JetBlue says likelihood of London Heathrow flights has improved because of pandemic

Oct 2, 2020

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JetBlue Airways is ready to celebrate the launch of its long-planned flights to London late next year, underscoring its enthusiasm for the route with a new special “streamers” tail for its new Airbus A321LRs that will fly the route.

Those jets are being assembled now in Germany and JetBlue has secured spaces for its new service at its Boston (BOS) and New York John F. Kennedy (JFK) gateway. But one big question remains: what London airport will the airline serve?

“We do think that Heathrow is a good possibility for us”, Scott Laurence, JetBlue’s head of revenue and planning, told TPG in an exclusive interview on Wednesday. “As we navigate through this crisis, I think there is a better chance that Heathrow will be a JetBlue airport”.

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Laurence’s comments came after a report that JetBlue had already secured slots to serve Heathrow (LHR) next year. He denied the report, saying it “surprised” him.

Still, Heathrow is the preferred airport for London-bound travellers. Only about 18 miles from central London — and well connected by Tube and Heathrow Express rail links — the airport is considered more convenient than the city’s other airports, including Gatwick (LGW), Luton (LTN) and Stansted (STN). Only London City (LCY) is closer, but flights to the airport are restricted by its short runway.

London Heathrow is also slot-controlled, and those slots are incredibly valuable for the carriers that have them. For example, Air New Zealand sold its two slots at the airport for $27 million in March just before COVID-19 hit. A slot is good for either one takeoff or landing, meaning two slots — or a “slot pair” — allows for one round-trip flight.

Related: JetBlue unveils ‘streamers’ tail for new Airbus jet that will take it to London

However, airlines have cut flights dramatically because of the pandemic — particularly long-haul international flights like JetBlue plans. Rules requiring airlines use slot assets at least 80% of the time have been waived in Europe through March 2021. After that, an incumbent could forfeit slots it is not using to competitors or newcomers like JetBlue.

JetBlue needs at least four slots at any London airport to offer one daily flight to both Boston and New York. It would need additional slot pairs for each added daily flight.

American Airlines and its partner British Airways, and Delta Air Lines and its partner Virgin Atlantic Airways had planned to add flights on both London routes this year to head off JetBlue. The status of these planned additions is up in the air with COVID-related cutbacks and Virgin Atlantic’s restructuring.

Featured image courtesy of JetBlue Airways.

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