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JetBlue cuts cities, adjusts Los Angeles service amid major network realignment

by Staff

JetBlue will make significant changes to its network structure, the airline said Tuesday, as the carrier continues plans to return to profitability in the wake of several major strategic upsets.

In an internal communication sent to employees Tuesday and seen by TPG, JetBlue’s vice president of network planning, Dave Jehn, detailed plans to pull out from unprofitable or thinner routes and markets.

It was JetBlue’s second round of route and market exits this year.

Effective June 13, JetBlue will withdraw entirely from Kansas City International Airport (MCI); El Dorado International Airport (BOG) in Bogota, Colombia; Mariscal Sucre Quito International Airport (UIO) in Quito, Ecuador; and Jorge Chavez International Airport (LIM) in Lima, Peru. The airline currently flies to Kansas City from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and to Bogota, Quito and Lima from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL).

“These markets are unprofitable and our aircraft time can be better utilized elsewhere,” Jehn wrote in the memo.

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Additionally, JetBlue will formally discontinue service from Newburgh, New York’s New York Stewart International Airport (SWF) in the Hudson Valley. The airline previously flew from Newburgh to two cities in Florida, although those routes have been suspended since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

JetBlue will also cut several routes without withdrawing from markets altogether, including a significant pulldown of its short-haul flights from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

From Los Angeles, JetBlue will end service to Las Vegas’ Harry Reid International Airport (LAS), Miami International Airport (MIA), Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) in Nevada, San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) in Costa Rica, Cancun International Airport (CUN) and Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVR) in Mexico.

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The airline will continue flying to other markets from Los Angeles, including Palm Beach International Airport (PBI) in West Palm Beach, Florida; Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF) in New York; Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC); Orlando International Airport (MCO); and Lynden Pindling International Airport (NAS) in Nassau, Bahamas, among others.

The airline will also continue with its premium transcontinental service to LAX from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and JFK in the New York City area, along with Boston Logan International Airport (BOS).

DAVID SLOTNICK/THE POINTS GUY

The changes to the LA routes come as the airline adjusts its plans following the termination of its proposed acquisition of low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines; this is leading it to quash underperforming intra-west and international markets, Jehn said.

“We had hoped to increase our relevance in LAX by combining with Spirit to better compete with the big legacy carriers,” Jehn wrote. “Without Spirit, and without aircraft time and gates available to grow organically, we need to refocus.”

The airline will decrease from roughly 34 operations a day at LAX to 24.

Additionally, JetBlue will pull several destinations from its focus city in Fort Lauderdale: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), Nashville International Airport (BNA), Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) and SLC.

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The airline will also end routes between Tampa International Airport (TPA) and Rafael Hernández International Airport (BQN) in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico; JFK and Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW); and MCO and SLC.

In the employee memo, Jehn pointed to the airline’s broader initiative to return to profitability and improve operational reliability while it shifts strategies and deals with various challenges. Among the head winds are required inspections of some of its jets powered by Pratt & Whitney GTF engines, which Jehn said are expected to ground about a dozen jets at any given time in 2024.

“More than ever, every route has to earn its right to stay in the network,” Jehn wrote. “Some routes that we have been flying no longer make sense.”

The elimination of these routes frees up aircraft for JetBlue to tighten its network and further entrench in its “bread and butter routes,” Jehn wrote, which “serve customers up and down the east coast, to Caribbean vacation and VFR destinations and on long-haul, cross-country flights.” (“VFR” refers to places where people travel to visit friends and relatives.)

DAVID SLOTNICK/THE POINTS GUY

As part of that, JetBlue will tweak strategies and double-down on what’s been successful in its key focus cities, Jehn wrote.

In Fort Lauderdale, the airline will make additional changes in the near future, Jehn suggested. This includes shifting some flying from several Southeast cities in order to boost frequencies to destinations with proven demand, including Cancun; Sangster International Airport (MBJ) in Montego Bay, Jamaica; and Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ) in the Dominican Republic.

It also plans to add more service this winter to BUF, Albany International Airport (ALB) and Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) in San Juan, Puerto Rico — another focus city.

In San Juan, the airline will add more flights to Orlando and Tampa, along with Boston and Fort Lauderdale. It’ll add more flights to JFK and Bradley International Airport (BDL) in Hartford this winter.

In the memo, Jehn cited the dissolution of JetBlue’s Northeast Alliance with American Airlines — along with the cancellation of its planned acquisition of Spirit Airlines — as the force behind the airline’s reevaluation of its network plans. The current route map was originally predicated on the partnership and merger, giving JetBlue access to more aircraft and a bigger presence in some markets.

With the Northeast Alliance, JetBlue and American Airlines offered reciprocal benefits and codeshares on each other’s flights to or from the Northeast, aside from on transatlantic flights. This offered JetBlue customers access to American’s expansive domestic network while giving American access, via JetBlue’s flights, to coveted takeoff and landing slots in New York and Boston. The alliance was blocked by a federal judge.

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JetBlue’s planned merger with Spirit Airlines, which would have seen JetBlue absorb the budget carrier and effectively double its size, was also blocked following an antitrust trial in federal court last fall. The airline had argued that the merger was the only way the airline could grow enough to compete effectively against the major U.S. airlines — American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines — that control about 80% of the country’s air travel market.

With both deals dead, aircraft grounded due to the Pratt & Whitney engine issues and strained delivery times on new jets from Airbus — caused by supply chain challenges coupled with high demand — JetBlue has found itself in a position of needing to rapidly reevaluate its alignment.

On the other side of the two deals, the airline is also undergoing a transition period; longtime president Joanna Geraghty moved up to the CEO role following the departure of Robin Hayes last month. JetBlue also recently hired Marty St. George to fill the vacated role of airline president. St. George was most recently the chief commercial officer at Santiago, Chile-based LATAM and previously worked at JetBlue from 2006 through 2019.

Since assuming the top role, Geraghty has made returning to profitability and improving operational reliability top priorities, leading to expected changes across the airline.

DAVID SLOTNICK/THE POINTS GUY

“We are fully focused on our organic strategy,” Geraghty said last week, referring to the post-alliance and post-merger plan, at an industry conference hosted by J.P. Morgan. “Now, our focus, after spending three years trying to do those things, is returning to the business fundamentals.”

In Tuesday’s memo, Jehn suggested that being “surgical” about individual routes and the broader network would play a role in that plan.

“We are confident that the changes we are making today, along with all the other revenue and cost programs underway, will set up JetBlue for long-term success and ultimately make us a stronger, more competitive airline ready to grow in the years to come.”

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