8 things you should know about the new American Airlines-JetBlue partnership

Feb 18, 2021

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American Airlines and JetBlue jolted the industry when they announced plans for a Northeast-focused alliance last summer.

Less than a month after receiving regulatory approval, the two competitors-turned-partners are hitting the ground running. On Thursday, American and JetBlue kicked off the partnership with nearly 80 codeshares, 33 new routes, schedule coordination and more.

The sweeping network alignment is detailed, but here are some of the most important takeaways from the major announcement.

For more: American Airlines, JetBlue kick off Northeast alliance 

Loyalty integration is coming

It’s no secret that American and JetBlue were working to offer reciprocal mileage earning and redemption benefits. But Thursday’s announcement gives even more detail of what to expect.

When the partnership launches on Feb. 25, customers flying on codeshares will earn miles with the carrier through which they purchased the ticket.

This spring, the airlines will introduce reciprocal mileage earning benefits — meaning that you could purchase an AA flight and choose to credit it to JetBlue’s TrueBlue program and vice versa.

American and JetBlue will also unveil reciprocal elite benefits in the spring.

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American will add a new Airbus A321T route

American’s swankiest jet, the Airbus A321T, will fly a new route from New York-JFK to Orange County, California (SNA) beginning on July 2.

The plane features one of the most spacious and luxurious configurations in the domestic skies. With 10 Flagship First pods, 20 Flagship Business lie-flats and just 72 coach seats, you’re sure to have a comfortable ride on this jet.

Previously, American used this 102-seat single-aisle plane almost exclusively on flights between New York and Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO).

Amid unfounded rumors that the plane was on its way out, American is bringing it back in full force. In addition to Orange County, American will continue flying the plane to LAX and SFO as part of the Northeast alliance.

Related: American Airlines is bringing back its swankiest jet, the Airbus A321T

American’s adding first class to New York

One of the many customer-facing benefits that American touted was that it would only fly larger jets equipped with a first-class cabin to and from New York.

The carrier is making good on its promise with its 18 new routes that it announced on Thursday. Except for the new Orange County route, the 11 other domestic connections will be operated by a 76-seat Embraer 175, with 12 first-class recliners and 64 coach seats.

American is also slated to retire its smallest jet, the Embraer 140 in May, leaving just the Embraer 145 as the carrier’s only jet without first class. Expect American to phase out the Embraer 145 from New York routes in the coming months.

Expanded international flights from JFK

Another major selling point of the partnership is the expansion of flights from JFK.

American is making good on the promise by adding six additional international routes, including a new long-haul flight to Santiago (SCL).

The flight will start three times weekly in May, before getting boosted to daily come November.

Santiago joins American’s three other new JFK long-hauls: Athens, Rio de Janeiro and Tel Aviv.

Pre-pandemic, AA was winding down much of its international flying from New York, leaving just key business routes and moving the rest to Philadelphia. This partnership is altering that strategy.

Schedule coordination in key markets

On Thursday, American and JetBlue announced that they’re teaming up in a slew of markets, including the Washington D.C. shuttles, the Los Angeles and San Francisco transcons and Northeast to Florida routes.

While the goal is enhanced connectivity and integration, it’s not all good news. Coordinating effectively eliminates a competitor in the market, which can often lead to higher fares.

Plus, the current plan calls for fewer flights in some markets than before the partnership. On the New York to Los Angeles transcon, AA will fly six daily flights, and JetBlue will operate eight, from both JFK and Newark.

Pre-pandemic, AA was operating up to 13 daily JFK-LAX flights alone, per Cirium schedules. Of course, the pandemic has eliminated much of the transcon demand, but note that coordination could lead to a net reduction in frequencies.

New routes for both American and JetBlue

When the partnership was approved in mid-January, JetBlue promised to significantly expand service at LaGuardia, while American would handle much of the international flying.

Thursday’s announcement doesn’t quite fit into that strategy.

The New York-based carrier is only adding three new LGA flights — Charleston, Denver and Martha’s Vineyard. Instead, Newark is seeing the biggest boost from JetBlue, with ten new routes to cities like Seattle and Cartagena.

American, on the other hand, will add six new LGA flights and five from Boston, while also adding six new international connections from JFK.

Only time will tell how the network strategy evolves.

The partnership is moving forward despite a snag

On Tuesday, JetBlue’s pilot union, the Air Line Pilots Association, or ALPA, voted against the proposed partnership. Despite the snag, JetBlue is clearly still committed to moving forward with the alliance.

Of course, it remains to be seen what, if any, concessions the pilots require to move forward with the deal. Count this one as developing.

Related: JetBlue union dispute adds a big wrinkle to American Airlines partnership plan

The battle for basic economy

While American and JetBlue are teaming up in the Northeast, their revenue management departments clearly don’t see eye to eye.

Earlier this week, JetBlue overhauled its basic economy fare structure. Beginning this summer, flyers purchasing the cheapest fares will no longer be allowed to bring a carry-on bag, making JetBlue’s Blue Basic fare one of the most punitive in the industry.

Meanwhile, American recently eased up its basic economy restrictions. Flyers can now purchase upgrades, priority boarding, extra-legroom seats and same-day changes. Plus, elites can enjoy their full suite of benefits. All travelers, regardless of status, can bring full-sized carry-on bags as well.

The carriers haven’t yet announced how they’re going to handle basic economy restrictions for flights purchased through the partnership.

The JFK transit experience will improve

As the carriers work to further align their networks, they’ll also need to work through the connection experience at JFK. Both airlines operate from separate terminals, and getting between terminals at JFK has historically required reclearing security and taking a landside AirTrain.

Fortunately, the carriers promise that a more “seamless experience” is coming soon.

Featured photo by Ryan Patterson

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