don’t see us moving beyond London. We do have 26 [A321] LR and XLR airplanes coming over the next several years. And so obviously, at some point, we will look at other markets in Europe that we believe we could succeed in. But the focus this year will be, again, more incremental growth in London.”
Hayes conceded it has “been a bit of a stop-start first six months” in terms of service to London because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But that has not deterred JetBlue, which announced in December that it was extending its JFK-LHR schedule through October 2022. That was not guaranteed because JetBlue entered LHR using temporary slots made available by airlines that had reduced service during the pandemic.
JetBlue said it has secured slots through October and is looking to serve LHR long term. “There’s so much more good we can do as we grow this route if we are allowed to stay and compete,” Hayes said.
The JetBlue CEO said that so far there has been “a very strong” response from leisure travelers seeking lower fares to fly to London. But Hayes also foresees “a segment in business travel,” especially passengers who work for small- and medium-sized corporations.
“I think just the sheer size of fare reductions that [passengers are] able to enjoy when they fly JetBlue to London versus some of our competitors means that we don’t have any concerns about the ability to attract a good mix of business and leisure travelers” he said. “When I look at London, I'm very confident that our unique offering of a great product at a lower fare, targeting the vast majority of customers who fly in premium who don't have access to a corporate deal or any kind of form of discounted ticket, I think we're looking forward to we're seeing that.”
JetBlue head of revenue and planning Dave Clark said the carrier has built the “foundational pieces” to support transatlantic growth: “I think we've had a terrific customer response [to the first six months of service to London], a terrific media response for building a name for ourselves in the UK … We feel great about our first six months of operating in London. We have had a really strong performance there.”
Clark conceded that demand for JFK-London service has “obviously been volatile” because of omicron and UK border restrictions “coming in and out.”
The bottom line, however, is that JetBlue is “extremely bullish on what will transpire [on transatlantic service] this spring and summer and the second half of the year,” he said.
“We expect [COVID-19] cases to go down. We expect travel restrictions to continue to peel away. I think the last restrictions come off Feb. 11 for the UK market. So, we feel very good that we will continue to ramp up well, not only JFK flying into London, but our new Boston flying as well. We’re feeling really good despite the choppiness of the first year as we go through the second year."