The coronavirus pandemic has upended airline network planning.
Out are the disciplined strategies of connecting destinations solely with hubs or focus cities; in is a fly-anywhere-people-are-going strategy that is seeing carriers like JetBlue Airways push into the strongholds of some of its largest competitors.
The latter strategy is on display in JetBlue’s latest announcement: 24 new routes with the many challenging either Delta Air Lines or United Airlines in places like Los Angeles (LAX) — JetBlue’s newest focus city — Newark (EWR) and Raleigh-Durham (RDU).
Beginning Nov. 19, JetBlue will add 16 routes new routes to its map. Seven will takeoff from Newark — a major hub for United — going to Aruba (AUA), Cancun (CUN), Montego Bay (MBJ), Nassau (NAS), Providenciales (PLS), Punta Cana (PUJ) and St. Maarten (SXM). All of the routes are also flown by United.
The Newark additions are something of a take-them-while-they’re-down approach. United has resumed flying at one of the most conservative rates among U.S. carriers since the pandemic began. In October, the airline will fly just 36% of the flights it flew during the same month a year ago from Newark, according to Cirium schedules.
And JetBlue has not sat on the sidelines. The carrier has already edged its way onto two of United’s most important domestic routes — Newark to Los Angeles and San Francisco (SFO) — with its Mint premium product, and added seven other domestic routes since July.
Other new routes coming to the JetBlue map in November include Los Angeles to Cancun and West Palm Beach (PBI). Raleigh-Durham will see new service to Cancun, Fort Myers (RSW), Montego Bay and San Juan (SJU).
Many of the additions in Los Angeles and Raleigh-Durham, while competing with a broader array of airlines, will pit JetBlue against Delta. The Atlanta-based carrier has a hub in Los Angeles and a focus city in Raleigh-Durham.
JetBlue plans to fly Airbus A320s on most of its 24 new routes. It will fly Airbus A321s with its posh Mint product on select flights between Los Angeles and Liberia and West Palm Beach; and Newark and Aruba and St. Maarten.
All of JetBlue’s new routes are examples of how airlines are pivoting their maps to where travelers want to go. That includes destinations with outdoor-oriented activities, like beaches or mountains, that allow visitors some semblance of social distancing while COVID-19 concerns remain.
The efforts come at the expense of traditionally business travel-focused cities. For example, JetBlue will only operate up to nine flights a day from Washington Reagan National (DCA) in October compared to up to 30 a day a year ago, Cirium schedule show. Overall, the airline plans to fly just over half of what it flew a year ago in October.
“This is the latest example of JetBlue’s ability to be nimble and play offense as we quickly adjust to new customer behaviors and booking patterns,” Scott Laurence, head of revenue and planning at JetBlue, said in a statement. “This latest series of new routes… returns more aircraft to the skies and doubles down on our ability to generate more cash sooner.”
Other airlines are making similar moves. United is adding 17 routes between northern and Midwestern cities and Florida that bypass its hubs, and Southwest Airlines is using the crisis to add new cities to its map including Miami (MIA) and Palm Springs (PSP).
However, one question remains: Once there is either a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19 and travel patterns begin returning to normal, will these new routes stay or will airlines revert to their former maps.
Trade group Airlines for America (A4A) does not expect air travel to return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2024.
Below is a list of JetBlue’s 24 new routes that begin in November and December. Most operate at least daily.
Beginning Nov. 19
- Los Angeles – Cancun and West Palm Beach
- Newark – Aruba, Cancun, Montego Bay, Nassau, Providenciales, Punta Cana and St. Maarten
- Raleigh-Durham – Cancun, Fort Myers, Montego Bay and San Juan
- San Francisco (SFO) – Cancun
- Tampa (TPA) – Cancun and Richmond (RIC)
Beginning Dec. 18
- Fort Lauderdale (FLL) – Bozeman (BZN) and Palm Springs (PSP)
- Las Vegas (LAS) – Richmond
- Los Angeles – Charleston, South Carolina (CHS), Liberia, Costa Rica (LIR), Raleigh-Durham, Richmond and San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO)