JetBlue pumped up speculation that it will announce plans to order long-range aircraft and start trans-Atlantic flights, inviting employees to a special event next month.
The carrier said it would hold a "chat about JetBlue’s vision and strategy" on April 10, followed by a party in New York. The announcement spurred a flurry of speculation on social media after airline watchers pointed out that the background of the invitation resembled the seat fabric on London’s subway system.
JetBlue has been flirting with the possibility of flying across the Atlantic since 2016, when the company said it had the right to swap part of an order for Airbus A321 jetliners for a longer-range version of the plane that would enable such routes.
The carrier, which has said it would make a decision this year on whether to serve Europe, has touted its ability to lower “obscene” business-class fares on trans-Atlantic flights.
“Potential routes to Europe could provide us an opportunity to grow our focus cities of Boston and New York as we consider the best use of our aircraft from a margin perspective in those cities,” JetBlue said in a statement Monday.
JetBlue likened the European opportunity to trans-continental flights in the U.S., where it has made inroads with its Mint premium service.
“The trans-Atlantic market – especially in the premium category – suffers from the same lack of competition and high fares that transcon routes in the U.S. saw before JetBlue introduced Mint,” JetBlue said.
Dominated by joint ventures of major airlines, trans-Atlantic service has been undergoing a shakeup as a new generation of fuel-efficient aircraft enable low-cost carriers to expand. JetBlue would join discounters such as Norwegian Air Shuttle and British Airways’ Level.
PREVIOUS | US airline JetBlue could radically lower the price of business-class travel across the Atlantic, says airline CEO Robin Hayes, giving the strongest signal yet that the discounter may jump into the world’s busiest aviation market.
“We look at the obscene fares that carriers are charging in that market and we think we can bring price discipline,” Hayes said in a Bloomberg Television interview.
While the company hasn’t taken a decision, “we think it’s a good opportunity, and when the time is right to take advantage, we may very well do that.”
Martin St. George, JetBlue's vice president for commercial and planning, said Wednesday that a trans-Atlantic flight would likely run between Boston and London.
“I think London is now the biggest market we don’t serve out of Boston,” St. George said at the Cowen Global Transportation Conference. JetBlue has a strong corporate presence in the U.S. city, he said, and companies have told the carrier, “Can you just look at London because this is what we’re paying, your service is fantastic.
JetBlue would look to bring its Mint premium offering to bear on the North Atlantic. Hayes said that since its U.S. rollout in 2014, the service with lie-flat beds has helped to halve the cost of transcontinental business-class flights.
The airline has 85 Airbus A321 jets due for delivery, which could be converted into the longer-range variant capable of flying trans-Atlantic routes.
The trans-Atlantic market, dominated by three joint ventures including the tie-up of British Airways and American Airlines, is facing a shake-up as a new generation of fuel-efficient aircraft enable low-cost operators to expand on the route.
A move by JetBlue would add to pressure coming from discounters like Norwegian and BA's sister carrier Level.
Hayes, speaking earlier at the Aviation Festival in London, said it was crucial that the airline be “stealthy” about its plans, citing the resistance that Norwegian faced from incumbent joint ventures and U.S. regulators.
“I don’t want to tip people off,” Hayes said. “The competitive response to this is something we have to think about.”