Why JetBlue’s London Announcement is a Nothing Burger

JetBlue announced today that they will start flying Boston and New York JFK – London. That came as a surprise to absolutely no one because they’ve talked about it seemingly in perpetuity.

Now that they’ve announced it what do we know?

  • They’re going to start flying in 2-3 years
  • With indeterminate frequency
  • To an airport to be named later
  • Offering an as yet to be determined product

Despite the hype, this isn’t something to get excited over. This is vaporware.

We know there will be “multiple daily flights” to start some time “in 2021” offering “a reimagined version” of their business class product which will fly to a London airport whose choice they’re still “evaluating.”

My guess of course is that they’ll fly to London Gatwick.

  • Heathrow slots are expensive
  • They won’t succeed in getting regulators to give them slots the way they managed to secure at New York JFK upon airline launch
  • Luton and Stansted are non-starters
  • The A321LR won’t work in and out of London City

With London as a terminating point for passengers, Gatwick will work fine. And it could even allow them to experiment interlining with a European low cost carrier. Most of their traffic will originate in the US and they have connecting capability in Boston and New York.

Their path suggests eventually serving additional European destinations, and have announced they’re converting 13 Airbus A321 orders to the ‘LR’ or long range variant for the single aisle aircraft.

The truth is, though, that with this announcement we learned very little we did not already know.

What JetBlue Transatlantic Will Mean for Customers

JetBlue is likely to have a coach product that is ever so marginally better than competitors and a business class product that is competitive, but not industry leading. They are likely to sell their business product, at least initially, below what incumbent carriers charge.

A competitive product at a good price will be good news for everyone, though at the moment it remains in the realm of speculation – and reasonably far into the future.

How Could JetBlue Make London Game Changing?

Could they actually make this super interesting? Sure. Instead of flying Airbus A321LRs, they could take Airbus A220s (formerly the Bombardier C-Series) they have on order and fly those in a premium configuration in and out of London City airport.

They could do it with a top notch product and sufficient frequency to be attractive to business travelers flying between financial centers.

British Airways runs New York JFK – London City airport less than once daily with an Airbus A318. Unfortunately the plane isn’t able to make it back the other direction.

  • Westbound is a long trip, especially with headwinds in winter
  • The short London City airport won’t let the aircraft take off with sufficient fuel for the trip

Their solution is to make a refueling stop in Shannon, Ireland. Most of the time they’ve been able to leverage this for immigration preclearance, getting passengers cleared into the U.S. so there are no formalities on arrival at New York JFK.

The C-Series A220 may theoretically work in and out of London City airport though the configuration of the aircraft may matter. The convenience of showing up minutes before departure from a small airport close to London financial institutions could give an airline a leg up if they could make the flight work operationally. Even a single after work flight in each direction, with a better product than BA offers and without the required fuel stop in Ireland could be a big winner.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. The mint seat to London is pretty industry leading.
    There are no qsuites from Jfk to London.
    The BA seats will probably arrive around the same time if not later to the NY route.

  2. They have talked about it a lot. JetBlue is my favorite US domestic airline. I would probably use them to fly to the UK and even farther destinations down the line.

  3. not sure why you consider STN to be a non-starter. For the financial types that may very well be flying the Mint-class the train from STN leaves you right in the heart of the City, and far faster than it would from either LHR or LGW, all of which leave you either on the other side of town, or require you to negotiate at least one tubeline-change. it’s an easy terminal to navigate, and has as many, if not more, flights to Europe than either LHR or LGW, all of which would make more sense for B6 if they want to start interlining with other (U)LCCs

  4. As a further note, it would be the logical choice for flights from Boston as it would immediately and easily connect two of the world’s most important tech hubs : Cambridge, and, err, Cambridge lol

  5. Because no one has ever made New York – Stansted work and they’re not going to sell their premium seats on the basis of connecting onto low cost carriers.

  6. Nobody was able to make point-to-point work in Europe until RyanAir and EasyJet came along. if the crux of your argument is that it has never worked before and therefore can never work in the future then flight would have ended with Da Vinci’s flying wing sketches.

  7. You also forget that jetblue has a partnership with EK, and EK also services STN. if B6’s route to profit works with non-connecting endpoints in Europe then it doesn;t matter if STN is serviced by EK or (U)LCCs. If they can participate in say Worldwide by EasyJet, and leverage their EK partnership, then frankly STN is going to be a goldmine for them. but time will tell 🙂

  8. If they don’t want to compete with Norwegian they should offer a Mint-heavy version of 321LR.

    Though the radical approach would be to offer a 50%+ Mint 220 out of LCY.

  9. I agree there’s not much new here, but it’s still interesting. Unlike Norwegian, which has a terrible transatlantic business plan and is almost certain to go broke, JetBlue has a real shot at having (some) success from JFK and BOS. Their secret sauce is the ability to offer a viable business class product. And the fact that folks generally like flying them should help.

    In my mind, their biggest problem is that they really need Heathrow slots to make this a financial success. Sure, they could probably limp along at Gatwick and maybe break even, but the money is made at Heathrow. Every USA airline that’s ever had to fly to Gatwick has rushed to Heathrow when they had a chance. Sure, Jetblue might be able to partner at Gatwick, but any incremental revenue they’d make there would be lost through less biz class revenue. And this is the rub: I don’t know how they get Heathrow slots at a price that makes any sense. They’re going to have to get creative.

  10. Nice, Gary. Hand the big three some hope in your percieved futility of JetBlue’s announcement. I on the other hand applaud them and will support them into Gatwick IF they attack business class fares full on.

    Not like we are gonna have much to play with in points with the new changes. 700,000 points r/t to London in business and I am so ready to pay someone cash to make it fair.

  11. Using an A220 JFK-LCY won’t work practically. The A220-300 has the greatest range of the two A220 models. Its range is only 200 km farther than an A318. So the A220 would likely experience the same problems as the A318 flying west and depending on assumptions for weight, weather, takeoff conditions, and reserves. Also the A220 cabin is not as wide as an A321 possibly limiting the choice and configuration of business class seats. The nail in the coffin is the amount of payload (including precious fuel) that must be sacrificed to get the A220-300 to takeoff from the LCY runway which is just under 5,000′ long or about 1/3 the length of JFK .Runway 13R/31L.

  12. Since it is no longer possible to fly from Washington to New York on Jet Blue, I have gone from 75 flights a year on B6 to zero. Therefore I can no longer use JetBlue for anything. Sad! Hope they start LGA to DCA. Shuttle fares are outrageous. Some A220 action here could help.

  13. Exciting times for JetBlue, looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

    In the US, it’s lobbying hard for Delta, Virgin Atlantic, KLM and Air France to be forced to sacrifice slots at London Heathrow in return for allowing their expanded joint venture to be approved. London Gatwick is the second choice but slots are still not easy there.

  14. I haven’t flown JetBlue in maybe 3 years or so, but I do remember them having an excellent coach product. Especially when compared to United or American. Worlds better. I’ve read that they have regressed some, but if it’s the same as the product I once flew – I could sit in it for a 6+ hour flight, and not require Business class.

    Which is completely different then now, as I won’t even consider a non-business class flight to Europe.

  15. Jet Blue has teased this announcement for weeks. Yet, the announcement was a non-announcement. It’s like they just phoned it in. No airport announcement, no concrete date — except a vague 2021, no update on Mint, and no announcement on local or regional partners for connections. That’s just bad. And why 2021? Can’t get they get something going for late 2019 or early 2021? Maybe La Compagnie should bring back flights.

  16. Anyone mentioned Brexit and the impact on the financial center? Also I dont get B6 coach domestic appeal at all. The planes are old and tired and the TV screens are smaller than my phone.

  17. So those ePassport gates will be available at LGW starting in summer 2019 … one wonders how much this will factor into JetBlue’s equation when finally determining what they will offer

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