While confirming on April 9 that it will begin flying to
London from Boston and New York sometime in 2021, JetBlue made it clear that it
will place an emphasis on serving business travelers in those key markets.
"The fares being charged today by airlines on these
routes, specifically on the premium end, are enough to make you blush,"
JetBlue president and COO Joanna Geraghty said in a statement.
She added that the airline's Mint business class cabin will
be larger on its transatlantic fleet of Airbus A321LRs than the 16-seat Mint
cabin JetBlue currently flies on transcontinental routes.
But analysts said that if the New York-based carrier
is to successfully find a niche among business travelers in the highly
competitive New York-London and Boston-London markets, it will likely have to
do so without serving Heathrow, London's preferred airport among business
Rob Walker, a London-based analyst for the consulting firm
ICF and a former strategist at Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, said, "Clearly,
the situation is that Heathrow is massively capacity constrained. "You can
only get a slot by spending tens of millions of dollars, so I don't think
JetBlue will do that."
Analyst John Strickland, director of London-based JLS
Consulting, added, "I don't believe they are targeting Heathrow. They are
not Johnny-come-latelies. They know that is a challenge. I think they will be
planning to fly into a couple of London airports, Gatwick and Stansted."
Notably, while confirming plans for London service, JetBlue
didn't say precisely which airport it will serve. However, the carrier did
suggest that it will serve more than one of the London area's four primary
Largest among those airports, by far, is Heathrow, which
handled 80 million passengers in 2018. But as Walker said, Heathrow is all but
tapped out on capacity. In recent years, the airport has typically had two or
fewer daily landing and departure slots available for allocation.
Meanwhile, the cost of buying slots from incumbent airline
slot holders can be prohibitive. In 2016, for example, Oman Air paid $75
million for one daily slot pair.
Gatwick, London's second-largest airport, is known primarily
for serving leisure traffic. Still, in recent years it has drawn a growing
number of U.S. routes due to constraints at Heathrow, the emergence of discount
carrier Norwegian Air and efforts taken by British Airways to counter
But entry into Gatwick, while more feasible than slots at
Heathrow, won't be easy for JetBlue either. The airport's single runway is "bursting
at the seams," according to Walker, and a slot-trading market has emerged in
recent years. In late 2017, IAG, parent of British Airways and Iberia,
purchased the approximately 20 daily slot pairs that had belonged to the
shuttered Monarch Air for an estimated $78 million.
More accessible to JetBlue will be Stansted and London Luton,
which have available slots. Luton, however, currently offers flights only to
Europe and near portions of the Middle East and Asia and is mostly serviced by
discount carriers. The airport also has a short runway, which could force extra
restrictions on the number of passengers or amount of cargo JetBlue could carry
on its A321LRs, Walker said.
Stansted, too, offers no North American flights at present.
The airport does, however, have a longer runway than Luton. Currently, Emirates
flies one daily Boeing 777 service from Stansted to Dubai and will add a second
daily in July.
"Stansted is more well-known," Strickland said. "And
now Emirates is another seal of approval."
Despite barriers to entry at Gatwick, Strickland doesn't
appear to be alone in believing that JetBlue hopes to make the South London
airport the destination for at least one of what it said will be multiple daily
flights to London from Boston and New York.
In a move that appeared to anticipate JetBlue's plan, Delta
announced on April 4 that it would enter Gatwick in summer 2020 with flights
from Boston and New York JFK.
Strickland said that if JetBlue were to also serve Stansted,
40 miles north of Central London, it would gain access to a growing catchment
area, including burgeoning technology and pharmaceutical sectors in Cambridge,
30 miles to the north of the airport.
Still, the carrier would be disadvantaged among some
business travelers by not flying to Heathrow, which offers the easiest access
to Central London as well as a wide web of connections to locations throughout
the U.K., continental Europe and beyond.
Walker, though, said JetBlue will primarily be tapping into
its own U.S. connectivity from Boston and New York to help fill planes, as
opposed to focusing on European markets beyond London.
Strickland said that in putting an emphasis on attracting
business flyers with more affordable premium seats, JetBlue will find plenty of
room to work with.
Such seats across the Atlantic can easily cost close to $10,000
"There are more things working for them than against,"
he said. "But this side of the Atlantic [Europe] will be the hardest piece
of the jigsaw to fit together in a profitable way."