JetBlue Secures (Undesirable?) London Airport Slots

Filed Under: JetBlue

There’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is that JetBlue has secured slots for its new service to London. The bad news is that it’s definitely not what JetBlue wanted, and frankly it almost seems like a recipe for failure.

JetBlue launching London flights in 2021

In April 2019, JetBlue formally announced plans to launch transatlantic flights by 2021. While exact details were initially limited, the plan has been for the airline to launch multiple daily flights from both Boston and New York JFK to London as of some point in 2021.

JetBlue Mint cabin

Over the summer JetBlue’s CEO confirmed the airline still has plans to launch these flights in 2021 (despite the pandemic), but that the plan is now for these flights to launch in late 2021. It sounds like we should expect the service to launch somewhere around the start of the winter schedule, which is in late October.

JetBlue’s new transatlantic service is possible thanks to the 13 Airbus A321LRs that the airline has on order, which are capable of operating the transatlantic flight with ease. JetBlue’s very first A321LR is currently in production, and should join JetBlue’s fleet in a few months time.

JetBlue’s very first Airbus A321LR being assembled

Since the initial order, the airline has ordered 13 A321XLRs, which are even longer range, though they won’t be delivered until 2023 at the earliest.

While JetBlue set the standard for narrow body business class with its A321 Mint product, the airline plans to introduce an all new Mint seat on the A321LR, featuring direct aisle access from every seat.

It’s anyone’s guess what that will actually look like, but the recently introduced STELIA Aerospace OPERA seat seems like a contender.

STELIA Aerospace OPERA seat

Otherwise I could see the airline choosing the Thompson Aero VantageSolo seat, as this is the same seat manufacturer that JetBlue used for its previous Mint seats

Thompson Aero VantageSolo seat

JetBlue secures Gatwick and Stansted slots

ACL is the organization that coordinates slots at London’s major airports, and some recent filings contain information related to JetBlue’s London plans:

  • JetBlue was granted 14 weekly slot pairs at Gatwick Airport, enough for 2x daily flights (the airline requested 28 weekly slot pairs, so was granted 50% of them); these are intended for flights to & from New York JFK, and the airline initially intends to operate just 1x daily flight in the market
  • JetBlue was granted 28 weekly slot pairs at Stansted Airport, enough for 4x daily flights (the airline requested 28 weekly slot pairs, so was granted 100% of them); these are intended for flights to & from Boston, and the airline initially intends to operate 2x daily flights in the market
  • JetBlue requested 48 weekly slot pairs at Heathrow, but was denied for all of them

So yeah, on the plus side, JetBlue now officially has slots for London, though they’re far from ideal — the airline as of now will have split operations at two airports, neither of which is the airport that JetBlue was targeting, which was Heathrow.

JetBlue’s proposed London services (as of now)

Why can’t JetBlue fly to Heathrow?

JetBlue has made it clear that its ultimate goal is to operate all London flights to Heathrow. However, that’s a long shot:

  • Historically Heathrow has been one of the most slot restricted airports in the world, and Heathrow slot pairs have sold for tens of millions of dollars
  • The current pandemic has caused a huge reduction in flights to Heathrow; historically this would lead to airlines losing slots (since there’s a “use it or lose it” rule), but for the time being those slot restrictions have been relaxed
  • In other words, even though airlines aren’t currently using their Heathrow slots, other airlines still can’t add service, because the airlines with the slots can hold onto them

Several weeks ago there had been claims that JetBlue secured slots at Heathrow, though those turned out to be false.

What exactly is JetBlue’s strategy here? The way I view it:

  • JetBlue is continuing to do everything it can to secure Heathrow slots, and probably hopes it’ll have luck once airlines can no longer keep their slots without flying (though I could see that being way down the line)
  • JetBlue’s backup seems to be to offer all service to Gatwick, but the airline only managed to get two daily slot pairs, when the airline wanted four daily slot pairs
  • JetBlue’s next best option seems to be Stansted, so the airline requested slots there as a backup
  • While the airline could operate all of its desired flights out of Stansted, clearly this isn’t something JetBlue wants

So yeah, at this point I think JetBlue has secured something just to have it, but is still hoping for better.

It’ll be tough enough to make transatlantic flights work under the best of conditions in 2021, while a split service between Gatwick and Stansted seems like a recipe for failure. Several airlines have tried transatlantic flights out of Stansted over the years, and it never ended well.

Bottom line

JetBlue has secured slots for its new services to London, though unfortunately they’re at Gatwick and Stansted. As of now JetBlue intends to operate twice daily Boston to Stansted flights, and once daily New York JFK to Gatwick flights.

Clearly this setup isn’t ideal, and JetBlue is hoping for better. The airline is ideally hoping to operate all services at Heathrow, while I imagine the airline would also settle for operating all flights out of Gatwick, if it were able to get slots. But that hasn’t even been possible.

For the sake of JetBlue being able to compete, I really do hope the airline is able to eventually secure Heathrow slots, or at least secure a lot more Gatwick slots.

What do you make of JetBlue’s current slot setup in London?

(Tip of the hat to Wandering Aramean)

  1. Where LCY slots even a possibility since BA stopped their “Banker Shuttle”? A mint suite flight to Canary Wharf. One can dream…

  2. Worth pointing out that the Heathrow slot report hasn’t come out yet so there’s still hope. Also from the same reports the JetBlue A321LR is set to feature just 138 which is extremely premium heavy (almost 100 less than an easyJet A321) which is interesting

  3. I have never used Stansted but how inconvenient is it to central London really? Isn’t there direct train service? If the mint price is right, I would consider it.

  4. Gatwick can and would work in a post covid world. With both the Gatwick Express and Southern rail connecting onto Southwest Trains taking you into the city in a time of 30-60mins this is comparable to Heathrow. The Heathrow express takes 15 minutes into Paddington, then between 25 and 40 minutes into the city, roughly both an hour each. With regards to connections, if JetBlue can secure easyJet to provide feeder traffic, this could be a win win situation for both airlines. Another point of interest is the catchment area of Surrey, where it is easier to travel to LGW than LHR. If more and more people see reductions in the amount of time they have to spend in a physical London office, more will move further afield into the Surrey catchment area and would help grow demand from Gatwick. Stansted is a no go like Luton and City would only work with A220 due to MTOW.

  5. Gatwick is doable, but Stansted is a non starter for most Londoners.

    @DCAFrank LCY would be great but is not possible due to the restrictions on which aircraft can and cannot land there. Only A318s and smaller are allowed, which takes JetBlue out of the running

  6. I don’t get the obsession with LHR, it’s a horrid airport and hard to get to if you’re not based in the south west.

    If splitting between 2 airports, why not at least have 1 northern base i.e Manchester or Edinburgh?

  7. @GuruJanitor
    Jetblue has the A220-300 on order. The A220-100 is certified to fly to LCY, the -300 has not been certified and Bombrdi-bus has no plans to certify the aircraft for LCY ops.

    Jetblue would never fly the LCY banking shuttle which is effectively dead, its just as convenient to fly into LHR with the Heathrow express.

  8. If Norwegian goes under by then won’t there be a fair few extra slots available at Gatwick? Then they can consolidate all their routes our of LGW.

  9. I’m guessing Jet Blue will be targeting US travellers for some time to come as its brand is unknown in the UK. It will therefore have a hard time persuading enough people to fly to Gatwick, let alone Stansted. It’s akin to EWR being more convenient for large chunks of Manhattan than JFK, but you can’t persuade non-Americans to fly there.

  10. Given the reduce presence of BA at Gatwick and Norwegian’s fragility it might not be all bad but no doubt will require them to lower costs more than if they were flying in/out of LHR.

    Gatwick is actually quite good if your final destination is LON. Longer-term, perhaps they parter with some low-cost carriers for EU connectivity.

  11. By the time Jetblue needs the Gatwick slots Norwegian is probably long gone, hence plenty of slots up for grab.

  12. @NB — Turns it into an interesting/important marketing opportunity for B6 in order to make it work. They’re very creative so I wouldn’t be blown away if they find a way to make it work.

  13. @Ben — I think the 14 slots for Gatwick should be 7 “slot pairs”, as a slot is needed for both a takeoff and a landing (i.e. 7 takeoffs + 7 landings = 14 slots), which means JetBlue was only granted 1 daily flight operation into/out of LGW, and this could explain why JetBlue does not just fly from both JFK/BOS to LGW 1 daily each — they simply can only fly a total of one daily flight into Gatwick.

  14. For the new Mint seat, I’m still strongly betting on the VantageSolo seats that are rendered in your other article linked in here – including that first row marketed at a premium, based on some other information out there.

  15. STN is fine for me for leisure and very limited trips to the UK (one of my former business trip locations) but LGW and LHR more convenient for most of my previous destinations in the London area. Luton would be even worse. So, bottom line, unfortunate cards dealt to B6.

    As far as one flight stations, Alaska has made it possible to do. Many Seattle to middle of America airports, one flight per day

  16. Frankly depending on the location in London LHR is really annoying. I live in Canary Wharf and work in Mayfair, LGW is a lot more convenient to get to than LHR. STN is quite alright too (despite not wanting to admit it many of my colleagues have take the occasional Friday evening flight out of there). The lounge sucks but the remainder of the airport is quite alright. Certainly wouldn’t mind flying from there if the price is right. If you live in wealthy West London its an entirely different game. Heathrow is a short cab ride…

  17. This one really depends. Stanstead is easier than Heathrow for most people in East London, including those going to Bank or Canary Wharf, since it has a direct train to Liverpool St. I live in Hackney though so I’m biased. I guess, are they trying to bring people to London, or to Europe?

  18. It’s much quicker into London from STN than LGW. 20 min train every 15 minutes into Liverpool Street.
    Originating locally is more difficult. You need to take a car/cab from Norwich or the surrounding areas. There’s a train from Cambridge but that’s about it. But it’s equally a pain to get to LHR from the STN catchment area.
    Maybe it’s a question of if you build it they will come. The area has many more people than when AA flew to ORD from STN.

  19. What are the specific restrictions that wouldn’t allow for B6 to fly into LCY? BA was flying A318’s for a long time. Is it a seat cap per flight restriction where the A321XLR maxes out?

  20. I’m sure once the slot restrictions are back airlines will be happy to lease slots at LHR for the near future! Many airlines start at LGW/STN and at the first opportunity move to LHR.

  21. I for one am having a lot of trouble understanding the skepticism around STN. It could be the perfect fit for B9 taking into account several factors:

    1. The many historical biases against STN for location or perception as being low-cost etc. are largely unknown or irrelevant to the folks who will fly B9. B9 will target young, primarily American travelers (the brand is unknown in the UK) who will likely see landing at LHR, LGW, STN, etc. as one in the same given that they all require ~45-60 minutes to reach central London. These folks (myself included) have faint or no memory of the days when LHR was “the” London airport thanks to Bermuda II and flying into anywhere but LHR was inconvenient and in some ways not properly “London.” Simply put, we don’t care about any of that.

    2. Many younger travelers spend most of their time in Shoreditch/Hackey/east London in general so a direct connection to Liverpool St. from STN is indeed preferable to them. There is nothing express about the Heathrow Express unless you are only going to Paddington. It takes 1hr+ to get to Liverpool Street from LHR so the advantage is lost.

    3. Connections are not a factor in this service. This is clearly marketed as point to point US-LON service. No one cares about an onward flight to Belfast or Geneva or wherever.

    4. As someone who can only buy Y (sometimes Y+) for corporate travel, if Mint is priced appropriately and I can make a compelling argument to expense B9 J over VA or BA Y/Y+, guess who I will be flying regardless of where the plane lands in London?

  22. What’s wrong with Gatwick?
    I personally find the Heathrow experience miserable. This is a welcome new development for JetBlue- one of the best airlines in the sky IMO

  23. @abacdaba LCY runway is too short for B6’s A321. Also strict noise restrictions means limited aircraft are certified to use LCY. A220-100 was the most recently approved and is the largest plane to use LCY.

  24. STN had many transatlantic carriers in the past some good some never did there homework
    I am sure Jet blue will make there own mind up if they start & things dont go right
    It will need a hugh marketing campaign

  25. Aren’t a bunch of LGW slots owned by Norwegian – an airline that has shrunk to just a domestic operator within Norway, and has no intention of flying 787s between LGW and the U.S. anytime soon?!? I have to think the folks running LGW would have some interest in seeing that at least some of the slots used by Norwegian for its extensive transatlantic services end up being re-allocated to a carrier willing and able to serve the U.S. rather than yet another short haul European LCC flight.

    Apparently Norwegian did pretty well with a 2x daily JFK-LGW service, a rare bright spot in the airline’s otherwise disastrous foray into the long haul realm. Assuming that was true, Norwegian achieved that with had no hub feed or FFer loyalty at JFK. I highly doubt frequency truly matters on the New York-London route anymore, though. If it does, B6 can start JFK-LGW at a competitive twice daily frequency and temporarily operate its BOS-London flights into STN. However, does B6 really need to have more than 2 daily flights to London in the near future?

    I would think jetBlue could simply operate BOS-LGW and JFK-LGW each at 1x daily frequency for now. They can keep applying for additional LGW slots to support additional frequencies or maybe even try some other routes (BDL/EWR/PHL/PVD-LGW, perhaps?). Presumably LHR is the end goal for all London services, but it could be many years before B6 can get enough commercially viable slots to fly there. Didn’t it take AA 10 or 15 years to consolidate its London operations at LHR?

  26. Agree with @alex.
    Made the mistake of going with family to Heathrow and taking the tube to Canary Wharf. Took over an hour to get there. Next time I will be looking into LGW or maybe STN.

  27. Personally, I find LGW the best London airport, except LCY but that’s a different league (or game). It’s just as easy to reach as LHR, but I always had a much more steamlined / efficient experience at LGW.

    STN on the other hand.. I used it once and thanks but no thanks. It’s not just the location, the airport feels very lowcost, crowded, disorganized and it’s painfully obvious that management prefers costs at the expense of customer experience. Which is the correct approach as it is a low cost airport. But it makes it rather poor choice for TATL flights.

  28. @miatravel – Travel from LHR to City is a pain at the moment, but keep in mind that Crossrail is slated to open relatively soon and when it does, it will be a game changer.

  29. The debate over which London airport to use depends on the physical location of the traveller within London and opportunities for connecting flights. I live in southwest London and even though Gatwick is physically further away than Heathrow, it is a fast 25-min train ride from Clapham Junction. LCY is the closest but it is 3 Tube / DLR rides each way or a slow crawl through traffic. STN and LTN might as well be on another planet.

    Secondly, EK is friends with both U2 and B6; U2 and EK are also in the North terminal at LGW (pre pandemic). So may be some opportunities there for connections and code sharing?

  30. STN is probably the worst major airport in the UK.

    One lounge which has no restrooms (and the restrooms in the airport are always queuing out of the door), terrible security, even bigger ripoff parking charges than most airports and in the middle of nowhere and certainly nothing related to london.

    Unless theyre going to be selling very cheap flights, its a nonstarter.

  31. Gatwick is a far easier airport from where I live. I *hate* going to Heathrow.

    Stansted isn’t bad either. I really don’t see it being much worse.

    Anyone flying JetBlue international probably isn’t a business traveler anyway, and if they are, Gatwick is moderately more convenient to Canary Wharf (Thameslink to London Bridge, few stops on Jubilee).

  32. airfarer – in what world does it take 20 minutes from Stansted to Liverpool street and vice versa?

    The quickest journey is 47 minutes

    These things are easy to check.

  33. Derek – ‘heavy construction’ on crossrail has finished.

    Any actual construction is now minimal with work on testing stations, trains and systems started and ongoing

  34. Great news.. much as I love flying into LHR when heading straight into “town”……
    LGW is much more convenient with trains and road for the south coast when visiting family, and also renting a car away from the LHR surcharge fees

  35. I prefer Heathrow because it’s the cheapest to get from to Central London. Can be as low as 3GBP outside peak hours.

    Gatwick is ok. The problem is it’s at least 10GBP on Southern Rail. Might not seem much different but when you calc it for a family, it adds up. And then you still likely need to hop on tube from Victoria.

    Stanstead.. well, if they price tickets like Ryan Air does, I’ll consider it. Otherwise no, thank you.

  36. Why don’t they make an offer for any one of the about-to-fail-airlines’ slots at LHR? Take SAA for example. Prime morning arrival and event departure slot in T2. The creditors would welcome the influx of cash…

  37. I’d much rather fly into/out of Gatwick or Stansted any day of the week — LHR is a horrorshow. And if it keeps the price down for JetBlue tickets, so much the better 🙂

  38. How about Birmingham? Great rail connections to London and elsewhere. Not everyone lives or wants to go to London when they go to England. Gatwick and Birmingham make sense as one is south and one north of London.

  39. We’re good with Stansted, even prefer it, since our travel to the UK usually takes us to East Anglia. We avoid LHR when connecting to Europe, preferring Amsterdam, Zurich, or Munich.

  40. What happened to all of VS slots at Gatwick since it pulled out and concentrated on LHR & MAN? Surely if they don’t have any flights leaving LGW then they’re not going to want to keep them ? Plus the cash might help right now ??

  41. Shame this. Living in BOS with family in LGW, I was looking forward to this service, looks like I’ll be stuck with legacy careers to LHR and a onward trek, esp now it looks like Norwegians days are numbered 🙁

  42. It does seem strange they were unable to get slots at LGW considering VS and BA pulling so much. Hopefully in time more will open up, long haul from Stanstead has never worked

  43. I’m all ears for any transatlantic operator coming to Stansted. I think this is a gem of an idea and, links into Central London from the airport are similar to Heathrow? The airline could make a real hub of Stansted, instead of opting for a heavily limited scope at Heathrow. They also benefit from a whole heap of people in the Anglian region who would welcome direct services to New York. Places like Cambridge are tech hubs and with the right services, many would opt for Stansted rather than the joy of a commute to Heathrow. Or worse, Gatwick. This country is more than just London and it would be a huge benefit to gain access to the USA from other regional hubs here. I fly to Boston for work so would gladly try Jet Blue as an alternative.

  44. Scott Laurence, head of Route Planning, has already stated that they will likely return the Stansted slots. They apply for a lot of slots around the World that they don’t intend to use for the purpose of being a part of the process and learning how to work with that individual regulating authority. They expect more Gatwick to become available and still seem confident on LHR being an option, with that and Gatwick combo being the goal.

  45. I would tell JetBlue to never give up on Heathrow slots. I used to live there and LHR was the closest airport to my school and many parts of the West End (would be ideal for people trying to get to Soho, Little Venice, Hyde Park or The West End Shopping District). Many airlines are having a significant drop in demand right now due to Coronavirus and if this decline continues (especially with more companies now realizing how easy it is to work from home), I think JetBlue could get Heathrow slots and they would be convient to leisure travelers and tourists.

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