Just nine days after the U.K. granted vaccinated Americans quarantine-free entry, JetBlue Airways is making its first foray into transatlantic service, starting flights this week on the world’s most lucrative air route – from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to London Heathrow.
It’s a long-awaited move for fans of the carrier, which has made its name offering affordable, friendly service primarily in the U.S. and the Caribbean.
And it’s only the first step in a plan to bring its loyal customers to Europe: The airline is also set to begin service from Boston to London within the year.
In economy, it’s possible to find a one-way ticket from JFK to Heathrow for as low as US$202. But the greatest asset JetBlue brings to the competitive route is its affordable business class product, Mint, with 24 enclosed suites on each Airbus A321.
Those seats are selling from about US$1,660 round trip – even lower than the originally advertised starting fare of US$1,979.
The airline’s convenient schedule, which also includes flights to London Gatwick, offers easy overnights on the outbound legs and midday departures on the returns.
However, the company has hit one bump in the road, even before its inaugural flight. In late July, Chief Executive Officer Robin Hayes said in an earnings call that while flights to both Heathrow and Gatwick would begin on a daily basis in August, they’d be scaled down to four times a week in September, reflecting reduced demand on a route that typically nets airlines US$1 billion annually.
Also a factor: Brits are still not allowed to enter the U.S. except under certain extraordinary circumstances.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Virgin Atlantic Chief Commercial Officer Juha Jarvinen told Bloomberg in late July that bookings between New York and London were more than doubling on a weekly basis, and legacy carriers such as American Airlines and United Airlines have restored and expanded service to the British capital after cutting it back in 2020.
Getting in on the route now, before the windows are fully flung open, offers advantages not only for JetBlue but also for a slew of competitors vying to meet its low-cost, high-comfort standards.
Timing is everything
Now may seem like an odd moment to launch service in a travel corridor that’s not yet fully opened, but the opposite might be true.
“It is widely acknowledged that the slots JetBlue received at Heathrow were the result of other airlines’ pandemic flight cuts,” explains Edward Russell, who reports on airlines for Skift.
“This makes good business sense for an airline,” he continues. “Once you get your foot in the door in a long-sought market, it’s easier to stay there than to try and begin flights once air travel recovers.”
Travelers will win out, too. “With almost every country in Europe accessible to vaccinated Americans, both travel demand and flight capacity are rebounding,” says Scott Keyes, the founder and chief flight expert of Scott’s Cheap Flights, a leading site for finding airfare deals.
New carriers drive competition
JetBlue’s entry into the market should increase competition among airlines and drive down already-low prices.
Flights from the U.S. to Europe are averaging about US$400 – even lower from New York. “While JetBlue’s first overseas routes may not get a warm welcome from Delta or American, they’re great news for travelers hoping for a cheaper flight to London,” Keyes says.
Other airlines are making similar trans-Atlantic investments.
While it’s not yet flying to London, La Compagnie – a small carrier whose Airbus A321neos are outfitted exclusively with business class seats – may soon be another competitor for JetBlue’s Mint. The French airline announced three new routes in June, connecting Newark to Paris, Tel Aviv, and Milan. Seats to Italy start at US$1,700.
And more trans-Atlantic competition is on the way, including Breeze Airways. The low-cost carrier may have only taken to the skies this past May, connecting 16 U.S. cities, but it’s already said to have international ambitions.
Breeze is the brainchild of none other than David Neeleman, the serial aviation entrepreneur who also founded – who else? – JetBlue.