After buying a 19% stake in the NYC-based carrier late last year as a “strictly financial” investment, it would seem that Lufthansa is finally willing to admit what their real plans are. They want JetBlue to become a feeder airline for Lufthansa’s trans-Atlantic network through JFK. As far as major airline alliances go, Star Alliance, of which Lufthansa is a founding member, has a pretty minuscule presence in New York. Their main North American partners are United, US Air and Air Canada. Those carriers offer a reasonable complement of flights to and from the NYC airports, but mostly to connect back to their hubs, not to many of the secondary markets in the United States. In order to generate additional traffic on their trans-Atlantic service, Lufthansa is looking to the JetBlue network to open up access to the secondary markets, many of which are currently served from JFK on a JetBlue flight.
The efforts will include linking the reservations systems and frequent flyer programs, which should open up some pretty interesting issues. Unlike most carriers, JetBlue bases their TrueBlue program on points that do not specifically correlate to the flight distance. Instead flights earn 4, 6 or 8 points, and 100 gets a free ticket. Lufthansa most definitely doesn’t work that way, so reconciling that should be interesting. Everything out of JetBlue has always been that they see no need to change their program, but now a 19% owner is suggesting otherwise. Similarly, there is an issue of no first class seats. I know that the 36″ pitch in the JetBlue flights is almost comparable to many other carriers’ domestic F pitch, but that still doesn’t make it a seamless transition for the premium cabin passengers that all the airlines are drooling over. There are a lot of rumors about a change for JetBlue in terms of introducing a real F product; maybe this is the final push that does it for them.
JetBlue cut its teeth as a spunky start-up. Now they seem to be turning into just another domestic carrier with a major international partner, a normal loyalty program and a first class cabin. That, and their decision to start charging for headphones on the planes and for pillows and blankets on their “shut-eye” flights and it would seem that they are quickly moving in the direction of “legacy” rather than LCC/new/fun/whatever vibe they’re trying to give off.
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