The Latest On JetBlue’s A321LR Order & Europe Service

For years JetBlue has been talking about potentially launching transatlantic flights. Recently they even revealed that if they were to start transatlantic flights, Boston to London would most likely be the first route that they operate. That makes sense, given that Boston is a hub for them, and it’s also one of the shortest transatlantic flights out there.

The A321LR & Europe question

JetBlue has two decisions to make here, and they’re largely connected, but not completely.

JetBlue’s existing A321s should already have the range to operate some transatlantic flights, though there’s no way they’d start Europe service with those planes.

In 2019 JetBlue will take delivery of their first A321neo, which is a longer range and more fuel efficient version of the A321.

The airline has the option to convert some of their A321neo orders into A321LR orders, with the “LR” standing for “long range.”

Generally speaking:

  • The A321neo could operate flights between the US and Europe, though it’s unlikely that JetBlue would launch service with these planes
  • Rather it seems that JetBlue would only fly to Europe if they decide on ordering the A321LR

The latest on JetBlue’s A321LR order

So, when will JetBlue make a decision about whether or not they get the A321LR?

JetBlue’s CEO sent employees a note for the new year, in which he says that JetBlue will decide on the A321LR in 2019. Here’s what he wrote regarding this:

In 2019 we will announce our decision on the Long Range version of the the A321. This aircraft could open up new and exciting markets for us. Our network strategy is all about strengthening our focus cities and in order to fly to some of the top unserved destinations from Boston and New York (like London), we need a longer range aircraft. In the meantime, we are very eager to welcome our first A321neo (new engine option) aircraft later in 2019, which will be great for operating more efficiently.

As you can see, he’s suggesting that if they’re going to fly to Europe, they’re going to do so with A321LRs. And they’ll make that decision this year.

Even if JetBlue were to decide to swap some of their A321neo orders for A321LRs, you can expect that it would be at least a couple of years before these planes are delivered, since swapping an aircraft order is a bit more complicated than swapping veggies for cheese fries at a restaurant.

So I think it’s safe to say that it will be 2020 at the earliest when JetBlue starts flying to Europe, if they do indeed choose to take that path. And that’s optimistic.

Bottom line

Back in the day I feel like JetBlue was really disruptive in the US market, though that hasn’t been the case as much the past few years, and this decision is no exception.

In fairness, they’re not quite in the position they used to be, and increasingly they’re facing similar challenges to other airlines.

If I had to guess, I’d say that JetBlue probably won’t follow through with the A321LR order, and will instead stick with A321neos. So I don’t think Europe service will actually happen. That’s purely speculation on my part, based on how conservative the airline has become.

The airline is already making major changes as they have ordered A220s, and I just don’t see them changing so many things at once.

That’s sort of a shame. JetBlue’s CEO has also expressed concern regarding being able to compete internationally, given the mega joint ventures out there.

Do you think JetBlue will order A321LRs, and follow through with Europe service?

(Tip of the hat to Wandering Aramean)

Comments

  1. It would be a real pity if they didn’t go transatlantic. Mint would be as disruptive to that market as it was on the transcontinental routes.

  2. Where B6 really got disruptive was with Caribbean and northern South America service.

    Just imagine if they flew to … Madrid

  3. I wish that I could differ with you but I could not. 2018 showed us that, although he got off to a good start, CEO Robin Hayes is far less visionary than Barger, his immediate predecessor. The board agreed to promote him to the top spot largely because he did not share Barger’s opposition to checked baggage fees (1 per ticket for non-elite passengers). Further, the Mint service has been an underheralded success. Alas, the Mint effect has not driven legacy carriers to implement widespread cabin upgrades on their transcontinental service. In fact, Delta has throttled back on its lie-flat service between JFK and SEA.

    What really caused a spike in my skepticism, though, was Hayes’ statement in late 2018 that checked baggage fees would rise again. This runs contrary to his airline’s stated goal of “bringing humanity back to air travel”.

    Lastly, though, I think the spate of failures of low-cost carriers in the transatlantic space will leave Hayes gun shy, even though, as the #1 carrier at BOS and JFK, his airline would have a lot going for it, on top of the fact that it has one of the largest number of code sharing agreements in the world.

  4. If they were to fly to London which airport do you think they’d use? I could see them flying to Heathrow however there is the obvious problem with slot availability. Would the A220s be able to go transatlantic and fly into LCY?

  5. I can’t entirely figure out where they’re going, but I figure it goes one of two ways-

    1. They learn from Norwegian, Primera, etc, and do launch international translatlantic service with a new Mint product that hopefully succeeds.

    2. They focus on their financials and sell to United in a few years (United would gain a hub at JFK, Boston, and Florida where they’re nonexistent or weak.) Don’t get me wrong, United buying JetBlue would be god awful but if I were United I’d certainly see the appeal.

    3. They sell/merge/alliance with Alaska once Alaska’s recovered from their VX heartburn and become the 5th big player.

    I think if JetBlue was to fly to London they wouldn’t settle for anything less than LHR or -maybe- LGW. LCY would be interesting too (please do it!) JetBlue tends to want to fly into the big-boy airports or smaller, nicer ones that are even closer to the city core.

    That said I really hope they do international expansion. They own the US transcon market with a great Mint and core product.

  6. I dont understand JetBlue. They completely abandoned Washington -ID, an airport that is saddled with United. Plenty of runway capacity, rarely any delays and you are competing against United, arguable the worst legacy carrier in the skies. You cant fly from Washington Reagan to New York either. They have a hedge podge of routes with no frequencies so they are not an option for business travelers. I like flying on JetBlue but they really make it impossible to use them consistently.

  7. I think JetBlue would do well in the transatlantic market, especially with their Mint product.

    Of course the biggest issue would be pricing, could they be competitive with Norwegian? Would Mint be priced the same as coast to coast flights?

    I’m also not sure if the smaller 321s would allow them to land at smaller airports that have cheaper landing fees. Of course this could also be a hindrance as it could limit passenger options for connecting flights.

    While im not in the airline industry, i don’t see why the new 220s would be that big of a thing for JetBlue to focus on, aren’t they more or less just replacing the 190s with established routes? Yes there may be some changes but i wouldn’t think enough to make expansion an issue.

    To me, dipping a toe in with daily London flights from BOS and JFK doesn’t seem like such a big gamble. Maybe even flights to Paris? Seasonal flights could also be a great option, taking aircraft flying to the Caribbean, Central and even South America during the winter and using them to fly to many European destinations in the summer, should keep them fairly full year round.

    Finally i wonder if, once again flying smaller aircraft, could mean lower costs by offering some flights from smaller airports like Providence, Hartford, Worcester & Westchester? While these may also effect connections. I’d think that, yet again, seasonal flights from these airports would have enough local demand to work while potentially keeping costs and hopefully fairs down vs city airports.

  8. As much as I would like to have JetBlue Mint as a transatlantic option, I think that there is enough capacity within their current network of routes where flying Mint could be profitable that they don’t need to expand their network transatlantic.

  9. While I suspect the planes are to have flexibility to fly JFK to Europe, it is possible that they may be used from FLL to Brazil, JFK to Lima Peru. JFK-Hawaii is too far, I believe.

  10. I really doubt it but how about JFK flights to:
    Lille, France
    Strasbourg, France
    Toulouse, France
    Liege, Belgium
    Findel, Luxembourg
    Hanover, Germany
    Bremen, Germany
    Munster/Osnabruck, Germany
    Dusseldorf, Germany
    Cologne, Germany
    Stuttgart, Germany
    Rotterdam, Netherlands
    Birmingham, England
    JFK-JER (Jersey)-Bordeaux, France-JFK

  11. AS a Jetblue employee for over 15 years, I can say that current Jetblue management is amature, weak, and reactive. Because if this the boatd of directors holds a very shory leash on executive management, rightly so. They have issues operating simple domestic flights ontime. So the BOD will not approve widebody aircraft for Europe and long haul flying until management proves they can operate those flights using narrowbody aircraft. Unfortunately, transatlantic and seep South America flights on narrowbody aircraft is a recipe for failure. Add in that management is tripping over dollars to pick up a penny, continuously trying to reinvent the wheel, and robbing Peter to pay Paul, only leads to impending failure on these routes. Management’s track record of attempting to run an airline using fewer spare aircraft than industry standard, staffing for the low traffic seasons and hoping on employee good will to cover the peaks, and failing to invest in a proven IT system will only hurt any attempt for transatlantic and South American flying.
    As the old adage goes, if you’re going to do it do it right, JetBlue management has consistently proven that if they’re going to do it they’re going to do it on the cheap and half-assed.

  12. The key is to think of European cities as you would Des Moines. There is a market in structuring properly with removing the mindsets of markets being “so far away.” The Southwest model is perfectly viable on an international scale. This is why you see BA attacking mid markets like Charleston and New Orleans. Despite the criticism of BA here they have a smart strategy.

  13. I think they’ll order the LR. Strategically, it’s the right move. It gives them the option, not the obligation, to expand into completely new markets from BOS and NYC where they already have a devoted customer base. Dipping the toes in is not a huge risk. Who knows, maybe by the time the plane gets delivered, Norwegian will be gone. Also, it gives them a desperately needed growth narrative at investor conferences.

  14. Financial Services folks could easily fill A220s flying BOS-LCY twice a day.

    I would be concerned about the DL on-slaught for any other European expansion. It’s cheaper for DL to start a route considering their joint-transatlantic ventures with VS, KL and AF. And they can counter with ETOPS 757s and, if worst-case, can create a sub-fleet of trans-atlantic A220s.

  15. @Brian
    Considering neither ORD nor DFW are B6 hubs, it’s not going to happen. Only B6 flights from ORD are JFK, BOS, or FLL, all hubs.

  16. Derek beat me to it. Europe is very competitive. I can see them using the LRs to go deeper into South America or launch flights that avoid the FLL layover.

  17. It’ll never happen. With (Joanna G) announcing timelines for products that don’t exist without checking viability with crewmembers, with new union contracts and the stock still under-performing, JetBlue will be lucky not to become the Greyhound of the air – have you see the planes they use JFK-FLL… the bus is nicer… JetBlue is doomed by the chaos under the covers of its cheaply pieced together low paid off-shored tech group and the bi-polar whims of it’s upper management chasing every shiny object in view with their corporate catch phrase as the business case. I give them 5 years before they sell out..

  18. Europe isn’t as attractive as it looked a couple of years ago. The low cost market was probed and saturated by Norwegian, WOW, Primera, Iceland, ect, and the struggle operate profitably was telling. Whether JetBlue can compete more effectively by leveraging their extensive US connections to offer more coverage and gain a larger and more profitable market share by competing with the legacies instead of just the low cost carriers is a gamble. The other competitive edge would be attempting to lure the business crowd with their business offering, but the non participation a global alliance makes them a difficult choice for businesses to integrate. London and Paris are no longer the obvious next step that they were a couple of years ago.

  19. @RJB – they left IAD because they were losing money there. They tried to make a focus city in the early days, then tried a more limited approach. Most people in the capital area are set on flying out of DCA for shorter domestic flights unless they’re UA miles collectosrs. This might change once the Silver Line extension is done, making it easier to get to IAD, but for now it just doesn’t work.

    I think JetBlue will convert orders to A320LRs, but initially they’ll say they’re for South American flights – I’m not sure if the A321neo has a long enough range to go all the way to the southernmost destinations they can’t serve right now, but that’ll at least let them keep the competition guessing. There are some European destinations that are still good candidates for service to the US, since since they could offer connections that the ULCCs can’t, perhaps allowing Birmingham to work, along with either Bristol or Cardiff.

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