Sure, airlines are mostly still cutting capacity, but every now and then a new route crops up on the schedules. This week it seems that Ft. Lauderdale is the winner of two such announcements in a big way. The first announcement came from Virgin America, indicating their plans to offer up four daily flights to California (two each to San Francisco and Los Angeles). Not to be outdone, jetBlue announced a couple hours later their intention to offer the “first nonstop service” between San Francisco and Ft. Lauderdale. And, while they are first, they are really only alone in the market for a day; the Virgin America service starts the day after jetBlue launches theirs.
The moves are certainly interesting and for several reasons. First, who knew that there was such a pent up demand for travel between South Florida and California? Right now there are seven daily flights between Miami and Los Angeles and another three from San Francisco to Miami, all operated by American Airlines. The represent a lift of some 1500 seats across the country. The introduction of these five flights will increase that capacity by about 35%, albeit from Ft. Lauderdale, not Miami. That is a huge increase in a market that has long been seen as questionable in terms of revenue. Oh, and jetBlue flies Ft. Lauderdale – Long Beach daily, too.
Beyond that, why Ft. Lauderdale? For jetBlue it makes a lot of sense. The New York-based carrier already has significant operations in Ft. Lauderdale and this is actually sortof bringing back a route they used to operate (Ft. Lauderdale – Oakland) that disappeared a few years ago when it wasn’t making any money. jetBlue can offer onward connections to the Caribbean and the rest of their network. For Virgin America, however, it is a strange choice. Operating out of Ft. Lauderdale is cheaper, and it also means they don’t really have to compete against American. After the heavy duty fare and bonus points wars in the Boston market earlier this year I’m sure that they’re pretty happy about that. But the smaller carriers are rarely too concerned about going for the jugular against incumbents. Is it possible that Virgin America sees the Ft. Lauderdale area as able to deliver better yields than Miami can? Lots of things have left downtown, including a lot of the wealthier residents, heading north along I-95. It seems that Virgin America is gambling that the business travel market is desperate to make a similar move.
The new schedule from jetBlue also has them removing their one-stop service via Austin, Texas. The good news there is that the San Francisco – Austin flights will now be at much better times for the locals on those routes.
Adding this much capacity to any market seems like revenue suicide for those involved; seeing it happen on transcons (more expensive to operate) in a market that has historically been very much focused on leisure travel is even stranger. Still, look for plenty of promotions and bonuses to be coming out in the weeks ahead as these new routes look to build up loads.
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