JetBlue says it’s being ‘locked out’ of London airports, urges UK government to take action

Jan 27, 2021

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JetBlue hasn’t finalized its long-awaited service to London. In a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation, JetBlue said that it’s facing “slot uncertainty” in the U.K. and has called on the U.S. government to take “official notice.”

The complaint details that JetBlue is facing difficulties in obtaining slots in London’s airports, even as more airlines pull out of the city’s busiest airports. The airline claims that it’s being “locked out” of London’s airports and has called on the U.K. government to take action.

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“Virgin Atlantic and Norwegian continue to hold their LGW slots even where, as in the case of Virgin Atlantic, there are no firm plans for the carrier to resume service at the airport anytime soon,” JetBlue said in its filing.

JetBlue has identified that it’s had difficulties in securing slots at both Heathrow and additional slots at Gatwick. In November, the carrier secured slots at both Gatwick and London Stansted (STN), but was denied from acquiring any slots at Heathrow.

“At the same time, carriers like JetBlue, poised to enter the transatlantic market and disrupt the status quo and fulfill a crucial need for low-cost carrier transatlantic service, are unable to sufficiently secure LHR slots or consistently timed LGW slots because of the fiction that carriers are going to return to the pre-COVID-19 status quo. They are not, and the U.K. government needs to address this reality immediately.”

The airline has urged the U.K. government to take a similar approach to that of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the U.S. There, the agency has extended slot relief at seven airports in the country whereby carriers are exempt from the typical requirement that they operate at least 80% of their scheduled flights, but the FAA has urged airlines to return slots voluntarily.

Earlier this month, low-cost carrier Norwegian Air announced that it would be suspending the long-haul segment of its business. As a result, it was forced to close its crew bases around the world, including at London Gatwick, where the airline focussed its U.K. operations. But the airline still has its slots at the airport, which it could be planning to use to bolster its short-haul operation.

Related: Norwegian Air to axe long-haul operations in bid to survive

Virgin Atlantic, meanwhile, announced in May 2020 that it would be closing its Gatwick base, focusing instead on Heathrow. However, the airline kept its slots at Gatwick, planning to return to the airport when customer demand rebounds. In both the cases of Norwegian and Virgin Atlantic, JetBlue is urging the U.K. government to take action to free up the slots.

In November, JetBlue secured 14 of the 28 slots it requested at Gatwick, which is enough for the airline to fly one daily service between London and one of its East Coast hub cities of New York (JFK) or Boston (BOS). At Stansted, meanwhile, the airline secured all of the 28 slots that it requested, which are enough to fly two daily return flights between the airport and one of its East Coast hubs.

It’s clear that JetBlue isn’t happy with a solely-Stansted London operation. As the airline looks to launch its London operations, the low-cost carrier that’s famed for its Mint business-class product in the U.S. is looking for more desirable slot options.

The airline is still eyeing a 2021 launch for London flights — although it still hasn’t nailed down to which airport. The airline will operate routes between London and New York (JFK) or Boston (BOS) with one of its Airbus A321LR aircraft.

Related: This is the plane that will take JetBlue too London

With the exit of low-cost carrier Norwegian from the market, JetBlue could have a full opportunity to scoop up leisure demand. The airline will surely be banking on pent-up demanded when the coronavirus pandemic-related travel restrictions ease.

Featured photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy.

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