American Airlines, JetBlue plan ‘slot moves’ at New York JFK and LaGuardia

Jul 23, 2020

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American Airlines‘ plan to strengthen its position in the northeast is somewhat counter intuitive: reduce uncompetitive small regional jet flying while adding new long-haul services in conjunction with its new partner JetBlue Airways.

In other words, travelers should not plan on flying an American Eagle Embraer ERJ-140 between New York LaGuardia (LGA) and somewhere like Richmond, Virginia (RIC), in the future. But they can look forward to new nonstop service on an American wide-body jet between New York John F. Kennedy (JFK) and either Athens (ATH) and Tel Aviv (TLV) beginning next year.

“We see a lot of ways that we can work together that may be a little unconventional from traditional codeshares,” American chief revenue officer Vasu Raja said on a second quarter earnings call on Thursday.

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American keeps breaking the traditional U.S. airline partnership model this year. It unveiled a renewed and expanded tie up with Alaska Airlines in February and then followed that with a new partnership with JetBlue earlier in July.

The aim of both partnerships is to boost American and its flyers where the airline lags competitors like Delta Air Lines and United Airlines: on the West Coast and in the Northeast.

“We’re really too small to win and too big to exit,” Raja said in reference to the Boston and New York markets on Thursday.

Related: American, JetBlue plan new Northeast alliance

While the Alaska and West Coast plans are well underway, American’s strategy with JetBlue is just beginning to crystallize. American plans some “slot moves” with JetBlue at JFK and LaGuardia airports, said Raja. That will allow American to eliminate inefficient and unpopular 50-seat regional jets from the New York market and add new long-haul routes.

Raja was scant on details of the possible slot moves, though he did add that JetBlue would “also get to go and expand.”

One possibility is American passes some of its slots at LaGuardia — maybe those used for flights on 50-seat jets — to JetBlue, while the latter carrier gives up some at JFK. This could allow JetBlue to add new nonstop flights to places like Nashville (BNA), Pittsburgh (PIT) and Richmond that American currently serves from New York with small jets.

Neither carrier has singled out those cities, but such routes loom as the type would make sense with the potential slot moves mentioned.

Related: American adds Athens, Tel Aviv routes from New York under new JetBlue pact

If such a scenario did play out, the irony would be palpable. JetBlue has tried flying between New York JFK and all three of those airports— Nashville, Pittsburgh and Richmond — in the past only to drop the routes in the face of competition from larger airlines like American.

Now, however, those routes have the potential to work for JetBlue since it could partner with American to sell seats on such flights via their planned codeshare.

JetBlue has proved it is willing to try flying routes outside of its normal wheelhouse during the coronavirus pandemic. For example, it will add new service between Pittsburgh and both Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and West Palm Beach (PBI) this October in an aim to capture more leisure flyers.

Related: JetBlue announces 30 new routes, adds Mint service from Newark

The American-JetBlue pact will also include “new benefits” for frequent flyers and the possibility of “additional premium experiences,” according to the airlines. Neither has provided additional details.

Travelers are already seeing this begin to play out between Alaska and American. The airlines have extended frequent flyers full reciprocal mileage earning and American AAdvantage members can also earn elite credit on Alaska flights.

The joint Alaska-American benefits will expand further once Alaska joins the Oneworld alliance, which it hopes to do by the end of the year.  Membership will mean “full earn and burn, reciprocal access and everything” on American and other alliance member airlines for Alaska Mileage Plan members, Alaska senior vice president of finance, alliances and treasury Nathaniel Pieper told TPG.

Related: Alaska Airlines will officially be the next Oneworld alliance member

Featured image by Ryan Patterson.

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