JetBlue remains on course to launch its long-anticipated London transatlantic service next year, despite the ongoing challenges posed by the coronavirus crisis in the US and Europe.
Chief executive Robin Hayes, speaking at WTM Virtual on Wednesday (11 November), said he was confident of having the service operational in the third-quarter, and vowed to "disrupt" the existing transatlantic market with its Mint cabin.
Introduced in 2014 on JetBlue’s trans-continental network, Hayes said Mint had successfully undercut existing $2,000+ fares by as much as two-thirds, driving down prices.
"We see the same opportunity here," Hayes told JLS Consulting’s John Strickland during a live interview, in which he promised to "slash" – or at least "significantly adjust down" – premium New York-London fares.
"It [London] is the largest market out of New York and Boston we don’t currently fly to," said Hayes. "By next summer, we think there’s going to be tremendous pent-up demand for travel.
"When we think about 2021, our planning assumption is that all leisure travel will be largely recovered by the end of 2021. So we think launching flights to London next summer, probably in Q3, is the perfect time to introduce our friends in the UK and Europe to the very positive effects of JetBlue.
"We are going to disrupt, and give people a much cheaper way to fly between the US and the UK. We want to have a profound effect."
Hayes, who joined JetBlue in 2008 after a lengthy spell at British Airways, said his hope was that part of JetBlue’s eventual legacy would be to have "brought down premium fares permanently" on flights between the US and the UK and Europe.
He originally revealed JetBlue’s plans to launch a transatlantic operation back in April 2019; the carrier has since confirmed it options spread across a range of London’s airports.
Strickland put it to Hayes that it was his understanding JetBlue had undertakings on slots at Stansted and Gatwick, and suggested in the current Covid climate that Heathrow would not be out of the question either, to which Hayes replied that he was confident JetBlue "had a path into more than one London airport".
"We’ll make an announcement when we’re ready to put flights on sale," he said, adding that because JetBlue would be operating its transatlantic operation with narrow-body Airbus A321 LR and XLR aircraft, the airline had the flexibility to assess London airports previously "under-served" to the US.
When Strickland suggested JetBlue was attempting something few, if any, carriers have yet achieved, to fly a profitable and sustainable low-cost transatlantic operation, Hayes said that with JetBlue looking at the proposal from a US point of sale perspective, the airline already had a trusted brand with millions of loyal customers.
"Our success with Mint [to date] gives me every confidence," he said. "We are 100% confident it will work. We’re so excited to take this to the next level and bring it to the UK."
Told no competitors would welcome JetBlue with open arms, and asked if he was worried about any potential defensive tactics by established transatlantic carriers, Hayes said while he was sure "the big guys would get out their big guns", JetBlue had already been "weaving around them" for 20 years.
"There are lots of attempts to limit what JetBlue does, and we always find ways to compete," he said.
JetBlue is also planning to launch a European operation, which Hayes said could feature seasonal flights to secondary cities as well. "I see a world where we have a number of year-round markets to Europe, and some seasonal markets," he said, adding the aircraft could at other times be pointed at other destinations, such as the Caribbean, "to soak up capacity".