When Alaska Airlines beat out JetBlue Airways in a bidding war for Virgin America, many of us assumed that JetBlue would eventually pivot to Europe. Today they announced new service from Boston and New York-JFK to London. The bad news is these flights won’t launch until 2021, and there’s still no word on which London airport they’ll be arriving at.
The distance from the Northeast to Western Europe isn’t so great that you need to use a larger, twin-aisle jet. United Airlines has used a Boeing 757 in the past, and plenty of discount carriers use single-aisle jets with a stop in Iceland.
However, your standard Airbus A320 or A321 (the bulk of the JetBlue fleet) has a range of only 3,200 nautical miles and won’t make the journey. Instead, JetBlue will be converting some of its A321s on order to the A321LR (Long Range) variant. These have a range of 4,000 nautical miles and were only just certified in October 2018.
A total of 13 aircraft on order will be converted, with the option to convert more in the future. This suggests that JetBlue has plans to expand its reach into more European destinations, such as Paris or Amsterdam, but I expect it will limit transatlantic flights to Boston and New York within the U.S. market.
For fans of JetBlue’s Mint class, a lie-flat premium cabin with lower costs than most first class flights in North America, you’ll be glad to know that there will be even more seats for sale to London. No details yet, but they promise more than the 11 Mint seats on existing flights and similar low prices vs. the competition.
The early announcement seems optimistic so soon after the A321LR was certified, and the lack of a specific destination at London shows that the plan is not yet fully formed. London is always the obvious first choice in Europe. It’s as if JetBlue is saying they always planned on flights to Europe, but it’s only just now technically feasible. A lot still has to happen over the next two years. And who knows what else will transpire in world events.
But, hey, I think they have a better chance at bringing low fares to the transatlantic market than anyone else. WOW and Norwegian never seemed to have great business models in my opinion, filling up planes at bargain basement prices, adding extra stops and fees and expecting to make a profit. JetBlue will at least have a lie-flat business class and, presumably, a compromise between the legacy carriers and no-frills failures.