|JetBlue operates 32 daily flights from Long Beach, its West Coast Focus City|
In the beginning of 2016, The City of Long Beach (which operates Long Beach Airport - LGB), announced nine additional slots (a slot is a right to operate an arrival and departure) were available, above the 41 maximum allowed. There is a provision in the Noise Ordinance, if noise limits meet a certain criteria, flights can be added, over the maximum of 41. The city found, by adding nine flights, the noise limits could still be met.
To the surprise of many, Southwest Airlines applied for those nine additional slots. JetBlue, in a defensive move, also applied for all nine, and Delta applied for two slots. The official allocation was four slots to Southwest, three to JetBlue, and two to Delta. With the entry of Southwest into LGB, the game changed for JetBlue.
To many, JetBlue has been a double-edged sword at LGB. They provide great service to the city, and provide service to cities that most airports are envious of. However, JetBlue has been accused of ‘slot-squatting’ for several years. LGB is a focus city for JetBlue, and the carrier had acquired slots at the airport when no other carriers wanted them. Prior to the recent allocation, JetBlue had 29 slots (70%), but never used all their slots, at times leaving up to 7 slots unused.
|Southwest started service to LGB in June of 2016|
Southwest Airlines after starting LGB service, announced they would take any open or unused slots, even if they were awarded to another carrier. For example, FedEx and UPS do not fly on weekends, Southwest applied to use their weekend slots (FedEx - 1, UPS - 1) to fly two additional flights on Saturday and Sunday.
In September, JetBlue had already moved to counter Southwest’s entry into the market, however some slots remained unused. Southwest scooped JetBlue’s unused slots; after three months, the new entrant into LGB, was operating 7 flights, adding a second destination.
JetBlue announced LGB to San Jose, CA (SJC) service starting in January of 2017. This would be the first time they would have 100% usage of their slots within the last several years. Once JetBlue began using all their slots, Southwest had to discontinue their additional flights. However, they are continuing to operate the two additional flights on weekends (from FedEx and UPS).
Earlier this year, Long Beach denied JetBlue’s request for a Federal Inspection Station (Customs) for international flights. This was a major disappointment for the carrier, as they were planning service from LGB to Mexico and Central America. When the FIS was rejected, a lot of questions have come up regarding JetBlue’s future at LGB.
It’s clear JetBlue is disappointed to have the FIS Facility rejected. With their success at LAX, would they continue LGB as a Focus City? Any unused slot, Southwest will pounce on, even if it’s one day a week. JetBlue doesn’t want to risk returning slots, which Southwest could potentially add on a permanent basis. Southwest has forced JetBlue to fly 100% of their slots daily.
However, there is another twist experts and analysts have overlooked, the Alaska - Virgin America merger. With LGB is in a perfect position to compete with the combined carrier. Alaska continues to expand intra-California and trans-con routes. Though the carriers don’t overlap on a lot of routes, JetBlue can offer a similar product not offered by Alaska, through the convenience and ease of Long Beach Airport.
|JetBlue uses the north concourse at LGB, with seven gates|
|JetBlue rolling on Runway 30, with Southwest holding short,|
both airlines serve Oakland and Sacramento daily.
JetBlue’s loads from LGB are strong, averaging about 77%. Breaking it down, most flights exceed 80%, except for the Bay Area flights (which are over-saturated from the LA Area), which appear to range from the mid-60’s to mid-70’s. The data is from BTS.Gov. They have carried 620,000 (JAN-MAY) from LGB this year, a 45% increase year over year, and are on pace to reach 1.5 million boardings for the year.
Long Beach Airport is what it is today because of JetBlue. The carrier came in with a vision of creating a West Coast hub/focus city in 2000, when LGB had very little service, and even less interest from other airlines. JetBlue has created a huge loyal following with great service, DirecTV, a niche market, and LGB - a gateway most airports twice the size wish they could emulate.