JetBlue hints at Canada, further LaGuardia growth plans

Dec 14, 2019

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JetBlue Airways has ambitions to serve Canada and grow at New York LaGuardia, or at least suggests as much in its recent comments on Delta Air Lines and WestJet’s proposed partnership.

The New York-based carrier joined peers Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines pushing the U.S. Department of Transportation to place conditions, including divesting slots at LaGuardia Airport (LGA), on the Delta-WestJet tie up, JetBlue said in a filing Thursday.

Access to the Canadian market appears top of mind for JetBlue. The airline said in its filing that it is “considering” adding service to Canada — a country it does not serve today — but faces being effectively blocked from the market if it loses WestJet as a potential partner. A potential remedy that both Alaska and JetBlue urge the DOT to consider would be barring WestJet from exclusively partnering with Delta in the U.S.

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JetBlue does not partner with WestJet today but it does have an interline agreement with Toronto-based Porter Airlines. Such an agreement allows each carrier to ticket passengers through to the other on a single booking.

Access to closely-held slots at New York’s LaGuardia airport is also a concern. JetBlue argues that approving the Delta-WestJet partnership would effectively return WestJet’s eight slot pairs at the airport to Delta, who divested them to ensure competition at the airport as part of slot-swap deal with US Airways in 2011. One slot pair is needed for a flight to takeoff and land.

JetBlue does not call on the DOT to require WestJet to divest its slots, as Southwest does, but urges a review of how the Delta-WestJet partnership would impact competition at LaGuardia.

JetBlue and Southwest appear poised to try to pounce on any slots Delta and WestJet might potentially divest at LaGuardia. Both airlines want to grow at the airport. For example JetBlue is using its slots to expand its shuttle to Boston (BOS) while Southwest, lacking available slots, is adding seats in the market by flying larger jets.

Related: JetBlue boosts LaGuardia shuttle amid Boston expansion

The situation at Newark may weigh on the DOT’s evaluation of competition at LaGuardia. Spirit Airlines has challenged a recent decision to “retire” 16 peak-period operations previously held by Southwest at the airport in order to reduce congestion. That move, according to Spirit, reduces low-cost carrier access to the airport — as well as the New York City area, suggests JetBlue in its Thursday filing — and supports the existing competitive advantage United Airlines enjoys at Newark.

The DOT has given Delta and WestJet, as well as other carriers, until Dec. 23 to reply to Alaska, JetBlue and Southwest’s comments. Following the replies, the regulator will evaluate the comments and make a tentative decision on the proposed pact.

Delta president Glen Hauenstein said Thursday that the airline expects that decision in the first half of 2020. The Atlanta-based carrier forecasts $1 billion in annual revenue benefits if its tie-up with WestJet is approved.

Related: Spirit Airlines sues DOT for Southwest’s flights at Newark

Featured image by Robert Alexander/Getty Images.

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