American Airlines and jetBlue announced an agreement today that will see the carriers begin to sell flights on each other’s metal and also shift a number of landing slots around. American will cede eight slot pairs at Washington, DC’s National Airport to jetBlue in exchange for twelve slot pairs at New York City’s JFK airport. jetBlue will remain the leading carrier at JFK measured by frequencies even after this swap. At the same time, in conjunction with the five slot pairs at National that they are expected to acquire from US Airways, jetBlue will be able to build a significant operation up very quickly at the airport starting late this year.
In addition to the slot swap the two carriers have announced plans to offer interline connections to each others’ flights at JFK and in Boston. American Airlines’ customers will be able to leverage jetBlue’s position as the leading domestic carrier at both of these airports by booking single tickets through for routes where AA doesn’t offer service but jetBlue does. At the same time, jetBlue customers will be able to book connections onto AA’s international flights through the two airports. American is second only to Delta in international operations at JFK, offering connections to London, deep South America, Tokyo and a number of destinations in continental Europe. AA is also a leader in the transatlantic market in Boston.
It should be noted that, at this time, the agreement does not specify code-sharing between the two carriers or interline ticketing beyond the very specific destinations. It is a very limited partnership, at least for now. Mostly it means a single ticket can be issued for the connections and that luggage can be checked at the originating jetBlue station for outbound long-haul international travel.
Of course, any discussion such as this one leads to questions about additional tie-ups in operations and in the loyalty programs. And, this announcement still leaves plenty of opportunities and options, but no definitive answers on most of those issues. Will jetBlue be joining up with OneWorld, the global alliance that AA is a major player in? Not right now but the future is wide open? What about jetBlue’s interline agreements with partial owner Lufthansa and with Aer Lingus? Both of those will continue as they have been operating previously. Oh, and still no details on how the frequent flyer loyalty programs will integrate in terms of earning points or other benefits across the new partnership.
For American this seems to be a move to retain market share in the transatlantic market. They currently offer very few onward destinations for passengers connecting through JFK who aren’t staying in New York City. The move will allow them to increase that coverage significantly with a minimal investment. For jetBlue the ability to attract customers who are keen to travel more outside the Americas is a significant hole in their route network that they will be able to better fill now.
In many ways this partnership seems to be placing jetBlue into a role similar to that of Alaska Airlines. They provide a broad regional coverage and partner with a number of different airlines from a variety of alliances. They don’t have to declare loyalty to just one alliance and they don’t have to fully integrate their loyalty scheme with those programs. They forge alliances of convenience and partner to fill strategic gaps. Customers from both sides win and the airlines are able to grow without significant capital outlay.
At this point it probably doesn’t make too much sense for jetBlue to join one of the global alliances, particularly given their strong position at JFK and Boston and their ability to strike opportune partnerships to improve their route footprint with whichever partner presents that opportunity to them at a particular connection point.
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