It is no secret that JetBlue is considering service to Europe, powered by the Airbus A321LR. The latest indicator of such came in comments from CEO Robin Hayes during a “Plane Talk” employee briefing session the company hosted as a video and shared online last week. In that conversation Hayes (and other executives) is asked what destination would be his first choice, assuming no barriers. His response was “London, hands down.” (~25:50 on the video below)
When asked to expand on “Why London?” his response was an animated “Why not London?!?” He continued from there:
Once we open Minneapolis London is the largest market that we don’t serve [from Boston]. And Dublin is up there, too. Ultimately for us to build out and be successful we have to serve this market. Clearly we can’t fly to London with our current equipment. That’s why we’re looking at the 321LR. The earliest we can do that is late 2019. That will be here in a heartbeat.
This is not new reasoning, of course. Hayes and other executives have spoken about the seemingly bottomless demand for service between London and the carrier’s focus cities in Boston and New York City. And JetBlue continues to believe that its Mint service can deliver a disruptive product by not competing solely for the lowest fare traveler like Norwegian and other long-haul LCCs focus on. Rather, the company wants to carry premium traffic across the Atlantic, just at a discount to where the current carriers price such today.
That is a bold position and the existing carriers are no strange to premium upstarts in their space. They have a habit of defending that market aggressively. One significant difference this time around is that JetBlue is not a brand new carrier launching the service, but an established player. It has other routes and revenue to help deliver some stability in its operations and to shield it from the inevitable fare wars that accompany such service. It also has an established (and sometimes rabidly loyal) customer base to help support the new routes when (technically “if” I suppose) they launch.
Hayes also notes that the carrier faces similar challenges in the domestic markets:
There are four large airlines out there with deep pockets and a lot of power. And they want us gone. We are a 5% player and…they want us gone. We see Delta growing in Boston. We see Southwest growing in Fort Lauderdale. We see United on the west coast growing against Alaska [Airlines]. The large airlines still have a mentality that they want to put the small airlines down. To win we have to be a team, we have to come together, offer our customers better service.
Expanding into the international market against similar (if not stronger) competition is a tough go.
Cabin Crew Challenges
The timing of this “Plane Talk” session lined up with the opening of voting for cabin crew on whether to unionize or not. Watching the full hour-long broadcast it is clear that there is more than a little bit of lobbying happening around all of the topics, as one should expect from management in this scenario. One of the topics that received significant airtime was issues around the company’s crew management software solution.
Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue’s Executive Vice President Customer Experience, spoke to some of the issues on that front, especially around the technology involved in implementing a new solution. A system upgrade was purchased but the execution on that is not going so well. Geraghty mentions that it is “tracking a year behind” already and that it will be several years before the new system is implemented. She also notes that one of the biggest challenges is the complexity and flexibility of JetBlue’s crew rules; those options aren’t supported in any off-the-shelf solution.
In the meantime the old system is seeing some small improvements and the company is providing manual workarounds for many new functions to try to bridge the gap. But a delay of this magnitude on a system so crucial to crew satisfaction has to be rough for the company to handle.
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