New York-based budget airline JetBlue has given its strongest hint yet it will start transatlantic flights – with premium passengers being its main target.
Speaking at the Aviation Festival in London, the carrier’s UK-born chief executive Robin Hayes branded last-minute business class fares from New York to London in excess of $8,000 to $10,000 “obscene”.
“When we see that, we know we can go in to it for a lot cheaper than that,” he said.
JetBlue was set up in 1999 and operates from its main base at New York JFK, with others at Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Long Beach and Orlando.
It has a hybrid business model, with a low cost base, but aircraft are fitted with personal TVs and drinks and snacks are free.
Aircraft serving transcontinental and Caribbean services feature the Mint business cabin with lie-flat seats and a full meal service.
Mint has already shaken up the US coast-to-coast market and Hayes said Boston to London was only “marginally longer” than Boston to San Francisco in terms of flying time.
He hinted: “We are the largest carrier at Boston, the largest market we don’t fly to is London.”
Hayes, a former British Airways executive, said JetBlue had bought down advance purchase business fares on US transcontinental routes from around $2,000 to $599.
“I look at what we could do here and don’t see that we could not do better,” said Hayes.
JetBlue flies single-aisle aircraft and has 85 Airbus A321s on order for delivery from next year.
“We have the ability to upgrade them to the Long Range versions (for transatlantic services) if we want,” said Hayes.
He said there was a notice period in which to upgrade the order, which he said while "secret" was "more than a month".
“We’ve not taken a final decision yet," he added. "But I think I have outlined how exciting the opportunity is.”
Industry sources confirm JetBlue has had discussions with Gatwick despite Norwegian already being established there.
Hayes said he admired his rival airline’s achievements: “People said it (low cost, long-haul), could not be done, I think they are really a pioneer.”
But he said he would not be a competitor to the Nordic carrier.
“No, as we think about the opportunity to Europe, it is the premium fares that are more attractive,” he said.