Official: JetBlue Secures London Heathrow Airport Slots

Filed Under: JetBlue

JetBlue plans to begin flying to London this summer with its A321LR aircraft, featuring an all new Mint business class product.

One major issue has been figuring out which London-area airport to fly to, given how hard it can be to secure London Heathrow slots. There’s a positive update on that front for JetBlue, as the airline has managed to secure slots for London’s most coveted airport.

JetBlue has struggled with London slots

JetBlue has dealt with the same issue that so many airlines have with London service. The airline wants to break into the market, but Heathrow Airport is off limits to most airlines — the airport is heavily slot-controlled due to congestion, and slots have historically sold for tens of millions of dollars each.

In November 2020 we saw data on what airlines had been granted slots at London-area airports, and here’s what we learned about JetBlue:

  • JetBlue was granted 28 weekly slots at Gatwick Airport, enough for 2x daily flights (the airline requested 56 weekly slots, so was granted 50% of them)
  • JetBlue was granted 56 weekly slots at Stansted Airport, enough for 4x daily flights (the airline requested 56 weekly slot pairs, so was granted 100% of them)
  • JetBlue requested 96 weekly slots at Heathrow, but was denied for all of them

As you can see, JetBlue has been in a real pickle, especially if we assume that the airline wants to operate up to four daily flights to London initially (two out of Boston, two out of New York):

  • The airline could operate all flights to London Stansted, but that’s not ideal
  • The airline could operate half of the flights out of London Gatwick and half of the flights out of London Stansted, but that’s also not ideal

JetBlue intends to start flying to London this summer

JetBlue has now secured London Heathrow slots

Airport Coordination Limited, which coordinates slots for London Heathrow Airport, has released an updated report on summer 2021 slots that have been awarded.

JetBlue has been awarded a total of 270 London Heathrow slots for the summer 2021 season. This includes:

  • 180 slots being allocated for New York JFK service
  • 90 slots being allocated for Boston service

Two slots are required per roundtrip (since each is for one takeoff or landing), and this is specific to the summer 2021 season, which goes through late October. To break this down further:

  • As of August 2, 2021, JetBlue has been awarded 14 weekly slots
  • As of September 13, 2021, JetBlue has been awarded an additional eight weekly slots, for a total of 22 weekly slots
  • As of September 20, 2021, JetBlue has been awarded an additional six weekly slots, for a total of 28 weekly slots

In other words:

  • As of August 2, 2021, JetBlue could fly daily between New York JFK and London Heathrow
  • As of September 13, 2021, JetBlue could fly 4x weekly between Boston and London Heathrow, and daily as of September 20, 2021

JetBlue plans to operate out of Terminal 2 at London Heathrow.

JetBlue has secured slots for London Heathrow

This is fantastic news, but…

It’s great to see that JetBlue has secured London Heathrow slots, though as of now we have more questions than answers:

  • How did JetBlue acquire these slots? Are these just temporary slots for this summer season?
  • What is JetBlue’s plan beyond the summer? After all, there’s not much value in flying out of Heathrow for just a few months, and then having to change airports…
  • The slots are enough for a total of two daily flights at most, so is that all that JetBlue is aiming for, or does the airline plan on offering additional service out of another London-area airport?

Like I said, the fact that JetBlue has secured any London Heathrow slots is awesome, one just has to wonder if this is actually sustainable, or if JetBlue is taking some sort of a foot in the door approach to building up a presence at Heathrow.

Will JetBlue be able to maintain London Heathrow service beyond summer?

We had a hint that this would happen

While this update is exciting, we had a clue that this was in the works. Eagle-eyed @IshrionA noted over a week ago that JetBlue’s website referenced London Heathrow in many ways that it hadn’t previously.

For example, when you searched for a flight on JetBlue’s website, London Heathrow showed up as an airport served by JetBlue, rather than an airport served by a partner airline (meanwhile London Gatwick showed as an airport served by a partner airline).

There were similar references throughout JetBlue’s website. For example, JetBlue’s route map page also referenced flights to London Heathrow as being operated by JetBlue.

The airline promptly removed these references from its website once people started noticing this.

Around the same time, @lines_aviation noted that when you went to the terminal finder on Heathrow’s website, JetBlue was listed as operating out of Terminal 2 as of August 2, 2021. According to this, JetBlue will operate a flight from New York that lands at 10:10AM, and departs again at 6:10PM.

This matches the information that we’re now getting.

Bottom line

JetBlue has managed to secure slots for London Heathrow for this summer, which is an exciting development, given that this has been the goal all along. We don’t actually know where these slots are coming from yet, though.

The next question is what the long term plan is here. It looks like the airline has secured these slots for summer, but what happens after that? Is JetBlue hoping for an extension of these slots, did the airline actually pay money for the slots, or will JetBlue change airports in the winter if it has to?

What do you make of the London Heathrow slots that JetBlue has secured?

Comments
  1. As a Brit I welcome Jet Blue to our shores.

    Depending on the schedule and (more importantly) pricing they could do very well indeed and the Mint product looks very good indeed

    I hope their original slots of arrive at 10am and depart at 6pm get changed to allow an earlier departure from LHR so an earlier arrival into JFK.

  2. Heathrow needs to lay the hammer on the airlines not using their slots. There are clearly airlines that can use them.

  3. @ Alex +1
    “Use it or lose it” should be reinstated. Legacy airlines need to provide services, or give way to new entrants who want to offer competition. The UK claims to believe in the free market, so let’s see it in action.

    @Lucky
    “JetBlue is taking some sort of a foot in the door approach to building up a presence at Heathrow”
    It’s pretty much always been that way at LHR: Virgin Atlantic had to force its way in over several years. The only exception is when an existing carrier goes bust (British Caledonian, for instance), when whoever buys them gets a big wodge of slots.

  4. Why is crowded, chaotic Heathrow so coveted? Its not like it is so close to city center, especially during heavy traffic, and even those taking Heathrow Express with a transfer to the tube will likely need to allow a couple hours.

    I get it for airlines that are trying to feed connection traffic beyond, such as AA via the BA partnership, or DL via Virgin. Or those flying large aircraft from their own US hubs, such as United. But JetBlue is flying narrow-body planes with traffic that will be almost entirely stopping or originating at London. Who cares about Heathrow for a flight like this? It seems like flying to one of the smaller airports–no further away and in some cases closer–might be a differentiator.

  5. I agree with John. I flew out of Gatwick for the first time in 2019 and found getting there to be much easier than Heathrow.

  6. @Alex – Bringing back use it or lose it would be a horrible idea as long as the UK still has travel restrictions.

  7. I wouldn’t mind flights to other London airports. A cheap fare to London spend a night. Then grab a cheap flight into Europe

  8. At the moment there isn’t the passenger demand for airlines to operate their full schedules

    Well they could but would you really want planes operating with no passengers on them using all that fuel for absolutly no purpose at all other than to comply with a rule that is (and has been) easily waivered ona short term basis>

    The fact that Jet Blue have gotten these slots shows that the waiver system is working because part of the slot waiver scheme is that if an airline wasn’t intending to use them itself they had to give up slots on a temporary basis to allow other airlines to operate and to do so by a specific deadline and not just give a couple of weeks notice.

  9. This whole JetBlue thing to London is more hyped than the Lebron trade 15 yrs ago. JetBlue can go love themselves. I still don’t quite get the American jet blue partnership.

  10. @The Nice Paul – BCal didn’t operate from LHR. Their hub was at Gatwick, which (together with DanAir which BA subsequently acquired) forms the basis of BA’s current operation there.

  11. I am sure all of the LHR slot holders will schedule the use of their full slot portfolio but the British government continues w/ restrictions that prohibit the flow of passengers – just as the US is doing on this side of the Atlantic.
    It is doubtful that B6 will retain use of whatever slots it has obtained – and we don’t even know the times for those flights – once other carriers are able to use their slots.

  12. Seems like an iffy proposition on several levels. First, these slots may only be temporarily available. Second, there is no onward connectivity for B6 passengers at LHR. Third, it seems like a single-aisle airplane TATL operation to Heathrow is a waste of limited slots.

  13. As someone from London, this is just my opinion on the situation. I feel jetBlue would be so much better off operating from Gatwick. There is a substantial market for transatlantic flights from Gatwick, and many people from London will go out of their way to use Gatwick due to the horrendous journey times to Heathrow. Also, BA, Virgin and Norwegian have all recently cut tatl from LGW, leaving a huge market hole.

    There is so much competition at Heathrow, and seeing as that the vast majority of British points collectors are tied to either BAEC or Virgin, it is a struggle to see how jetBlue will be able to offer an attractive proposition to most flyers in an extremely congested route; jetBlue truly lack a USP if they choose to operate out of Heathrow. Unless jetBlue are planning on seriously undercutting their competition, I just do not see Heathrow working for them, especially as BA generally offer very reasonable fares between london and NYC, even more so when booking a hotel and flight package.

    Put it this way; I would be very unlikely to fly jetBlue out of Heathrow unless there was a ridiculous price gap. If it was Gatwick, then I might be interested.

  14. @Marco:

    United, Delta and American have been flying single aisle 753s to LHR for years. Not to mention that every European carrier is pretty much flying single aisle to LHR- isn’t NYC an important market for LON? That, and BA hogs slots.

  15. @eponymous coward –

    I can’t remember AA ever flying 757s into LHR. UA has used them to EWR quite a bit though over the past few years (I know the one year CO had CLE-LHR it was a 757 as well; not sure if IAD ever got them).

    Delta only flew PHL-LHR on the 757 (that was an easy upgrade with the seat next to me empty as well) but that ended a few years ago.

  16. @Jojo
    But things are changing. Crossrail / Elizabeth line should finally open early next year, dramatically reducing many journey times to LHR — especially from central and east London but also, given the new interchange with Thameslink at Farringdon, from north and south.

    It also means there will be two independent rail links between London and LHR, so there’s a fallback if/when something goes wrong — whereas if the Gatwick Express goes down your main alternative is a hugely expensive taxi.

    Then in 2025 the Piccadilly line gets new, faster trains at increased frequency and, finally, with aircon.

    And then later the western rail link may open — giving direct LHR access to people from Reading, Bristol, etc. — while HS2 and the new interchange at Old Oak Common will transform LHR access from the West Midlands and North West.

    Personally I’d have loved to see a premium service to NY out of STN, which serves a whole swathe of NE London better than either LHR or LGW, as well as providing *much* easier access for the wealthy and high-tech markets around Cambridge, Norwich and the East Midlands (not as wealthy as west London/ the Thames Valley, but still…).

    You wrote:
    “the vast majority of British points collectors are tied to either BAEC or Virgin”
    … which may be true, but most companies aren’t interested in which airline provides maximum points opportunities for their staff.

    Company travel policies will likely be either negotiated in bulk, or will be of the “cheapest available fare in maximum X class” type. My company is a version of the latter: business class travel, but minimising the cost and both the total journey travel time and the number of transfers (every transfer doubles the chance of a missed connection, and increases total journey time).

    Those business class tickets provide the big money whereas savvy points collectors will be seeking great deals, while infrequent travellers will likely just want the cheapest possible ticket. The latter market will go for JetBlue in large numbers if JetBlue bases its pricing strategy on what it did with US transcons.

    BA is efficient compared to most legacy airlines but it still has a much higher cost base than a new entrant. Equally it will be desperate to protect its cash-cow NYLON routes, so there may be heavy discounting in the early months (which is great for us). But BA also has the benefit of very high frequency: which is great for business travellers, giving us lots of options, but also great for IRROPS. And it will already have lots of corporate travel contracts locked-in.

    I’m not weeping for BA. They were great innovators in the early years of lay-flat J class seats, but they’ve slept on their laurels letting many, many airlines leap-frog them in terms of hard and soft product.

    Over the last couple of years they’ve finally started upping their game — Do&Co catering, then the new Club Suite — but it feels to me like they need some aggressive competition to make them up their game further. I’m hoping JetBlue will provide it.

  17. I agree with everything people say about more services, more competition etc etc… but I struggle to get why people try to argue the point around “Why Heathrow vs any other airport”? I can list many reasons but at its core, if an airline could make a profit out a route from a certain airport, wouldn’t they do it? Why wouldn’t they? Yet, numerous airlines who have wrestled their way into Heathrow have started at Gatwick (and a lesser extend Stansted) only because of slot restrictions. At the first opportunity they move to Heathrow! That’s clearly where the demand is! In recent years, Garuda, Vietnam Airlines, Aegean Airlines and many more.

    Something that pretty much most travel blogs failed to report recently is that the UK’s high court has thrown out the case against Heathrow Expansion that paused proceedings in February. In December, they ruled that Heathrow can proceed with their expansion plans and submit their planning application. Clearly this is not going to happen until we are through the pandemic, but they will very much want to demonstrate that the demand is still there. My personal opinion is that once travel restrictions are lifted, Heathrow will be back to capacity very quickly. Even with some airlines reducing schedules there is so much demand from other airlines that have been waiting for years that they won’t have a problem to demonstrate the need for expansion!

  18. This can be a nice market for Jetblue if they’re smart – what the big guys won’t want to do is massively discount J to compete, so if Jetblue holds its nerve against the AP deals they could fill up nicely at the last minute by slightly undercutting – plenty of corporate traffic would have no choice to use them via their booking tools “cheapest carrier” rules

    Down the back their niche opportunity is one way and non-Saturday night stay tickets – BA wants 1500 quid for a LHR-NYC Mon-Fri trip in August for example and again, can’t see them being willing to tear up that rule for the sake of one piddly low density A321

  19. P.S. I am guessing these are temporary slots free up by other airlines “pausing” theirs as the rules allow them to do. You can be absolutely sure airlines will fly their slots once that ability goes away – I expect S22. But even then airlines like BA will likely use the “80% rule” heavily I and the airport will potentially be willing to continue to offer temporarily slots

    So I believe this is a bit of a gamble by Jetblue that either a) temporary slots will be a thing for a good few seasons, b) someone will give up some slots and they’ll get some permanently or c) there could still be lease or purchase opportunities down the line – there are a few carriers with slots that may be happy to let them go for a few years or forever and aren’t Jetblue competition – I haven’t researched but some off the top of my head – LOT, Ethiad, TAP, Alitalia, SAS, TAROM, SAA etc

  20. Why have to change at Farrington, using LHR, when the train goes directly there and onwards without changing trains from LGW

    LGW has better and more far reaching services by train directly from the airport station, to North, East and West, and more importantly South. LHR has none, without connecting.

    If the Gatwick Express goes down (and I’m really not sure it ever has) there are many other services to LGW, from the same station, albeit with stops so a little slower. And in any event, services from the City (London Bridge, Blackfriars and Farrington) connect faster directly into LGW

    I have (pre-covid) been choosing EK from LGW both from East and City of London, and Brighton over LHR hands down.

    Neither has a particularly good terminal structure, (except LH R T5) but at least LGW only has 2 terminals to interchange, not 5 all miles apart as in LHR

    To say nothing of the Heathrow Express at over GBP20 single or nearly GBP40 return for a journey that only goes to the west side of London. Then you need to change trains and take another 25 minute journey to the city.

  21. @UpperDeckJohnny
    Because time is what counts, not distance. Take a journey from West Norfolk: Network Rail tells me that right now on a weekday it usually takes 2’59” to get to LGW; and just 3 minutes longer to get to LHR. Utterly insignificant time differences.

    And that’s before Crossrail offers faster (and easy) interchange at Farringdon — when LHR will be very much faster to get to for our East Anglian than LGW, despite the latter’s direct Thameslink trains (that are achingly slow as they trundle across central London at barely more than walking pace).

    For some people LGW will be better. For others LHR.

    But it’s not a coincidence that pretty much *every* airline that has started at LGW has gravitated to LHR. Or do you think all those airlines are run by morons?

  22. @the nice Paul for any US based or connecting traveller Heathrow is a better option as it is easier to get into central London from. However, as the vast majority of Londoners do not live in the city Heathrow is such a pain to get to. You have repeatedly mentioned crossrail, which is still not open and has no definite open date. I dont understand your fixation on Farrrigdon either considering it is a stop for all of two national rail trains. How you are sure Crossrail will be so much faster than Thameslink is not guaranteed.

    Gatwick caters to a different crowd to Heathrow; a more budget conscious, leisure orientated clientele. This is why for most airlines Gatwick just doesn’t work, coupled with the lack of connecting traffic there. However, I have no doubt jetBlue would be very successful with a once daily A321 service to JFK from Gatwick; it is proven that this is a profitable route, which currently has no competition.

  23. @the nice paul

    Noting your comments on BA. It’s true that while they’re upping their game they still have some way to go, at least as far this pax is concerned. I fly the Australia-U.K. route, which is very well served by many airlines via their hubs (e.g. Singapore, Thai, Malaysia, SriLankan, all three Middle East biggies, EVA, Cathay, and probably a few others I’ve forgotten) And I’ve never once flown B.A. just because their high fares don’t justify their below average J Class product. Same reason I’ve also never flown QANTAS long haul, although their product is a bit better, but not enough to justify the cost. An example of two well-entrenched ‘hometown’ players with captive audiences, who feel they can charge high fares while offering average/below average products. No thanks!!

  24. @Jojo
    Google is your friend.

    Farringdon—Heathrow by Crossrail will take 39 minutes, with a train every 2.5 minutes.

    Farringdon—Gatwick by Thameslink takes 49 minutes with a train every ~10 minutes.

    Other examples:

    King’s Cross—Heathrow currently takes at least 50 minutes with a train every 10-15 minutes.

    Kings Cross—Gatwick takes 55-60 minutes with a train every 19 minutes.

    The point is that Heathrow is not (or will not be) as slow to get to as Gatwick from many places. Though as I said, it does depend where you start from.

    I mention Crossrail because it’s a game-changer for Heathrow access.

    Canary Wharf—Heathrow today: 1h4m every 15 minutes

    Canary Wharf—Heathrow Crossrail: 48m every 2.5m

    Canary Wharf—Gatwick: 52m every 10m

    I’d agree with you that JetBlue could get loads of low-cost econo-travellers from LGW. But it won’t get many high-profit Mint travellers — they’re fixated on LHR (I regret the LHR fixation. I’d love to be able to use STN more).

    JetBlue’s Mint product strikes me as a disrupter of existing markets rather than a creator of new ones. Its target is BA’s hugely profitable NYLON traffic. You win that by competing on the same route, not opening up a new one from a different airport.

  25. @John
    I largely agree with you.

    If I’m travelling to The Americas I tend to fly BA (it has loads of gateways, and its competitors are not notably better, especially to South America. I also avoid the ludicrous hub-and-spoke system of US airlines which requires me to do the domestic leg of a journey on flights of frankly horrible quality).

    If I’m travelling to Asia-Pacific I tend to fly Qatar, which is an order of magnitude better than BA.

    But it all depends… I take Qantas for Santiago—Sydney because no-one else flies that route. And AirNZ from Buenos-Aires—Auckland, because ditto. They’re the best options on those routes. Similarly, BA is sometimes just the best option (least-worst option?).

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reminder: OMAAT comments are changing soon. Register here to save your space.