After much preparation, JetBlue will launch its transatlantic flights to London, this Wednesday. But is everything going according to plan?
It’s an innovation, and it is attracting quite a bit of interest. It’s been months since the airline announced its transatlantic plans. And the way JetBlue is choosing to do their flights to London, could influence some users of these aircraft. But the airline had to overcome some difficulties – beyond the pandemic.
JetBlue’s first revenue flight from JFK to London, is coming on the 11th of August. Flight 007 (!) leaves JFK at 22:10 local time, arriving at 10:10 (GMT), seven hours later. The return flight departs at 14:05, arriving in New York at 17:28. The passengers will be travelling in style, either in roomier-than-usual Economy seats, or in one of JetBlue’s ‘Transatlantic’ Mint Suites.
The aircraft have an extremely premium-heavy configuration, with 24 Suites and 114 Economy seats. JetBlue may have started as a low[er] cost carrier, but things have moved on since then. And clearly, these JetBlue London flights will be some way off the “long-haul, low-cost” concept. Alternatively, the model JetBlue is using here could be seen as the low-cost equivalent of business class. Before London, the airline inaugurated the layout in transcontinental US flights.
JetBlue Unhappy With Slots For London Flights
But things aren’t quite perfect. JetBlue is using Heathrow airport for its first flights to London, but this is won’t last for long. From September, the airline will be flying into Gatwick. Its August flights will be daily, but once at Gatwick, they will fly only four return flights per week. The reason for the change is a lack of slots in Heathrow. The airline would like to continue operating from there, considering it a ‘premium’ airport that fits its premium offering.
We’ve discussed airport slot waivers, the reason for the lack of slots for these JetBlue flights to London. The airline will later commence transatlantic flights from Boston, as well. But for that to happen, they will need to secure enough slots – they have some in Stansted, as well. Also, the airline will need to take delivery of some more of these specially-configured A321LRs.
JetBlue could use several aircraft for these London flights but currently, only two have the necessary A321LR and premium-seat configuration. They are N4022J and N4048J, with a third arriving soon. However, initially the airline will only need one of them. Right now, it seems that N4022J is “parked”. But that could change in a couple of days.
The A321LR is a relatively new variant but technically JetBlue won’t be first across the Atlantic with it. Aer Lingus has been flying its A321LR to US destinations, too. And technically, these planes are just A321neos with reconfigured doors. If the airlines decide to use the jets differently, they can remove the extra fuel tanks and rearrange the seats.
Flexible Usage – After Some Work
This means that if JetBlue decides that its London flights aren’t working, it will still have uses for its jets. But this takes some time. Re-configuring the aircraft isn’t something the airline can simply do at the terminal. Other than the seat layout, the two waist doors (just behind the wing) will need to be “unplugged”, for the aircraft to get a more conventional seat configuration. So as long as they perform their flights to London, JetBlue will have to dedicate these jets to this role.
In total, JetBlue will get 25 A321LR and XLR aircraft, the latter starting to arrive in 2023. If the London flights are successful, JetBlue could launch more flights to distant destinations. Airlines like IndiGo and others have orders for LR/XLR aircraft, for such flights. But we don’t expect to see them using a premium-heavy configuration like JetBlue.
On that note, it’s worth remembering that JetBlue is far from first in making premium-heavy flights to and from London. British Airways beat them by over a decade, flying Business-only A318s from London City Airport to JFK! Some entrepreneurs hope to revive that idea, using Airbus A220-100s.
The timing of the pandemic isn’t helping JetBlue with the launch of their London flights. It didn’t help them find slots into Heathrow, either – although arguably, it should have. What we are now waiting for, is to see if JetBlue’s move is the beginning of a wider single-aisle long-haul revival, or simply a niche.