If a European vacation is on your wish list for 2023, there’s some promising news—more airlines will be competing for your travel dollars next year as legacy airlines add more international service and as new low-cost carriers add new routes. You will also soon be able to book more flights to Europe with an airline that isn’t a traditional transatlantic player, JetBlue Airways.
Twice in recent weeks, JetBlue executives have dropped hints that the carrier is about to add more European cities to its route map, on top of flights it currently operates from New York and Boston to London. In a recent call with investors, JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said that an announcement was forthcoming; he had previously named Paris as a top contender. And at a recent aviation conference, a JetBlue planning executive signaled that an official announcement about where in Europe the carrier will be flying next will be coming “very soon.”
JetBlue’s service to the U.K. capital, which launched in 2021, “has been well received by their customers and we expect [any] new service [to Europe] will be as well,” says Helane Becker, an airline analyst with the Cowen securities firm in New York.
The secret behind JetBlue’s transatlantic expansion plans? A fleet of Airbus A321 LR (long-range) planes, narrow-body aircraft that can fly longer and farther than previous iterations of the model. For transatlantic flights, the planes are configured with 114 coach seats, some with extra legroom and an expanded 24-seat Mint premium class (JetBlue’s version of business class), including two rows of “Mint Studio” seating, featuring 22-inch TVs, added storage, and a seat and table for a guest. Next year, the airline will begin taking delivery of the very latest version, the A321 XLR, which, as the moniker suggests, can fly even farther nonstop—up to about 5,400 miles, or 1,000 miles more than the 737 and other single-aisle models.
Because this jet type typically has a maximum capacity of under 200 passengers, it’s ideally suited to secondary markets where a jumbo jet wouldn’t make sense, says Craig Jenks, a New York–based consultant specializing in aviation.
But that’s not at all a limiting factor, according to Jenks. “It’s an embarrassment of riches in terms of potential markets” for airlines with international ambitions, he says. Among the cities he cited that might be logical choices for JetBlue from New York or Boston: Dublin or Shannon in Ireland, or in the U.K., Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Manchester. But still, larger markets like Paris, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt are attractive for the sheer number of passengers they draw and the possible connections by both air and rail to other points on the continent.
“In facing this decision, an airline like JetBlue inevitably has a choice between being a small fish in a big pond, like Paris, or being a big fish in a smaller market”—such as Lyon, France, Jenks observes.
But much depends on the availability of landing and takeoff slots at airports. JetBlue got its foot in the door in August of 2021 when it snapped up precious slots at London Heathrow, which had temporarily opened up as travel ground to a halt during the pandemic. This past summer, as travel rebounded, JetBlue successfully sought permission to make the slots more permanent, ensuring its future at what it has termed an “iconic global hub.”
The airline is also adding a second daily flight on October 29 between New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and London Gatwick (where it started service later in 2021) bringing the number of frequencies between New York and London to three flights per day. JetBlue flights from Boston to Gatwick kicked off in August, followed by Boston to Heathrow flights in September.
But will it make sense for JetBlue to expand into European markets outside of the U.K.? It will, according to analyst Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research. “It’s known in the airlines as the ‘network effect’,” he says. “The more cities an airline adds to its route network, the better all cities perform.” And while JetBlue is still “a niche player compared with the majors” when it comes to international air travel, he says that any additional Europe routes will help to better establish JetBlue as a transatlantic airline in the minds of travelers.