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JetBlue is consolidating all of its operations from Long Beach airport to Los Angeles in October. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

JetBlue Leaves Long Beach For LAX

JetBlue announced Thursday that it will end services to Long Beach Airport in California and transfer them to Los Angeles International (LAX), which will become a focus city for the airline. JetBlue’s last day serving Long Beach will be Oct. 6.

“LAX is one of JetBlue’s most successful markets and offers the valuable opportunity to grow significantly both domestically and internationally while introducing our low fares on more routes,” Scott Laurence, the airline’s head of revenue and planning, said in a press release. “The transition to LAX, serving as the anchor of our focus city strategy on the West Coast, sets JetBlue up for success in Southern California.”

“We continue to seize on opportunities to emerge from [the Coronavirus] pandemic a stronger competitive force in the industry,” Laurence continued.

“We are excited that the airline has chosen to grow its LAX operation beginning in October,” Justin Erbacci, the CEO of Los Angeles World Airports, said in a statement. “JetBlue will be an important part of LAX’s comeback from historic lows in passenger traffic, and our guests now will have even more choices.”

JetBlue will maintain its services at Hollywood Burbank Airport and to Ontario, San Diego and Palm Springs. The airline says these airports are key to its key Los Angeles and California strategies.

Starting Oct. 7, routes from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport, Reno-Tahoe International Airport, Salt Lake City International Airport, San Francisco International Airport and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport will be transferred to Los Angeles. Tickets for the route updates will be available starting Friday.

JetBlue already flies to Orlando and Buffalo, New York from LAX. It also offers its signature Mint service to Boston, New York JFK and Fort Lauderdale from the west-coast city, and a new Mint service between Los Angeles and Newark launches July 23. In total, after the move, JetBlue will operate 30 daily flights from LAX to 13 destinations.

“Coronavirus has transformed airline route maps, and as we begin to see small signs of recovery, we continue to be flexible with our network plans to respond to demand trends and generate cash in support of our business,” Laurence said. “We’ve selected routes where customers are showing some interest in travel again and where our low fares and award-winning experience will be noticed.”

“We will always be grateful for the investment JetBlue made in our community and the tremendous service they offered our passengers,” Long Beach Airport Director Cynthia Guidry said in a statement. “We understand that the aviation industry – now more than ever – is constantly changing and airlines nationwide are making difficult business decisions to stay competitive in light of the pandemic.”

The 627 crew based in Long Beach “will be given the opportunity to transition to positions to LAX or other airports,” JetBlue spokesman Philip Stewart said in an email to Press-Telegram. JetBlue currently has 150 staff at LAX, and it is expected to have roughly 700 stationed staff there after the move. The airline said it would move maintenance and support staff from Long Beach to LAX in October, and other crew members will be given the option to transfer to their choice of airport.

JetBlue says that it plans to add both domestic and international destinations from Los Angeles. It plans to reach about 70 daily flights out of the airport by 2025. Long Beach’s decision to prohibit international flights in 2017 is among the main reasons JetBlue has ultimately decided to leave. In 2019, Long Beach forced JetBlue to give up almost ⅓ of its gate slots after warnings the airline was violating city regulations designed to keep airlines from purposefully underusing slots to keep competitors out, per Los Angeles Times.

Meanwhile, LAX gives airlines more flexibility to operate around the clock. JetBlue says it will seize upon this flexibility in its future flight and destination schedule.

JetBlue’s departure should not come as a complete surprise. It cut flights from Long Beach to Oakland and reduced frequencies to Sacramento, San Jose and Las Vegas in February, less than a month before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the American economy and much of its travel industry.

Long Beach’s Future

“The impact of COVID-19 on our industry has forced us to take a hard look at our remaining Long Beach Airport operation, which continues to financially underperform our network despite various efforts through the years – including seeking to bring international flights – in order to make the airport succeed,” Stewart added.

Long Beach Airport expects “strong interest” in the 17 slots JetBlue currently holds at the airport. Southwest Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and Delta Air Lines are on a waitlist to take slots. 

“Airlines across the world have been impacted by [the Coronavirus] crisis,” said Long Beach councilwoman Stacy Mungo, per Long Beach Post, reacting to decisions by both JetBlue and Delta to suspend services out of Long Beach. “Long Beach is not immune. We will work hard to support the remaining airlines and their service of safe travel and look forward to rebuilding.”

Southwest fought to grow its market share out of Long Beach. It is very possible that Southwest will jump to fill the gap JetBlue will leave by touting its same low-cost model and its similar tendency towards under-served airports.

While JetBlue’s departure will greatly impact Long Beach, the airport should be able to recover with relative ease. The departure of a dominant single airline often leaves airports practically empty, but Long Beach has enough interest from other airlines that there should hardly be a blip on its radar.

Southwest is more than capable of filling the niche that Long Beach residents appreciated from JetBlue, while Hawaiian Airlines can increase connectivity from the airport to popular holiday destinations. Delta can connect passengers to a global network that defines one of the biggest U.S. legacy airlines.

JetBlue is also expanding out of other nearby California airports. It is, for example, adding a new service from San Diego to Newark starting on Aug. 6, making it the only airline operating from San Diego to multiple New York-area airports.

JetBlue’s announcement comes a week after it reached an agreement not to involuntarily furlough any of its pilots until May 1, 2021 under any circumstances. The airline seems to be taking strides to cut costs while retaining as much staff as possible. With all of its pilots ready as the rebound from the coronavirus continues and a restraining airport out of its network, the airline is prepared to reposition staff seemingly at will with fewer fees to pay to aid.

John McDermott
John McDermott
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