JetBlue Spurns Long Beach to Grow at LAX in West Coast Shift

JetBlue Airways Corp. will make Los Angeles International its primary base in Southern California, abandoning Long Beach Airport after years of tension.

Daily flights will double to 70 by 2025 as part of a five-year expansion plan at Los Angeles International, or LAX, the airline said in a statement Thursday. The carrier will add domestic and international flights as it competes for a bigger share of the busy Los Angeles market.

JetBlue will be expanding in a highly competitive airport, where each of the four largest U.S. carriers holds at least a 15% share of passengers. The airline will leave behind a troubled relationship with Long Beach, where city officials blocked the carrier’s plans to add international flights in 2018 and imposed fines for flights that violated a local 10 p.m. noise curfew. Contentious talks between the two sides delayed construction of a $45 million terminal.

“The transition to LAX, serving as the anchor of our focus city strategy on the West Coast, sets JetBlue up for success in Southern California,” Scott Laurence, head of revenue and planning, said in the statement. “We continue to seize on opportunities to emerge from this pandemic a stronger competitive force in the industry.”

Expansion Focus

The airline said in June that it would add 30 domestic routes in coming months, even as the coronavirus crisis quashes travel demand. The routes will be concentrated in the New York area while also including Florida and Philadelphia, as JetBlue bets on a quicker recovery than it originally expected.

The carrier’s last flights from Long Beach, which is about 22 miles southeast of LAX, are set for Oct. 6. Service to Portland, Oregon, will end instead of transitioning to LAX.

“We understand that the aviation industry -– now more than ever –- is constantly changing, and airlines nationwide are making difficult business decisions to stay competitive in light of the pandemic,” Cynthia Guidry, Long Beach Airport director, said in a statement. “We expect strong interest in the slots as they become available.”

JetBlue holds 17 of 41 permanent flight slots at the airport, which will make them available to other airlines after they’re relinquished in October.

JetBlue began to fly from Long Beach in August 2001, and now operates 15 daily flights there. That’s down from a peak of 35 in 2017, as the airline has cut service since its international plans were stymied.

JetBlue already has as many as 20 daily flights from LAX, and the shift from Long Beach will double that number and add seven new routes. The carrier’s 150-employee base there will grow to nearly 700. JetBlue also is moving its crew and maintenance bases from Long Beach to LAX. JetBlue began flights at LAX in 2009.

The New York-based airline will continue flying from Hollywood Burbank Airport and Ontario International Airport in the Los Angeles area.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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