Over the weekend, JetBlue updated its schedules, which included a sizable number of network cuts. The primary hits include much of the airline’s leisure-focused routes it added in 2020 and 2021 to tap into new demand pools as it sought to weather the crisis. With travel now coming back and pre-crisis demand pools returning, JetBlue is now looking to devote its aircraft assets to the markets and network profiles it believes will help it succeed in the long run.
JetBlue makes significant network cuts
JetBlue has cut the following routes from its network:
- Ft. Lauderdale (FLL) to Bozeman (BZN)
- Ft. Myers (RSW) to Providence (PVD)
- Las Vegas (LAS) to Cancun (CUN)
- Los Angeles (LAX) to Bozeman (BZN)
- Newark (EWR) to Antigua (ANU)
- Newark (EWR) to Bridgetown (BGI)
- Newark (EWR) to Cartagena (CTG)
- Newark (EWR) to Port-au-Prince (PAP)
- Newark (EWR) to St. Thomas (STT)
- New York (JFK) to Bogota (BOG)
- Sacramento (SMF) to Cancun (CUN)
- San Francisco (SFO) to Cancun (CUN)
- San Jose (SJU) to Raleigh-Durham (RDU)
- San Jose (SJU) to Philadelphia (PHL)
- Tampa (TPA) to Providence (PVD)
- Tampa (TPA) to Richmond (RIC)
In addition, JetBlue will be making market adjustments to Bermuda (BDA) and Key West (EYW). Bermuda will become a summer seasonal market (with service ending in about November), while Key West will become a winter seasonal market.
JetBlue told Simple Flying the following about its network strategy:
“As we have throughout the pandemic, we are continually evaluating our route map to ensure it is aligned with customer demand trends and to help us get back to profitability on a consistent basis.”
It is important to note that JetBlue is not letting any stations permanently drop off its route network with this move. Instead, it will be altering the way it serves these routes. These cuts are also separate from other reductions JetBlue has made in near-term schedules to manage the impact of staffing shortages.
Cuts to pandemic-era leisure additions
The cuts primarily hit pandemic-era leisure routes. As JetBlue further stated:
“Most of these routes were additions we made in response to pandemic travel trends to help us bring immediate cash in the door. As our customers return to more expected booking patterns, these changes will free up aircraft time that we can redeploy into other areas of our network that hold the most strength and relevance to our network strategy in the long term.”
JetBlue was one of the first airlines to seize on opportunities that arose during the pandemic and added several leisure-focused additions. Markets like Cancun are typical beach destinations that routinely see a large array of services from major US airlines. Fewer travel restrictions also helped make the market case for Cancun.
Bozeman was a popular gateway to Yellowstone National park during the crisis. Coupled with access to various mountain west outdoor activities, and it made sense for JetBlue to tap into those routes as appropriate.
However, as demand has recovered, the pre-crisis travel patterns have started to return. Business traffic has started to come back. Leisure traffic has returned to other pre-crisis pools, including Europe. As a result, the big destinations in 2020 and 2021 might not be the best bet in 2022 and beyond.
Not a surprise
It is not surprising to see JetBlue cut these routes. Between 2020 and 2021, the airline added over 100 routes to its network, primarily focused on the domestic market where demand returned first. As countries in the Caribbean and Central America opened up, JetBlue came back and added some new routes to those markets as well.
However, those routes were always more opportunistic. Last fall, at World Routes in Milan, JetBlue’s Vice President of Network Planning, Andrea Lusso, indicated that the airline was not actively looking at keeping those routes in its network for the long-term, especially as demand came back.
JetBlue was always a bit opportunistic during the crisis. It was one of the first airlines to go out and add new services as others cut them. It also used the opportunity to jump into Newark and start to round out more of its network out of the New York City area. That opportunity was something that came as a result of reduced operations from other airlines. Not all of those destinations and route additions were opportunistic, but plenty were added.
This is not the first time that JetBlue has made cuts to its leisure network since demand started to return. As it needed more airplanes to round out its traditional network portfolio, it made some cuts to routes that were always more about a short-term push to drive up revenue and survive the crisis. With the recovery in full swing, JetBlue needs to do less of these opportunistic additions, particularly as the opportunity cost of using aircraft and assets grows.
What does 2022 look like?
Even with these reductions, JetBlue is still looking at a strong 2022.
“Even with these reductions – most of which operated less than daily – we still expect our 2022 schedule to be our biggest-ever and we’ll continue to grow our fleet with new aircraft throughout the year. At the same time, we remain committed to adjusting our plans based on the unpredictable nature of the pandemic.”
JetBlue is set to continue taking delivery of new Airbus A321neo and Airbus A220 aircraft. These planes will help the airline continue its growth plans. Moving forward, the airline is expected to expand even more internationally as it takes Airbus A321LR aircraft.
Bolstering JetBlue’s growth is the Northeast Alliance (NEA) with American Airlines. The carrier has decided to delay the retirement of its Embraer E190s to support this growth as it expands significantly in airports like LaGuardia and Boston. Under the NEA, the airline has already inaugurated a host of new nonstop routes, including between New York and San Antonio, among others. As the NEA grows, JetBlue is expected to continue its growth as well.
While JetBlue is making cuts today, those cuts are more for bringing the airline back to its long-term network strategy and positioning.